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Conversation article: How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Dr Keith Parry writes for The Conversation about the disparity in pay and opportunities between male and female sport…

How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) recently awarded full-time professional contracts to 12 women players. However, the value of the contracts has not been revealed and the 12 contracts are not enough to make up a full rugby union team, let alone a squad.

These contracts are still unusual and top sportswomen continue to face more funding issues than men at the same level. Contracts offered to top women athletes are often short term, covering the weeks of a sporting competition, or part-time, and, until recently, lacking maternity leave. Women’s teams frequently face poor pitches, lower wages/prize money, and inferior conditions compared to men.

Sport has been (and largely still is) governed by male, hypermasculine former athletes. One theory argues that these managers of sport make decisions that benefit themselves and (white, heterosexual, middle/upper-class) males. As a result, women’s sport has, at many times, been misunderstood and treated poorly.

History of discrimination

Women’s sport is getting more backing, but this comes against a long history of discrimination. Last year’s Women’s FA Cup Final took place 100 years after the Football Association banned women’s football in Football League grounds. This ban fed into historic hostility towards women playing sport.

That has not gone away completely. The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) stoked controversy with its views shortly after women’s boxing was accepted as an Olympic sport. AIBA suggested that women boxers should wear skirts when they competed to help them stand out from the men’s competitions.

While 22-year-old Ema Klinec from Slovenia, the current World Champion, is one to watch for the women’s ski jumping at the Winter Olympics this year, women were excluded from this sport for years. As recently as 2008, the International Olympic Committee cited the “technical merit” of women’s ski jumping as justification for its exclusion. Another reason was also the misguided belief by the governing body that ski jumping would damage women’s reproductive health. Following international pressure and unsuccessful court cases, it was finally accepted in 2011 and appeared for the first time at Sochi 2014.

This type of view has heavily influenced the way women’s sport is treated and its funding and resourcing.

Equal pay

Just over 50 years ago, Billie Jean King and eight other professional tennis players launched their own tennis tour to ensure that they were paid and treated on a par with men’s tennis players. Yet it was not until 2006 that the last Grand Slam tennis tournament, Wimbledon, agreed to pay equal prize money to men and women. The men’s World Number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic argued in 2016 that men should earn more than women players.

Even when women’s teams have successes, they are frequently paid significantly less than men. The US Women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination act (and later a gender discrimination lawsuit) against the governing body of their sport. Despite winning World Cups and generating more income than the men’s team, they were paid a quarter of what the men’s team earned prior to their legal action.

There are signs that change is coming. The Welsh national football association has recently pledged to introduce equal pay for its men’s and women’s teams by 2026. They have joined a growing number of national associations to have equal pay agreements for their men’s and women’s teams.

In cricket, The Hundred was the first professional tournament that put women’s and men’s teams on an equal footing, with women’s matches played on the same grounds as the men’s. Attendances for the women’s matches was higher than for previous tournaments.

Increased attendance show that when women’s sport is marketed suitably, spectators see greater value in it and are more likely to attend.

At the Winter Olympics, the inclusion of sports such as mixed team ski jumping and women’s monobob mean that there are not only more events for women but also greater opportunities for sponsorship. At the 2020 Tokyo Games, sponsorship of women athletes grew. Sponsors increasingly see value in backing women athletes.

The FA and Professional Footballers’ Association have finally agreed to include maternity and long-term sickness cover in the contract of women footballers. At the same time, the Women’s World Cup and European Championship are likely to be recognised as
two of the protected sports events made available to free-to-air broadcasters.

Progress has been made in women’s sport but until the attitudes of those running sport change, top sportswomen will continue to face more obstacles than men.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Dr Keith Parry answers some of the most pressing questions about what tennis star Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia means for unvaccinated athletes in this article for The Conversation

‘We’re entering unprecedented territory’: sports expert Q&A on what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is out of the Australian Open after the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, cancelled his visa “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. This follows an earlier quashing of the original decision by Border Force officials to cancel the Serbian player’s visa when he arrived in Australia because he didn’t have a COVID vaccination. Djokovic’s lawyers headed to court to seek an injunction against his deportation, which has now been dismissed.

Djokovic was seeking a tenth title at the event, as well as the world record for men’s Grand Slam wins. At the age of 34, it this makes it harder for him to now be able to fulfil his potential on the court before he retires.

At a time when multiple countries have been introducing restrictions on unvaccinated people, it raises questions about whether other sports stars will run into similar issues. We asked sports management expert Keith Parry about what the visa struggle might mean for sports stars and teams around the world.

Will Djokovic’s visa saga have implications for other sports in Australia?

Yes it will. Now they’ve set the precedent, I think we could see other players fall foul of this system when entering Australia. Clearly the federal government do not want unvaccinated players coming into Australia so it will deter some (unless they agree to isolate for two weeks).

Are significant numbers of sports stars unvaccinated?

In the US the public know if players are unvaccinated because of regulations there. For example the National Basketball Association has released a list of unvaccinated players. There’s no requirement to name players in the UK, but there’s been coverage about Premier League footballers not being vaccinated.

What are other teams likely to do to avoid trouble?

Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp has said that he won’t sign an unvaccinated player. So there’s an implication for players’ livelihoods. Players who are unvaccinated may have limited choice not just in terms of where they can go and travel, but also in terms of the clubs that are prepared to sign them. So we’re entering unprecedented territory now. Other managers may follow Klopp’s lead.

Some managers will see the Djokovic decision as further evidence of the challenge that unvaccinated players pose to clubs. Another challenge for sport managers may be sponsors and partners, who may exert influence on athletes or teams if they have strong views on vaccinations. We see many sponsors end relationships with teams or players if they feel it is bad for their image.

Teams and organisations will also now think carefully about where they play or host matches. Teams will pay even closer attention to the regulations in countries and ensure that they have sufficient time to meet the requirements for isolation or bubbles. Countries that have stricter rules may look less appealing in the future.

Will sports stars worry about their statements on vaccines making a difference to them playing?

Players are very affluent. They’re young and feel indestructible. But they may think twice now about what they say on social media about vaccines. It will be interesting to see how athletes who refuse to be vaccinated are viewed. Will it tarnish Djokovic’s image or, as is often the case, will he be forgiven and the episode written out of his story?

Which countries with upcoming tournaments could be an issue in future?

In Europe, Italy and Germany have vaccine mandates and so tournaments there, or European club competition matches in these countries, may present challenges. France just relaxed its travel rules but unvaccinated players are still required to isolate for ten days. This may be an issue for the Six Nations rugby tournament this spring.

Different state rules around the US may be a challenge for athletes. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, for instance, cannot play in New York because of its regulations, but he can play in the team’s away matches in most other states.

Is this a sign that sports stars can’t always get around the rules?

In the past, organisations like international football association FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have operated outside of borders and outside of the rules. Often no one holds them accountable. Clearly these celebrities do expect to have preferential treatment. So this visa wrangle may be a bit of a shock.

Ordinary people have to go through immigration, fill in forms ourselves and follow the rules. But when you’re idolised by millions around the world, it’s very difficult to think that the rules apply to you. Sports heroes have crossed over into the realm of celebrity but there’s a need for athletes to uphold society’s values.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Dr Keith Parry and Dr Rafaelle Nicholson co-author this article for The Conversation about the challenges facing women’s sport… 

Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Chelsea Women’s Sam Kerr takes a shot at goal during an FA Women’s Superleague match against Arsenal Women.
Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, Bournemouth University

The delayed 2020/21 Women’s FA Cup final is finally taking place. Two London rivals, Arsenal and Chelsea, and some of the best players in the world make this a sporting event worthy of a grand stage such as Wembley Stadium. The timing of the final, December 5, is significant and ironic, as on December 5 1921 the Football Association banned women’s football.

The ban was because sports were believed to be unsuitable for females. Fifty years on from the end of this ban, women’s football is now where it belongs, at the “home of football”.

This is just one of many significant developments in women’s sport that have happened recently.

