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Portrush, October 2022: On a sunny, but breezy Saturday afternoon, attendees at a co-design workshop entitled ‘Our Beaches in Our Hands’ were asked to reflect on the value of the beaches that they used daily and the importance of preserving them. The event was organised by Ulster University Business School (UUBS) researchers Rachael Singleton and I, ran in partnership with Swell Festival Portrush and hosted by the Portrush Yacht Club.

Whether it’s dog walking, body boarding or cold-water swimming, the enjoyment from going to the beach is endless. The mental and physical benefits of the beach are becoming an ever more important medium for wellbeing for people of all ages. However, the impact that the popularity, and therefore overuse of our beaches, is not something many consider.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful recently launched its annual Marine Litter Report, stating that 2021 has been the worst year on record for marine pollution. The charity reports that on average 760 pieces of litter can be found on our shores; thereby making beach littering a serious problem and one that people who love using the beach are keen to tackle. UUBS PhD researcher Rachael Singleton has found that 98% of her research participants have had to admit to littering at least once in their lifetime. Therefore, we all have a responsibility of keeping our beaches clean and when at the beach to ‘leave no trace’. This workshop tapped into this shared responsibility by inviting participants to become part of the solution.

The workshop was designed by Rachael Singleton as part of her PhD research at Ulster University Business School where she is applying psychology in a design-based approach to understand and tackle littering by beach users. While we may not mean to litter, the gap between intention and action can be bridged when we are helped to change our behaviour. Understanding how our capability, opportunity and motivation affect our behaviour builds the basis of human-centred behaviour change intervention design.

The workshop provided an interactive opportunity to present attendees with a design challenge – one that considers a wider experience; before, during and after a beach visit. This was tackled through group work, that involved ideating, designing and iterating, by considering two fictional beach visiting personas – Edward, a 61-year-old grandfather visiting the beach with his grandchildren, and Siobhan, a 20-year-old student who is looking to unwind at the beach with her friends. Attendees were asked to identify solutions against intentional and unintentional beach littering and to design interventions to increase ‘not littering’ behaviour. Four unique interventions were proposed, which will now enter the testing phase and provide potential impact to combat Northern Ireland’s perpetual beach littering problem.

Rachael commented at the event:

I’m passionate about research that can be applied to make a ‘real world’ difference. Today we saw a group of beach users co-design four practical, user-focused, theory driven interventions for reducing littering behaviour. This is the kind of brilliant, implementable work that happens when people who know and love our beaches are invited to the table.  

Rachael’s PhD is co-supervised by Professor Una McMahon-Beattie and I – both of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management – and Dr Marian McLaughlin from Ulster University’s School of Psychology.

This research is situated within a wider portfolio of research aimed at contributing to the Sustainable Development Goal No 14 ‘Life Below Water’. While Rachael’s PhD looks to develop pro-active behaviour change interventions to combat beach littering, other research in the department has focused on the psychology of beach cleaning and environmental activism. SDG 14 is also embedded in the Department’s teaching activities; particularly in reference to sustainable seafood at our facilities at FACTS (Food and Consumer Testing Suite at the Coleraine Campus) and our restaurant ‘Academy’ in Belfast.

To find out more about the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s work on SDG 14 ‘Life Below Water’, contact