THE Swan River Trust and a team of researchers led by Curtin University Research Fellow Dr Michael Hughes are investigating why nutrient levels remain high in the Swan and Canning Rivers despite years of public education.
During the 1990s there were high levels of nutrients in the Swan and Canning Rivers and algal blooms were common. Education campaigns began to educate Perth residents about using less fertiliser in gardens to reduce nutrients being washed into the river. However, nutrient levels remain high and algal blooms still occur.
The study by Dr Hughes found residents understood the link between fertilisers and water quality but the problem was confusion as to what product was best to buy.
“Even though people knew about fertilisers and water quality in the river, they were confused as to what products to buy in the shop. We were able to identify this and clarify this for the managers and then allow them to address that particular issue,” Dr Hughes says.
At the time when people were surveyed, about environmentally sensitive fertilisers, there were doubts over performance.
“We found a combination of views [on environmentally sensitive fertiliser] when we were interviewing the public.”
“They found it was more expensive and because it was environmentally friendly in terms of having low nutrient levels, the public were concerned it wouldn’t work as well.”
“When people see a more expensive product, there’s an assumption that it’s better in quality but because people thought the environmentally sensitive fertiliser was a poorer quality, they tended not to buy it.”
Investigating the public education program and fertiliser purchasing decision the public had to make reveals insights into why the program fell short in achieving its behavioural change goal and ultimately change in river health.
“After focus group sessions we now have a draft strategy for reducing river nutrient level loads,” says Swan River Trust Community Engagement Manager Mr Jason Menzies.
“Dr Hughes is certainly correct in pointing out that there hasn’t been enough research into the barriers and benefits of people changing their fertilising habits. We are currently working through the final stages of that process.”
“We will use a multi-faceted approach. It will be a personal coaching type approach. It will be a more tailored programme that will engage people. We have learned from focus groups what people like and don’t like.”
Implementation of a two year public education pilot programme will start in July 2012.