In summer 2021, English cricket’s new Hundred tournament attracted the highest attendance for a women’s cricket event ever, with a total attendance at the games of 267,000. The opening game of the American women’s soccer Challenge Cup, meanwhile, became the most-watched match in league history with 572,000 viewers, a 201% increase on the previous record. And in England, a “landmark £7m deal” was struck with broadcasters to show Women’s Super League football matches on free-to-air and subscription services.

It’s been claimed that interest in women’s sport is thriving. However, there are concerns regarding the future of women’s sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More needs to be done to assure its future.

The need for caution

We research key governance aspects of women’s sport and, while we agree there has been much improvement, our research also suggests that areas of inequality remain and more needs to be done by governing bodies, organisations and policymakers. While women’s sport is currently popular, changes are needed for its success to be sustained.

For instance, when men’s and women’s sports are governed by the same organisation, the decisions made typically prioritise men’s sport. Recent accusations of institutional racism highlight the issues when sports are run by hypermasculine, failed male athletes – they make decisions that benefit themselves and those that resemble them (men).

This is an issue that has worsened over time. Historically, many women’s sports were governed separately and run wholly or mainly by women – for example, the Women’s Football Association was in charge of English women’s football until the Football Association took over in 1992, and the Women’s Cricket Association ran women’s cricket until 1998 when the England and Wales Cricket Board gained control. But since the 1990s, women’s sport has typically been run by men with little knowledge of women’s sport, who tend to prioritise what they know.

This privileging of men’s sport was particularly the case at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exception to this was in North America where women’s football has its own governing body, and where during the pandemic, women’s football was prioritised – a new tournament introduced and new commercial partners found. In other countries, women’s sport was simply cancelled.

Another area of concern is that sports media coverage, which is now the way most people access sport, continues to be dominated by men’s sports. This pattern is not helped when those who talk and write about sport remain predominantly men. Our research shows that when women have greater involvement in sports journalism there’s greater coverage of women’s sport. The challenge is breaking into the “boys’ club” of sports journalism.

We also found that women’s sport is both under-valued and under-sold. Women’s sport often receives less investment in marketing and promotion. As a result, spectators see it as less exciting and less spectacular than men’s sport.

This research also found that women’s games are often scheduled in the middle of the workday or early on weekdays, rather than primetime slots on weekday evenings or weekend afternoons. This scheduling creates problems because spectators are often not able to attend when games are during work hours or when children’s sport is taking place.

Women’s sport is often only accessible on pay-TV, limiting the potential audience. Recent research shows that when matches are moved onto free-to-air channels, the sky is the limit. A study for the Women’s Sport Trust recently showed that the broadcast audience of women’s sport in the UK has grown from 46.8 million in 2019 to 51.1 million in 2021. Much of this increase comes from new coverage of women’s cricket and women’s football, and gender-parity in Olympic coverage.

A roadmap for sustained success

So, while the future of women’s sport looks bright, inequalities remain. We propose a five-point “roadmap” detailing the changes that are needed for the success of women’s sport to be sustained:

• Ensure that the governance of women’s sport has women in visible leadership positions, to prioritise it and ensure that any decisions support the interests of women’s sport. Otherwise, if men run both men’s and women’s sport they will continue to prioritise the male version.

• The sports media workforce needs greater diversity. Although we focus on gender here, sports media is dominated by white men.

• The marketing and presentation of women’s sport need to be on a par with men’s sport. While men’s sport has greater investment in these areas it will continue to be seen as superior to women’s sport. There needs to be unity in how sports clubs communicate with fans about their men’s and women’s teams.

• Women’s sport needs consistent prime time scheduling (as seen with women’s football in England this season), rather than during the day when the majority of fans are at work and cannot attend.

• Coverage of women’s sport needs to be on free-to-air television – if it is not, awareness of it will drop.

If these points can be addressed, we believe that women’s sport will continue to thrive, not just now, but well into the future.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, , Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Writing for The Conversation, Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds discuss the potential discovery of an early human species…

A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Dawid A. Iurino for THOR, Author provided

Matthew Robert Bennett, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Bournemouth University

A collection of fossil footprints at Laetoli in Northern Tanzania, preserved in volcanic ash and dated to 3.66 million years ago, are still yielding surprises almost 45 years after their discovery.

Based on a re-analysis of fossil footprints from one of Laetoli’s sites, the authors of a new study published in the journal Nature say they’ve discovered evidence of a previously unknown early human species at this spot. However, there are reasons to be cautious about this conclusion.

Before we delve into these new findings, let’s orientate ourselves. Laetoli, an area well-known for paleontological excavations, has a number of distinct sites, each denoted by letters of the alphabet. British paleoanthropolgist Mary Leakey and her colleagues first reported fossil footprints in 1978 at Site G, the main track site at Laetoli.

In 2016, a team led by Fidelis Masao, an archaeologist in Tanzania, uncovered additional tracks close to Site G, at Site S. The footprints from Sites G and S are usually assigned to the well-known ancestral human (hominin) species Australopithecus afarensis, of which the skeleton “Lucy” is the best-known example.

Less well-known is the fact that in 1976, two years before Leakey’s famous discovery, a set of five footprints were found at Site A. Importantly, all these sites occur on the same ash surface, so we know they date from the same time period.

But the five footprints from Site A were largely forgotten, eclipsed by Leakey’s later discovery. This was understandable because the footprints at Site A had poor morphological shape, or definition, and there were fewer of them (there are more than 30 individual footprints at Site G).

In 1987, American paleoanthropologist Russell Tuttle suggested that these footprints may have been made by a species of bear, or by a different hominin from those of Site G. He also cautioned that the diversity in the footprints’ form as compared to those at Site G might simply reflect the changing properties of the ash layer over which the hominin walked.

Seeking to find out who these footprints belonged to, a team of international researchers re-excavated the tracks from Site A in 2019. Their findings are the focus of the new paper in Nature.

The researchers used various methods including photography and 3D scanning to inspect the Site A footprints. They compared the width and length with footprints from black bears, chimpanzees and humans, as well as the tracks from Sites G and S. They also explored the bear hypothesis by examining video footage of modern black bears which, on rare occasions, walk upright.

The authors concluded that on balance, the footprints at Site A did not resemble bear tracks, and were different from the footprints at Sites G and S.

One particular feature they draw attention to is that the Site A trackway cross-steps, almost as if one was attempting to toe a line as part of sobriety test. Based on this and their other findings, the authors suggest that the tracks at Site A were made by a different hominin than those at sites G and S. They argue that two hominin species walked the Laetoli landscape 3.66 million years ago.

A footprint from Site A on the left and Site G on the right.
Image on left by Jeremy DeSilva and on right by Eli Burakian/Dartmouth.

The broader evolutionary context at this time suggests what the authors are proposing would be possible. There was more than one species of hominin on the African landscape during this period, and we’ve seen anatomical variation in the foot within some Australopithecus species. That said, it’s quite a significant leap to identify a second species based on a handful of poorly defined tracks.

Variation in trackways is the key issue here. Imagine going for a walk down a beach or sandy path. The footprints you make will vary from one step to the next. This reflects natural variability in human gait, as well as subtle differences in the characteristics of the ground you’re walking on.

In a recent paper we suggested that you need a minimum of between ten and 20 footprints before you can confidently quantify the variability in just one dimension, such as footprint length, let alone several. Others have suggested that you may need over 250 tracks to adequately quantify the three-dimensional form of a footprint.

Footfall and the resulting footprints are more variable than once thought and some have argued that even individuals of the same species may have highly unique gaits.

In this context it is rather surprising that the authors of this paper make inferences not just about one individual, but a whole species.

One way to strengthen their conclusions would be to use modern “whole foot” methods to statistically compare the best footprint at Site A with those at Sites S and G. This could be an approach for future research.

Certainly more evidence is needed to determine whether these footprints justify this excitement, and do indeed belong to another early human species.The Conversation

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Principal Academic in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: UK-India trade deal: why the timing is crucial for both nations

The UK and India have announced a new enhanced deal on trade at a virtual summit. The deal aims to double trade between the two countries by 2030 and declares their joint commitment to start working towards a comprehensive free-trade agreement, for which discussions are due to commence in the autumn.

