Ultimately, we operate the Aquarium to promote a sympathetic understanding of the sea. We dedicate a lot of research effort to understanding how our visitors learn from the Aquarium experience and, more widely, how conservation attitudes and behaviours can be encouraged.
A major current PhD project, Blue Space, is investigating the important effects that contact with nature – whether real or “virtual” – has on human health and wellbeing and, in turn, how this links to conservation attitudes and behaviour.
Until now studies have concentrated on different “green” environments, ranging from gardens and city parks to excursions into the wilderness.
Whilst, intuitively, many people find spending time by the sea relaxing, it appears that few scientific studies have concentrated on the mental health benefits of aquatic environments until now.
We have joint published with Exeter University and Plymouth University the first paper in the world linking the therapeutic properties of aquaria, which captured the attention of the media from South Africa, to Australia and New York. The National Marine Aquarium is currently working with psychologists from both on a research programme investigating the restorative potential of real and “virtual” marine environments. Initial work carried out in 2009 found that, when asked to rate a series of photographs of different built and natural environments against a range of psychological measures, images containing water were consistently preferred to those without “blue space”. Further studies planned over the next couple years will explore further how spending time in, on or around the sea can improve our wellbeing and physical health as well as improving our awareness of the oceans and its creatures.
You can find out more about the array of research projects we run each year on the Environmental Research pages.