25 March 2024

Tailored communication approaches are likely to work best for recreational fishers. Image: GBRMPA

Behavioural research tested through real time interventions has changed the way the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority communicates with recreational fishers about zoning compliance.

Dr Tracey Mahony of James Cook University (JCU) and Associate Professor Vanessa Adams of University of Tasmania (UTAS) led the Marine and Coastal Hub project that evaluated recreational fisher behaviour, values, and compliance motivations.

Assoc. Prof. Adams said key elements of the project’s success were research co-design, transdisciplinary teams, and the ability to implement and study interventions in real time.

“It’s a rarity that agencies are willing to work with you to research and deliver recommendations and then study interventions in real time,” Assoc. Prof. Adams said. “It’s a sign of a trusting relationship, and also the importance of funding through National Environmental Science Program that enables such research to happen.”

The research team worked closely with the Reef Authority marketing and compliance teams to review past campaigns, tailor marketing materials, and conduct real time monitoring of campaign success. This involved testing campaign messages and imagery to see which approaches worked best.

Reef Authority Marketing Manager Matthew Smith commended the research as immensely valuable, with numerous practical advantages for the Reef Authority Communications Team.

Educational and relationship-building posts trialled by the Reef Authority featured positive framing and simple text tailored to family and friend groups.

“This research has reshaped our approach to communicating with recreational fishers,” Mr Smith said.

“The improved profiling of the Great Barrier Reef's recreational fishing community allowed us to tailor our creative content to reach three distinct groups: solo, mates and family fishers. This optimised our media expenditure and encouraged us to broaden our targeting to include female recreational fishers, further enhancing our reach and impact.”

Mr Smith said the Reef Authority had responded to the project’s recommended investment in sentiment analysis software to gain deeper insights into public sentiment regarding its initiatives. This shift towards more rigorous evaluation had provided valuable qualitative data to inform advertising strategies.

The Reef Authority’s Assistant Director – Compliance Planning, Catherine Moltzen said the research provided a practical outcome that helped to improve recreational fishing compliance on the Great Barrier Reef. “The improved evaluation metrics help us understand whether our mass advertising campaigns are having a positive impact,” she said.

Further benefits flowed from the adoption of an innovative engagement strategy.

The research provides broad insights into the types of communications that are likely to work best for recreational fishers. For example, messages and imagery that were positively framed and had broad appeal were more successful in terms of inducing behaviours such as downloading zoning maps than messages that were negatively framed.

The research team thanks Reef Authority for supporting the project, and Reef Authority staff for their time and expertise.

Transdisciplinary team

The project brought together three research partners, with researchers experienced in survey design, economics, data analysis, fisheries compliance, policy, behavioural change and the intersection of economics and sustainable resource use. They engaged with Reef Authority staff involved in marketing, communication and compliance planning.

Matthew Smith, Marketing Manager at the Reef Authority, leads paid advertising of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park compliance program and other Reef Authority initiatives. He brings expertise in social marketing, analytics, user experience design and web development.
Catherine Moltzen of the Reef Authority leads the development and delivery of the strategic direction of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park compliance program. She is also in the final stages of completing her PhD focusing on understanding marine park user behaviour and integrating this into compliance management at the Reef Authority, including the application of this and other research projects. 
Kate Hatten of the Reef Authority helps steer the compliance program for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. She has extensive experience in marketing and business development. As the former communications manager, she identified and progressed the internal need for a project to improve voluntary compliance through mass media and measure impact.
Vanessa Adams of UTAS specialises in the design and evaluation of environmental interventions, considering social and environmental outcomes. She brings expertise in economics, spatial sciences, and qualitative social sciences and experience in partnering with conservation organisations to support on ground outcomes. She led the project co-design and the campaign evaluation.
Matt Navarro of University of Western Australia is an interdisciplinary marine scientist focussed on progressing solutions to wicked problems. He has worked extensively on recreational fisheries, including exploring voluntary behaviour change interventions to promote self-motivated compliance with fisheries regulations. His experience in quantitative statistical analyses was essential to the rigorous analysis of the large survey data set.
Swee-Hoon Chuah is Professor of Behavioural Economics and the Director of the Tasmanian Behavioural Lab at UTAS. She has significant experience in the application of behavioural insights to address public policy challenges, including through work with the Australian Government. Her behavioural lens focussed on the design of effective behaviour change interventions through understanding psychological barriers to compliance.
Tracey Mahony is a behavioural marketer at JCU. Her research explores commercial and social marketing behaviour change in business, environmental, and health contexts. Her industry background and specialisation in postgraduate executive education supports practical management innovations. She led the marketing design and delivery of the pilot testing approach.
Diane Jarvis is an Associate Professor in Environmental Economics at JCU. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between the environment, the economy and society, seeking to inform economic and environmental policy decisions to promote both human wellbeing and improved land and sea management. Diane brought an economic lens to the survey design and data analysis.
Natalie Stoeckl is a Professor of Economics in the UTAS College of Business and Economics, with experience in collaborative cross-disciplinary research. Her work on the economics of sustainable development in regional and remote areas highlights how ‘non-market’ goods and services contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, organisations, communities and society. She ensured the survey questions captured the motivations and ‘goods’ that people receive from the marine environment.