Britain and India announced £1 billion of new trade and investment as part of this new Enhanced Trade Partnership. Indian investments worth £533 million will be made in Britain, including £240 million by the Serum Institute for production of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines and sales business. At the same time, £446 million worth of export deals were announced by British businesses in India. This builds on a trade relationship that was already worth £25.5 billion in 2019.

At the summit the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, also launched a Roadmap 2030 to expand and deepen bilateral cooperation in five areas: people-to-people relationships, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate action and healthcare cooperation.

Deeper ties

The new deal is expected to generate additional employment in both countries, grow bilateral trade and unlock new opportunities in sectors such as food and drink, business services such as law and accounting, advanced engineering, defence, education, energy, life sciences and healthcare. It will also reduce barriers, both tariff and non-tariff, for businesses at a time when the prospects for global growth after the COVID-19 pandemic remain uncertain.

The deal is particularly interesting due to its size and intended scope. The UK and India are the 5th and 6th biggest economies in the world. India is the largest single market, of about 1.4 billion people, that the UK has committed to negotiating a free-trade deal with to date.

India is Britain’s sixth-largest non-EU trading partner, whereas Britain is barely inside India’s top 20. This points to significant scope for growth on both sides. Once agreed, the free-trade deal is likely to be extremely significant, fostering innovation and technology cooperation as well as skills transfer and knowledge-sharing between the two nations.

At present, however, India is facing a particularly devastating health threat following the latest outbreak of COVID-19. The UK government and the diaspora have been supporting India with things like ventilators, oxygen generation units and a clinical advisory group, but the subcontinent is so large and populous that there is only so much that can be achieved.

The new agreement can potentially help by easing the pain of economic contraction for India in 2021, while supporting both partners as they commence rebuilding efforts to recover from the pandemic.

Britain and the Indo-Pacific

The deal will likely strengthen the geopolitical positions of both nations in a part of the world that is dominated by China. The UK’s recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy articulated the importance of an Indo-Pacific region with “open societies”.

The UK signalled a willingness in the review to play a larger role in the region, committing to a larger naval presence to ensure freedom of navigation. It has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free-trade bloc of 11 Pacific nations including Japan, Australia and Canada.

The UK has also become an official dialogue partner of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. All this, including the trade deal with India, seeks to help the UK to “unlock opportunities in the region” and establish an outward-looking global Britain.

Finally, announcing an UK-India agreement before the EU-India summit on May 8 gives the UK a first-mover advantage over the trading bloc that it has just left behind. In keeping with the UK-India deal, facilitating investment, regulatory cooperation and trade barriers are at the top of the agenda at the summit. The EU is also seeking to make progress on a free-trade agreement, as well as several other treaties on specific aspects of trade. Modi had been due to visit Porto, Portugal for the occasion, but this has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

The UK-India declaration for an Enhanced Trade Partnership symbolises the commitment of both countries to bolster what Modi has referred to as “living bridge” between the two countries in light of their shared history, culture and democratic values. It is these common attributes – together with complementary skills and capabilities – that make the UK and Indian natural partners despite the geographical distance, especially at a time when both the economies will have to address the economic rebuilding agenda after the pandemic.

Sangeeta Khorana, Professor of Economics, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Boris Johnson’s phone: what can hackers do with your mobile number?

Boris Johnson’s personal phone number has been publicly available on the internet for 15 years, it has been revealed. Listed at the bottom of a 2006 press release, the number has reportedly been accessible online from the time the prime minister was shadow higher education minister through to his rise to Number 10.

That such a high-value mobile number has been publicly available for so long has raised cybersecurity concerns. If hostile states had access to the number, it’s possible they could have used it to spy on the prime minister. That would pose a serious security risk to the UK.

Hackers and cybercriminals place a high premium on our mobile phone numbers – with which they can do a lot of damage with very little effort. While there is currently no evidence that Boris Johnson’s data and communications have been compromised, having your mobile phone number being freely available significantly increases your vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

Impersonation

One such cyber-attack is the “SIM swap” – a very common technique that’s difficult to stop. It’s usually used by hackers to exploit a high-value individual’s exposed phone number.

SIM swaps see hackers call up the victim’s mobile phone provider, impersonating them and requesting to “port-out” the phone number to a different carrier or a new SIM card. They can use other publicly available information – such as the victim’s date of birth and their address – to make a more convincing case.

On completion of the port-out, the phone number activates on the attacker’s SIM card, and the hacker can send and receive messages and make calls as if they were the victim.

Phone companies have been aware of this problem for years, but the only routine solution they’ve come up with is offering PIN codes that a phone owner must provide in order to switch devices. Even this measure has proved ineffective. Hackers can get the codes by bribing phone company employees, for instance.

Access

Once hackers gain control of a phone number, they can then access their online profiles – on Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and WhatsApp – which are all usually linked to the mobile number. All they need to do is ask the social media companies to send a temporary login code, via text message, to the victim’s phone.

This was reported to be the case for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose mobile phone SIM swap resulted in hackers posting offensive messages to millions of his followers. Other high-value individuals have also fallen victim to these kinds of attacks, including the actress Jessica Alba, and online personalities like Shane Dawson and Amanda Cerny.




Read more:
The real phone hacking scandal is in your pocket


Aside from posting offensive messages, hackers have been reported to use the accounts to spam, steal identities, access private communications, steal cryptocurrency, and maliciously delete mobile phone data.

Surveillance

Hackers can also use another even simpler method to attack a phone – though some advanced spyware is needed to make the attack stick. Hackers armed with someone’s phone number can send them a text message with a hyperlink within it. If clicked, the link allows spyware to infiltrate the phone, compromising much of its data.

Jeff Bezos stood outside, smiling and wearing a grey suit
Jeff Bezos’ personal phone was found to contain spyware in January 2020.
lev radin/Shutterstock

It appears this method was used to infiltrate and spy on Jeff Bezos’ phone in 2020, after reports found it to be “highly probable” that a text sent from Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, delivered the spyware to Bezos’ phone. Similar spyware has been used to monitor the phones of journalists and human rights activists.

It is possible that Boris Johnson’s mobile phone has never been hacked, in spite of the 15 years that his number was freely available online. However, seeing as the exposed phone numbers of high-value individuals can be taken advantage of by criminals or hackers from hostile states, tight new security measures should be put in place to avoid such an oversight happening again.

Edward Apeh, Principal Academic in Computing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How lockdown changed the sex lives of young adults – new research

Lockdown significantly affected our health (for good and bad), our work and how we socialise. These consequences have been widely discussed, but far less attention has been given to the effect on our sex lives.

When lockdown came into force in the UK in March 2020, people from outside the same household were not allowed to meet indoors, and only at set distances outdoors. This meant that sex between people who didn’t live together was effectively criminalised.

In some ways, these restrictions disproportionately affected young adults, who are more likely than older adults to be exploring their sexuality and developing romantic relationships. But the impact of lockdown on people’s sexual desires and sex lives and how this affected their sense of wellbeing was not known. We decided to find out.

For our study, we surveyed 565 people aged 18-32 in the UK at the end of peak lockdown restrictions in May 2020. People were recruited using a survey recruitment site. They were a convenience sample, meaning they were people who were easily available rather than representative of the population as a whole.

Respondents were asked if they engaged in a list of sexual activities both before lockdown and during lockdown. This included intercourse, solo masturbation, and watching pornography. They were also asked to rate their health and wellbeing.

The number of respondents who engaged in each of these activities during lockdown decreased compared with before lockdown. The biggest decrease was for sex with a partner, with just over a quarter of respondents stopping this activity during lockdown (25.5%).

For those participants who continued to engage in sexual activities, we also asked whether the frequency increased or decreased during the period. There were both increases and decreases. Regarding increases, just over a quarter (26%) of people masturbated more often on their own, 20% reported having more intercourse with their partner, and 20% reported watching more pornography on their own.

