Language has always played a significant role in the environmental movement, acting as a primary medium through which complex environmental issues are delivered to a wide public.

This paper highlights the importance of metaphors for marine conservation and policy. It argues that the manner in which the oceans are perceived, often as an alien landscape, can limit the way language is utilized in marine conservation efforts. The authors state that this limitation can produce unhelpful environmental metaphors that, instead of acting as catalysts for action, produce negative and reactionary responses.

The authors suggest that the clumsy use of metaphors can cause unwanted media coverage and mention that, since environmental issues are increasingly prone to partisan politics, this coverage is at best unhelpful, and at worst completely counterproductive to conservation efforts and consequent policy and behavior change.

It is highlighted that the policy outcomes of using metaphors effectively could be manifold. On a local level, they could encourage engagement with local conservation or citizen science programmes, help to explain the importance of particular marine management projects and help to bridge diffuse stakeholders. On a broader scale, they could raise awareness of particular ocean issues that the public may find it hard to resonate with, and can thus be the catalyst for broader action.

Two broad criteria are given to construct these metaphors:

  • The image conjured must be embedded in some shared cultural idea.
  • They must be rooted in scientific knowledge.

It is concluded that when used properly metaphors should be seen as an incredibly useful tool for bridging the perception gap, helping to raise awareness around some of the most pressing environmental issues.

Neilson A (2018) Considering the importance of metaphors for marine conservation. Marine Policy