Yet the same three sexual activities also decreased in frequency for some participants, with a third of people having less sex with their partner, a quarter masturbating alone less, and around a fifth (22%) watching less pornography alone.

People were more likely to report increases in sexual activity if they were male, in a serious relationship, and if they weren’t heterosexual.

We also investigated sexual desire. In our sample, women reported lower sexual desire than men overall, with a significant decrease in sexual desire during lockdown compared with before lockdown. Women with a greater enjoyment of casual sex reported a greater perceived effect of lockdown on their wellbeing.

Our findings, which are published in the Journal of Sex Research, support other reports into the effects of lockdown restrictions. Lockdown measures have disproportionately affected some groups more than others. The reported increase in domestic chores and stress for women during the lockdown may explain the decrease in sexual desire and the negative effect on wellbeing.

Moving out of lockdown

There are many health benefits, both physical and mental, to engaging in regular sexual activity. Sex can be an important component of people’s lives and their identity, particularly for sexual minorities.

There are other concerns about COVID-19 and sexuality. Most sexual health and reproductive services in the UK have been severely limited or closed. There is evidence that access to condoms and contraception was disrupted for young adults during social lockdown.

Some sexual health charities have been offering home testing kits of sexually transmitted infection screenings, but there will be people who do not or cannot use these services. Similarly, there is evidence that birth rates have dropped significantly over the year, which might lead to an associated large increase in births over the next 12 months once people see some stability returning to their lives.

As the UK follows the road map out of lockdown, it is important to consider how those whose sex lives have been restricted will respond to the extra freedom. It has been suggested that we could see a new “roaring 20s” as we return to a new sense of normality.

Government policy ignored sex during lockdown. It needs to actively support sexual health and wellbeing as we return to some kind of normality.

Liam Wignall, Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University and Mark McCormack, Professor of Sociology, University of Roehampton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Sea levels are rising fastest in big cities – here’s why

It is well known that climate-induced sea level rise is a major threat. What is less well know is the threat of sinking land. And in many of the most populated coastal areas, the land is sinking even faster than the sea is rising.

Parts of Tokyo for instance sank by 4 metres during the 20th century, with 2 metres or more of sinking reported in Shanghai, Bangkok, and New Orleans. This process is known as subsidence. Slow subsidence happens naturally in river deltas, and it can be accelerated by the extraction of groundwater, oil or gas which causes the soil to consolidate and the surface to lose elevation.

Subsidence leads to relative sea level rise (sea level rise plus land sinking). It turns croplands salty, damages buildings, causes widespread flooding and can even mean the loss of entire coastal areas.

Subsidence can threaten flooding in low-lying coastal areas, much more so than rising sea levels, yet scientists are only just realising the global implications of the threat with respect to coastal cities.

In fact, while the average coastal area experiences relative sea level rise of less than 3mm per year, the average coastal resident experiences a rise of around 8mm to 10mm per year. This is because so many people live in deltas and especially cities on deltas that are subsiding. That’s the key finding of our new research, where we analysed how fast cities are sinking across the world and compared them with global subsidence data including less densely populated coastlines.

Map showing relative sea level rise in 23 coastal regions around the world.
When weighted by population, relative sea level rise is worst in south east Asia, followed by south and east Asia, and the southern Mediterranean.
Nicholls et al, CC BY-SA

Our finding reflects that people often choose to live in river deltas, floodplains and other areas that were already prone to sinking, and in doing so will further enhance subsidence. In particular, subsiding cities contain more than 150 million people in the coastal zone – that’s roughly 20% of people in the world who live by the sea. This means relative sealevel rise will have a more sudden and more severe impact than scientists had originally thought.

Here are a few of the most affected cities:

Jakarta

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is home to 10 million people, and is built on low-lying land next to the sea. Groundwater extraction caused the city to sink more than three metres from 1947 to 2010 and much of the city is still sinking by 10cm or more each year.

Subsidence does not occur evenly, leading to uneven risks that make urban planning difficult. Buildings are now flooded, cracks are appearing in infrastructure which is being abandoned.

Jakarta has built higher sea walls to keep up with the subsidence. But since groundwater pumping continues, this patching-up policy can only last so long before the same problems occur again. And the city needs to keep pumping since groundwater is used for drinking water. Taking water, the very thing that humans need to survive, ultimately puts people at risk from inundation.

The battle against subsidence is slowly being lost, with the government proposing in 2019 to move the capital to a purpose-built city on the island of Borneo more than 1,000km away, with subsidence being one of many reasons.

Shanghai

Developing rapidly in the past few decades, and now with a population of 26 million, Shanghai is another sinker. The city has maximum subsidence rates of around 2.5cm a year. Again this is mostly caused by lowering groundwater levels, in this case thanks to drainage to construct skyscrapers, metro lines and roads (for instance Metro Line 1, built in the 1990s, caused rapid subsidence).

Body of water in front of lots of skyscrapers.
Shanghai is found where the river Yangtze meets the sea.
John_T / shutterstock

If no additional protection is built, by 2100 this rate of subsidence and sea level rise mean that a storm surge could flood around 15% of the city.

New Orleans

In New Orleans, centuries of embankments and ditches had effectively drained the city and sunk it, leaving about half of it below sea level.

Map of New Orleans with shaded areas below sea level.
Much of New Orleans is below sea level (red) and relies on sea walls to stay dry.
The Data Center, New Orleans, CC BY-SA

When Hurricane Katrina breached the levees in 2005, the city did not stand a chance. The hurricane caused at least US$40 billion (£29 billion) in damage and particularly took its toll on the city’s African American community. More than 1,570 people died across the state of Louisiana.

If the city had not subsided, damage would have been greatly reduced and lives would have been saved. Decisions that were made many decades or more ago set the path for the disasters that are seen today, and what we will see in the future.

There are no simple solutions

So what can be done? Building a sea wall or dike is one immediate solution. This of course stops the water coming in, but remember that the sea wall is sinking too, so it has to be extra large in order to be effective in the long-term. In urban areas, engineers cannot raise ground easily: that can take decades as buildings and infrastructure are renewed. There is no simple solution, and large-scale urban subsidence is largely irreversible.

Some cities have found “solutions”. Tokyo for instance managed to stop subsidence from about 1960 onwards thanks to stronger regulations on water pumping, but it cannot get rid of the overall risk as parts of city are below sea level and depend on dikes and pumps to be habitable. Indonesia’s bold proposal to move its capital city may be the ultimate solution.

Increased urbanisation especially in deltas areas and the demand for freshwater means subsidence will remain a pressing issue in the coming decades. Dealing with subsidence is complementary to dealing with climate-induced sea level rise and both need to be addressed. A combination of rising seas and sinking lands will increasingly leave coastal cities at risk.

Sally Brown, Scientist, Bournemouth University and Robert James Nicholls, Professor of Climate Adaptation, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

On March 11 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 public health emergency had become a pandemic: 114 countries were affected, there were 121,500 confirmed cases and more than 4,000 people had succumbed to the virus.

One year on, we have now seen 115 million confirmed cases globally and more than 2.5 million deaths from COVID-19.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” said the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on that day in 2020. But in the year since that announcement, the fates of many countries have depended on how leaders have chosen their words.

The impact of the pandemic was unprecedented and all governments faced challenges dealing with a severe but highly unpredictable threat to the lives of their citizens. And some governments responded better than others.

My colleagues and I recently carried out a comparative study of how 27 countries responded to the emergence of the virus and first wave, and how they communicated that response to their citizens.

We invited national experts to analyse their government’s communication style, the flow of information on coronavirus and the actions taken by civil society, mapping these responses onto the numbers of cases and deaths in the country in question. Our work reveals contrasting responses that reflect a nation’s internal politics, suggesting that a government’s handling of the pandemic was embedded in existing patterns of leadership.


Read more of our coverage of the first anniversary of the pandemic:

COVID-19: how to deal with a year of accumulated burnout from working at home

Pandemic babies: how COVID-19 has affected child development


With news of the spread of COVID-19 flowing across international borders, domestic preventative measures needed to be explained carefully. The WHO proved ill-equipped, provided equivocal and flawed advice regarding international travel, even from Hubei province, and equivocated on the efficacy of wearing masks. So much came down to how individual leaders communicated with their citizens about the risks they faced.

Experts in crisis management and social psychologists emphasise the importance of clarity and empathy in communicating during a health emergency.

So who did well and who missed the mark?

South Korea and Ghana

We found two major examples of this style of communication working well in practice. South Korea avoided a lockdown due to clearly communicating the threat of COVID-19 as early as January, encouraging the wearing of masks (which were common previously within the nation in response to an earlier Sars epidemic) and quickly rolling out a contact-tracing app.

Each change in official alert level, accompanied by new advice regarding social contact, was carefully communicated by Jung Eun-Kyung, the head of the country’s Centre for Disease Control, who used changes in her own life to demonstrate how new guidance should work in practice.

A graph showing coronavirus case numbers for the UK, Brazil, India, South Korea and Ghana
Our World in Data, CC BY

The transparency of this approach was echoed in the communication style of the Ghanaian president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Akufo-Addo took responsibility for coronavirus policy and explained carefully each measure required, being honest about the challenges the nation faced. Simple demonstrations of empathy earned him acclaim within his nation and also around the world.

“We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we don’t know is how to bring people back to life,” he famously said.

Brazil, the UK and India

South Korea and Ghana adopted a consistent tone highlighting the risks of the new pandemic and how they could be mitigated. Nations that fared less well encouraged complacency and gave out inconsistent messages about the threat of COVID-19.

In March 2020, just three weeks prior to placing the country under lockdown and catching COVID-19 himself, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson downplayed the threat, and said he had been shaking hands with infected people, against the recommendations of his expert advisers. Today, the UK has one of the highest per capita death rates from COVID in the world.

Avoiding a full initial lockdown, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro – who also contracted COVID-19 – called for normality to continue, challenging expert guidance and polarising opinion along partisan lines. Such practices led Brazilians to mistrust the official information and spread of misinformation, while adhering to containment measures became an ideological, rather than a public health, question.

Meanwhile, Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced a snap lockdown with just four hours notice, which caused an internal migration crisis, with poor labourers leaving cities to walk hundreds or thousands of miles to their rural homes. Understandably, the labourers prioritised their fears of homelessness and starvation over the risk of spreading COVID-19 around the country.

None of these responses effectively considered the impact that coronavirus would have on society, or that credibility is earned through consistency. The poor outcomes in each case are a partial reflection of these leadership mistakes.

Bad luck or bad judgement?

Of course, the unfolding of the pandemic was not solely down to good or bad communication from leaders. Health systems and demographics may also have played a role, and the worst impacted nations not only had strategic weaknesses but are also global transport hubs and popular destinations – London, New York, Paris and so on. With hindsight, closing borders would have been wise, despite the contrary advice from the World Health Organization.

Still, it’s evident that leaders who adopted clear, early, expert-led, coherent and empathic guidance fared well in terms of their standing with the public and were able to mitigate the worst effects of the virus.

On the other hand, those who politicised the virus, exhibited unrestrained optimism or took to last-minute decision-making oversaw some of the nations with the most cases and deaths.

Darren Lilleker, Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Three ways to ensure ‘wellness’ tourism provides a post-pandemic opportunity for the travel industry

The effects of COVID-19 vaccination programmes have led to a glimmer of hope that some of the things we used to enjoy may soon be part of our lives once again. High on many people’s priority lists will be foreign travel.

In the UK, the official declaration of a “roadmap” to normality was quickly followed by a surge in online bookings for flights and holidays. This is a welcome development for one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. It is good news for countries that depend on tourism, and it is undoubtedly good news for people who are desperate to get away.

Importantly, it is also a step towards an end to the uncertainty and isolation that in 2020 led to warnings of a global mental health crisis.

The pandemic also raised awareness of the importance of “wellness” – a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing – in people’s lives. Even without a pandemic to deal with, attempting to achieve this state is the basis of a global industry said to be worth around US$4.5 trillion a year.

The travel side of this, “wellness tourism”, was worth US$639 billion globally in 2017, a figure expected to increase to US$919 billion by 2022.

And while wellness tourism was growing rapidly before COVID-19 struck, last year saw a reported growth in internet searches about travel to “wellness destinations]”.

Destination-wise, places known for yoga, meditation and pilgrimage routes, such as Chiang Mai in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia, stand to benefit from increased demand.

Our own tourism research leads us to believe that countries which actively improve infrastructure to target wellness tourism will enjoy a particular boost in any post-COVID period.

shutterstock.

To make sure of this, governments and tourism authorities need to optimise wellness tourism resources. Here are three things they should consider:

1. Encourage domestic tourism

One widespread response to the pandemic was the rediscovery of local natural beauty. New Zealanders for example, prohibited from international travel, flocked to the remote and previously under-visited Chatham Islands. Cambodians capitalised on the absence of some three million annual tourists to visit the Angkor Wat World Heritage site.

The pandemic has been seen as a time to reset longstanding social imbalances that barred local people from enjoying their own spaces. Not only would improved domestic tourism help support local businesses at these destinations, but it would also contribute to the wellbeing of the communities who live close to them.

2. Understand differences

Wellness can mean different things to different people and cultures. In Indonesia, the Balinese travel to religious or spiritual sites for rituals linked to their ancestors and families. This runs parallel to most western tourists’ experiences in Bali, who often visit centres targeted at their personal requirements, with spa treatments or yoga classes. Although westerners generate more profits than locals, it is important for the wellbeing of the surrounding community to ensure equal access to these sites.

Local Balinese yoga instructors often lack the marketing and financial resources to attract global wellness tourists. During the pandemic, some foreign-owned facilities (such as Yoga Barn, one of the most popular studios for westerners) sustained their business through digital video platform. Meanwhile, local facilities struggled without the technical skills and hardware to compete. And while large resorts are well positioned to benefit from post-pandemic wellness travel, they usually provide only low-paid jobs to locals. Support should be provided for small, locally owned wellness tourism businesses as well.

3. Support the small scale

The lack of social sustainability has often plagued tourism development schemes. Our concern is that as tourism gradually opens up again, businesses and governments will simply focus on the high-end luxury wellness market. They may look to smaller numbers of wealthy tourists to remedy economic damage, limit the possibility of spreading the pandemic, and mitigate the high costs of hospitalising sick visitors.

But they would be misguided to focus solely on this competitive niche. Many high-value tourism businesses are owned by foreign investors without local involvement or economic benefit. Local governments, tourism authorities, large businesses and international organisations must support community-based, small-scale enterprises in remote areas to build a more comprehensive wellness tourism sector.




Read more:
How Bali could build a better kind of tourism after the pandemic


Overall, wellness tourism programmes should be developed in a way that empowers local communities, helps to reduce economic inequality and creates new livelihoods, especially in rural areas where poverty rates are high. It should also be developed beyond the popular destinations of Thailand and India to include poorer destinations, such as Laos, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

For while wellness tourism was gaining attention before the COVID period, the trend
will probably continue as COVID restrictions (hopefully) ease. And with the necessary pause in arrivals right now, the industry has an opportunity to reflect on how to create a more sustainable approach to everyone’s wellbeing, wherever they live.

Jaeyeon Choe, Senior Academic in Sustainable Tourism Development, Bournemouth University and Michael Di Giovine, Associate Professor of Anthropology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: India: UK is on a charm offensive to win a free-trade deal – will it work?

Bilateral talks are at an early stage.
Sylwia Bartyzel, CC BY-SA

Sangeeta Khorana, Bournemouth University

At a time when so little international business is face to face because of the pandemic, the UK is flying ministers to India to lay the groundwork for a deal on free trade.

In a sign of the importance that the UK attaches to reaching what is being described as an “enhanced trade partnership” with India on the back of Brexit, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has been meeting Piyush Goyal, the Indian commerce and industry minister.

It is part of a British wide charm offensive with the subcontinent that already saw Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab paying a visit in December. So what is at stake and what are the chances of success?

India is already the UK’s sixth largest non-EU trading partner after the US, China, Japan, Switzerland and Norway, and the relationship now supports more than 500,000 UK jobs.

In 2019, bilateral trade in goods and services between the two countries were respectively worth US$15.7 billion and US$18.9 billion (£11.5 billion and £13.8 billion), and becoming increasingly important. The UK’s services exports to India have grown at 7% a year between 2013 and 2018, and yet India continues to enjoy a trade surplus with the UK. The UK is also the second largest investor in India.

Meanwhile, India is the second largest investor in the UK after the US. India invested in 120 projects and created 5,429 new jobs in the UK in 2018-19. Indian companies in the UK turn over an excess of £40 billion. Steel to car-making giant Tata is easily the largest, but there are many other major Indian employers, such as Firstsource (contact centres), Tenon (facilities management), HCL (IT services) and TVS (logistics).

The UK’s need for a deal

When Dominic Raab visited India before turn of the year, it saw a declaration of a ten-year road map towards upgrading the nations’ 2004 strategic partnership into a new “comprehensive strategic partnership” involving closer military ties, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, and measures to counter terrorism and fight climate change.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to visit the subcontinent in January, but postponed until the spring to deal with the latest wave of the COVID crisis. His counterpart Narendra Modi is also invited to attend the G7 summit in Cornwall, south-west England in June, and there is no question that the economic realities of the pandemic and changed geopolitical priorities following Brexit provide an incentive for both sides to negotiate a fast-track trade deal.

For the UK, this reiterates the government’s “Global Britain” strategy of developing stronger ties in Asia Pacific – in line with the country’s application to join the CPTPP free-trade bloc. A trade deal with India is an opportunity to foster post-Brexit and post-COVID recovery, giving British businesses greater access to a market of 1.3 billion people when the prospects for global growth after the pandemic still remain uncertain.

UK companies already have a growing market share in India in several sectors, including food and drinks despite high tariffs and other trade restrictions. Notably, India is the third largest market for Scotch whisky, for instance.

The business potential has also just been enhanced by the fact that on February 1, the Indian national budget raised the maximum stake that foreign investors can take in insurance companies from 49% to 74%, while also offering new opportunities in healthcare and agribusiness.

India and free trade

From India’s perspective, a deal would reduce its reliance on trade with China at a time of very chilly relations between the two countries, while helping to maintain its global geopolitical weight. In particular, it would reiterate India’s commitment to free trade after the decision in 2019 to exit from a deal to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Asia’s other major trade bloc. India decided it had more to lose than gain by joining the China-led bloc, whose members also include Japan and South Korea.

And of course, a deal would also ease the pain of economic contraction from the pandemic.

Modi giving speech in front of Indian flags
Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister.
amit.pansuriya

Meanwhile, the fact that the UK and India are both primarily services exporters potentially makes them a good fit, not to mention their common language.

India is likely to demand liberal access for skilled professionals and students as part of the negotiations, while the UK will want enhanced access to India’s financial and professional business services market, including insurance and technology. Other sectors likely to be the subject of negotiations might include renewable energy, IT, life sciences and healthcare.

Given India’s recent scepticism to the benefits of free trade, a decision may ultimately come down to whether the post-COVID economic realities convince the Modi government that a deal is a necessity. The UK might be more likely to succeed if it pushes for negotiations that focus on individual sectors rather than a full-bilateral deal. This might offer some low-hanging fruit that eases the two sides into closer integration for an enhanced trade partnership in the fullness of time.

Sangeeta Khorana, Professor of Economics, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Five ways to manage your screen time in a lockdown, according to tech experts

shutterstock

John McAlaney, Bournemouth University; Deniz Cemiloglu, Bournemouth University, and Raian Ali, Hamad Bin Khalifa University

The average daily time spent online by adults increased by nearly an hour during the UK’s spring lockdown when compared to the previous year, according to communications regulator Ofcom. With numerous countries back under severe pandemic restrictions, many of us once again find ourselves questioning whether our heavy reliance on technology is impacting our wellbeing.

It’s true that digital devices have provided new means of work, education, connection, and entertainment during lockdown. But the perceived pressure to be online, the tendency to procrastinate to avoid undertaking tasks, and the use of digital platforms as a way to escape distress all have the potential to turn healthy behaviours into habits. This repetitive use can develop into addictive patterns, which can in turn affect a user’s wellbeing.

In our recent research, we explored how to empower people to have healthier and more productive relationships with digital technology. Our findings can be applied to those suffering from digital addiction as well as those who may feel their digital diet has ballooned unhealthily in the solitude and eventlessness of lockdown.

Screen time and addiction

Digital addiction refers to the compulsive and excessive use of digital devices. The design of digital platforms themselves contributes to this addictive use. Notifications, news feeds, likes and comments have all been shown to contribute towards a battle for your attention, which leads users to increase the time they spend looking at screens.

Screen time is an obvious measure of digital addiction, although researchers have noted that there is no simple way to determine how much screen time one can experience before it becomes problematic. As such, there is a continued lack of consensus on how we should think about and measure digital addiction.

Woman video conferences with others on a screen
Many of us have turned to video conferencing to keep in touch with friends and family.
shutterstock

During a global pandemic, when there often feels like no alternative to firing up Netflix, or video conferencing with friends and family, screen time as an indicator of digital addiction is clearly ineffective. Nonetheless, research conducted on digital addiction intervention and prevention does provide insights on how we can all engage with our digital technologies in a healthier way during a lockdown.

1. Setting limits

During the course of our research, we found that effective limit setting can motivate users to better control their digital usage. When setting limits, whatever goal you’re deciding to work towards should be aligned with the five “SMART” criteria. That means the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

For example, instead of framing your goal as “I will cut down my digital media use”, framing it as “I will spend no more than one hour watching Netflix on weekdays” will enable you to plan effectively and measure your success objectively.

2. Online Support Groups

It might seem a little paradoxical, but you can actually use technology to help promote greater control over your screen time and digital overuse. One study has found that online peer support groups — where people can discuss their experiences with harmful technology use and share information on how to overcome these problems — can help people adjust their digital diet in favour of their personal wellbeing. Even an open chat with your friends can help you understand when your tech use is harmful.

3. Self-reflection

Meanwhile, increasing your sense of self-awareness about addictive usage patterns can also help you manage your digital usage. You can do this by identifying applications we use repetitively and recognising the triggers that prompt this excessive consumption.

Self-awareness can also be attained by reflecting on emotional and cognitive processing. This involves recognising feelings and psychological needs behind excessive digital usage. “If I don’t instantly reply to a group conversation, I will lose my popularity” is a problematic thought that leads to increased screen time. Reflecting on the veracity of such thoughts can help release people from addictive patterns of digital usage.

4. Know your triggers

Acquiring self-awareness on addictive usage patterns can actually help us to identify unsatisfied needs that trigger digital overuse. When we do this, we can pave the way to define alternative behaviours and interests to satisfy those needs in different ways.

Mindfulness meditation, for instance, could be an alternative way of relieving stress, fears, or anxiety that currently leads users to digital overuse. If you feel your digital overuse might simply be due to boredom, then physical activity, cooking, or adopting offline hobbies can all provide alternative forms of entertainment. Again, technology can actually help enable this, for example by letting you create online groups for simultaneous exercising, producing a hybrid solution to unhealthy digital habits.

Father and daughter have fun cooking in kitchen
Cooking is one alternative to unhealthy digital habits.
shutterstock

5. Prioritise the social

We must also remember that our relationship with digital media reflects our inner drives. Humans are innately social creatures, and socialising with others is important to our mental wellbeing. Social media can enhance our opportunities for social contact, and support several positive aspects of mental wellbeing, such as peer support and the enhancement of self-esteem. The engagement with media to purposefully socialise during a lockdown can support our mental health, rather than being detrimental to our wellbeing.

Ultimately, technology companies also have a responsibility to both understand and be transparent about how the design of their platforms may cause harm. These companies should empower users with explanations and tools to help them make informed decisions about their digital media use.

While we may consider this as a legitimate user requirement, technology companies seem to be at the very early stages of delivering it. In the meantime, reflecting on when and why we turn to our screens is a good basis upon which to form positive digital habits during new lockdowns imposed this year.

John McAlaney, Associate Professor in Psychology, Bournemouth University; Deniz Cemiloglu, Researcher, Bournemouth University, and Raian Ali, Professor, College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Brexit and Covid: can British citizens travel in Europe after January 1?

British tourists hoping to travel to Europe in the new year will need to cancel or postpone their trips until the restrictions are lifted.
Andy Rain/EPA

Dimitrios Buhalis, Bournemouth University

The combined forces of COVID-19 and Brexit have created massive uncertainty over where British people can and cannot travel.

A number of countries rapidly imposed travel bans on the UK in an attempt to control the spread of a new variant that was identified as spreading across the country. Most European countries halted land and air transportation links with the UK or reinforced quarantine periods, as did Canada, India, Russia, Colombia, Kuwait and Turkey. Government advice and rules have been changing regularly.

But more confusion awaits after December 31 at 11pm. The UK left the EU on January 31 2020 and the transition period after Brexit comes to an end on this date. From January 1, British citizens will lose their automatic right to free movement in the European Union as a result of the nation’s decision to vote to leave the bloc.

Rules announced on December 9 stressed that under COVID-19 restrictions, Britons could be barred from EU entry on January 1 2021, when Britain becomes a “third country” to the European Union unless their travel is deemed essential.

From January 1 2021, the relationship between the UK and the EU may be determined by the trade agreement that is currently being negotiated. It may be that travel arrangements are agreed in that deal but, so far, talks are stalling on other issues.

As Britain becomes a “third country” (any country not in the EU) from January 1 2021, British residents cannot assume the right to visit EU countries while COVID restrictions are in place. When the UK was an EU member state, travel within the EU was regulated by the fundamental principle of freedom of movement. Now that the UK is no longer a member state, it can therefore no longer expect automatic travel rights.

On October 22, the EU Council instructed member states to gradually lift travel restrictions for residents of only eight “third countries” with low coronavirus infection rates. These included Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. All others, including British residents from January 1 (as the UK becomes a third country), will not be allowed to travel to the EU until the COVID-19 situation allows this travel restriction to be lifted. All the countries granted an exception had significantly less severe COVID situations than many other parts of the world so we can see there is some way to go before the UK meets such a hurdle, even beyond the current bans that have been brought in because of the new virus strain.

Holiday planning

These rules mean that British tourists hoping to travel to Europe in the new year, including those who may have flights booked already, will need to cancel or postpone their trip until the restrictions are lifted or Britain is added to the list of safe “third” countries.

Understandably, the pandemic, new strains of the virus, restrictions around the world and the expected third wave following the Christmas holiday prevent short term optimism.




Read more:
What are Australian-style and Canadian-style Brexit trade deals?


Until COVID-19 is contained and more people are vaccinated, both domestically and internationally, it is unlikely that much non-essential travel will be allowed. Realistically, this should be in late spring or early summer time.

If British tourists are prevented from travelling due to government restrictions, they should be refunded by suppliers, or, if they wish, they can accept value vouchers for future use.

Hat, sunglasses, mobile phone, shell, two passports with boarding passes and a plane figurine with a no symbol over it
British residents are barred from visiting EU countries under the current COVID restrictions.
ADragan/Shutterstock

After Easter, we should see restrictions lifted and more international travel activity. Global tourism has been haemorrhaging as a result of COVID-19-induced restrictions and the consequent economic recession.

Most governments will be observing the COVID situation very carefully and evaluate when it will be safe to reduce restrictions and remove travel bans. It is in the best interest of all stakeholders that this happens as soon as it is safe to do so.

It is worth noting, too, that many European countries are very keen to welcome back British travellers when it is safe to do so. Several kept their borders open, even when the epidemiological situation in the UK was much worse than in many tourism destinations.

The Brexit impact on travel

After COVID restrictions are lifted, most British travellers will find that Brexit brings some minor inconveniences. They will have to use “all passports” or “visa not required” lanes at borders and will travel similarly to non-EU citizens.

When the European Travel Authorisation and Information System (ETIAS) is introduced in the second half of 2022, visa-exempt, non-EU citizens will need to apply for travel authorisation online before their trip and pay a fee of 7 euros.

Other than that, they will be restricted to staying less than 90 days in a 180 period in the Schengen region.

Brexit sign at bus stop on UK high street reads:
British travellers are wishing for a worry-free 2021 – but will they get one?
Yau Ming Low/Shutterstock

One thing we’ve learned during the COVID era is how much we miss travelling. In the short term, if the virus is contained and restrictions relaxed, short and mid haul trips, often arranged at the last minute, will be the best option. Gradually, we will be able to travel again, create memorable experiences and reconnect with loved ones in wonderful places around the world.

Dimitrios Buhalis, Professor, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Tackling in children’s rugby must be banned to curb dementia risks

Rugby World Cup winners have joined a chorus of voices calling to reduce tackling in the sport in a bid to stop the growing number of brain injuries afflicting many of its former players.

When the likes of 42-year-old Rugby World Cup winner, Steve Thompson, announced that he could not remember the tournament because his brain was left too damaged from his career, he highlighted that rugby, in its current state, is not fit for contemporary society.

Invented in the 1800s, when safety was far less of a concern, rugby has been resistant to change. But this week, Thompson and 80 other high profile former rugby players announced that they are living with dementia, with many experiencing as early as their 40s.

Another former England player, Michael Lipman, said:

If I knew then what I know now, in terms of how I’m feeling, and what my wife and family go through on a daily basis, I definitely would have been a hell of a lot more careful.

Players are suing several governing bodies, including World Rugby and the Rugby Football Union. The law suit, which is in its infancy, will no doubt grow in claimants.

World Rugby responded to the lawsuit with a statement, saying it “takes takes player safety very seriously and implements injury-prevention strategies based on the latest available knowledge, research and evidence”.

Professional rugby will have its reckoning in the courts. But if the impact of tackling on the brain is strong enough that devoted rugby heroes are suing their former employer, policies need to be drastically revised and soon, particularly for children. The first thing the sport must do is protect young players by banning tackling for under 18s and transitioning to touch rugby.

In denial

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is not new. It was first described in the 1920s in boxers (it was called “punch drunk syndrome” at the time). But now research is proving what scientists, players and their families have long claimed – that repeated collisions are causing permanent damage to the brain.

When England’s 1966 World Cup-winning football heroes began to be diagnosed with dementia, the football world took notice. Now it is England’s World Cup rugby heroes that are suffering – and suffering younger. The FA banned heading the ball in training for children up to the age of 12, and severely restricted it after. It’s time for the rugby unions to react in the same way.




Read more:
NFL concussion lawsuit payouts reveal how racial bias in science continues


But whereas football can remove heading from the game, rugby is predicated on collision. As noted by one journalist, the only way to make rugby safe in its current format is to stop playing it. And earlier this year, researchers linked with England’s Rugby Football Union found that their sport offers more head trauma than other sports.

The case of rugby is more reminiscent of what happened to the National Football League in the US after the discovery that players were at increased risk of long-term neurological conditions, particularly CTE. Scores of players sued the NFL and received a US$1bn pay out.

The NFL has, for now, survived. World Rugby has insurance, so it might too. Yet surviving this lawsuit is only one threat to the sport. The fear over children playing the game will no doubt be rugby’s biggest threat.

No more half measures

Sporting bodies can no longer take half measures and policy must evolve to protect the huge numbers of children playing rugby. Children receive legal protection from other known harms, the list for which is very long (smoking and alcohol use, for example).




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Both football and rugby are regularly played by children, and particularly in school PE. But whereas children under 12 are not permitted to head the ball in practice, they can tackle another player in rugby training. And where children over 12 are permitted to only head the ball five times a month in football, they can be tackled by a player twice their size as often as the PE teacher decides.

Experts are now calling for tackling to be removed from the sport for children – and curtailed in practice for adults. This means that children should play touch rugby until they are 18. They can then make an informed decision to transition to tackle rugby or continue with touch when they are old enough.

Research shows that touch rugby is rising in popularity and has better health outcomes for children. But calls for bans on tackling in compulsory school rugby have gone unheeded for many years.

History shows that industries respond to health crises when they are forced to do so – either through legal cases or government legislation. A key example is how the tobacco companies were forced to stop denying the harmful effects of smoking in the 1990s. Rugby is no different. Public pressure and court cases may drive change at some level but legislation is needed to protect players, particularly children.

In the US, the Concussion Legacy Foundation has launched the “tackling can wait” campaign for American Football. It’s time for the UK to follow and protect its children from brain injury by banning tackling in youth rugby. It will be for the courts and the players’ unions to determine how much tackling adults can do – but if they have any sense, they will heed the warnings of those World Cup heroes.

Eric Anderson, Professor of Masculinities, Sexualities and Sport, University of Winchester; Adam John White, Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University, and Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Events Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Football and dementia: heading must be banned until the age of 18

Shutterstock/Wallenrock

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Eric Anderson, University of Winchester, and Howard Hurst, University of Central Lancashire

Alarm bells are ringing in sport about the risk of a group of chronic, neuro-degenerative diseases, commonly understood as dementia. There is an increasingly large body of evidence which has identified that small, repetitive collisions of the brain inside the skull cause this disease.

More high-profile players from England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad are getting dementia and heading the football is to blame. It is now time for a blanket ban on heading until the age of 18, and from then on it should be closely monitored and reduced.

It is not just the big collisions that end with players being carried off the pitch or taken to hospital for tests that appear to be causing the problem. It is the small, daily collisions – the ones which happen with routine. Research has found that one particular form of dementia (known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) seems to only exist among those who, as part of routine activities, incur these regular assaults to the brain.

What is CTE? Dr. Ann McKee explains.

This issue was touched upon in the improperly titled Will Smith movie Concussion (because the disease is located in thousands of small hits, not one big one) and the Netflix Documentary, Killer Inside, about the NFL player, Aaron Hernandez who suffered from CTE. Indeed, recent research on American football has shown that 3.5 years of play doubles the chances of dementia.

This issue is now gaining attention in the UK, with research showing a shift in attitudes in rugby union, and within the “Beautiful Game” as well.

Repetitive impacts

Jeff Astle, a member of England’s 1970 World Cup squad, became the first British footballer confirmed to have died from CTE – classed as an industrial injury. Astle’s family had long claimed it was heading the ball that was to blame. But it was only when England’s 1966 World Cup-winning heroes began to be diagnosed with dementia that the football world really took notice.

This link cannot be dismissed as a result of older, heavy balls that were replaced by lighter balls in recent years. This is a myth, as both older and new balls weigh 14-16oz. And while older balls got heavier when wet, they travelled slower and were less likely to be kicked to head height in games.

Recent studies show that heading the ball, even just 20 times in practice, causes immediate and measurable alterations to brain functioning. These results have been confirmed in other heading studies and are consistent with research on repetitive impacts that occur from other sports such as downhill mountain biking, resulting from riding over rough terrain.




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More worryingly, in a large study of former professional footballers in Scotland, when compared to matched controls, players were significantly more likely to both be prescribed dementia medications and to die from dementia – with a 500% increase in Alzheimer’s.

These findings finally pressured the FA into changing the rules for youth football. In February 2020, the FA denied direct causation but followed what America had done five years earlier and changed its guidelines concerning heading the ball.

The current guidelines don’t stop children from heading the ball in matches, but they do forbid heading the ball as part of training until the age of 12 – when it is gradually introduced. These measures do not go far enough.

A new campaign, called Enough is Enough, and an accompanying seven-point charter was launched in November which calls for a radical intervention into heading in football. Former England captains, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham have supported it, while 1966 legend Sir Geoff Hurst has also backed a ban on kids heading the ball.

And the players union, the PFA, has now called for heading in training by professional players to be reduced and monitored.

The demands in this charter will be costly, as they concern aftercare for those with dementia and more expensive research into the issue. But the most significant demand they make is to protect professional players from dementia by severely limiting header training to no more than 20 headers in any training session with at minimum of 48 hours between sessions involving heading.

These progressive policies should not be delayed by those in the sport, such as the medical head of world players’ union Fifpro, Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, who claimed that more research is required. Governing bodies can no longer take half measures or call for further discussion. This discussion has been taking place for 50 years.

Bring in the ban

Brain trauma in sport is not a medical question, it is a public health crisis. If the evidence is strong enough that the PFA has advocated “urgent action” to reduce heading in training for adult athletes, then heading policies for children – in both training and matches – need to be drastically revised as a matter of urgency.

While media attention focuses largely on the tragedy of lost football heroes, this is a much larger problem for youth players. Less than .01% of the people who play football in this country play at the professional level – but almost half of all children aged 11-15 play the game.

If children are permitted to head the ball between the ages of 12 and 18, this means six years of damaging behaviour. Children are not able to make informed decisions and need to be protected. There is no logical reason for the ban on heading footballs in training to stop at the age 12. Headers can wait until 18. The sport will survive just fine without them.

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Events Management, Bournemouth University; Eric Anderson, Professor of Masculinities, Sexualities and Sport, University of Winchester, and Howard Hurst, Senior lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, University of Central Lancashire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Resist the temptation to see Dominic Cummings as a svengali

For many cabinet ministers, Dominic Cummings’ departure from 10 Downing Street will be seen as an opportunity for a reset. A controversial figure from the start, the hope is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pursue a different style of government without the influence of his chief adviser.

Cummings raised eyebrows with his strong views on the need for civil service reform and his call for misfits and weirdos with odd skills to join the Downing Street team. His abrasiveness has caused no end of problems for Johnson. And his decision to break lockdown rules while the rest of the country stayed home earlier this year, wrought havoc on Johnson’s ability to enforce coronavirus restrictions. But we often slide into thinking of Cummings as a svengali and of Johnson as being under his thrall – as opposed to being his boss.

Describing Cummings in this way is part of a wider discourse regarding special advisers and spin doctors which has pervaded UK politics for some years. In the early days of Tony Blair’s New Labour government, Peter Mandelson, the architect of party reform, was characterised widely as a svengali.

The idea of the svengali comes from a character in George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby. Despite being an antisemitic caricature, the term svengali is recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary as describing “a person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose”.

Like the original fictional Svengali, Mandelson was characterised in cartoons as a spider. Journalist Quentin Letts described him as being “infamous as a dripper of poison, a man to fear, qualities which have caused division and loathing in his own party”.

Alastair Campbell, Blair’s spin doctor, was given similar attention. He was nicknamed the svengali of spin and described as the man whispering in the prime minister’s ear – the real deputy prime minister, despite being unelected and unaccountable.

Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s director of communications, was exposed for planning an anti-Conservative smear campaign, and yet somehow managed to return to Downing Street as an adviser. Theresa May’s special advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were characterised as a “toxic clique” responsible both for division within the party and her disastrous performance in the 2017 general election.

When advisers fall, their every dark act is exposed and their demise celebrated. Meanwhile the political leaders are given a second chance. But is it fair to pin the failures of a government onto an individual appointed by that leader?

In du Maurier’s novel Trilby, the title character is a naive half-Irish laundress in Paris searching for love. Svengali attempts to make her a star, and she falls under his spell, enthralled by the promise of fame and fortune. Under hypnosis, she is convinced she has talent, but as his influence wanes she finds herself exposed on stage. Svengali and Trilby both meet a tragic end, the latter dying clutching a picture of her erstwhile guru.

Poor, vulnerable Boris

Painting special advisers as svengalis allows the political leader to be portrayed as the innocent at the mercy of their gurus. It enables them to appear heroic when they are finally freed from their clutches. But this is essentially a piece of spin in itself. Political leaders from Blair to Johnson hire these figures because of their expertise and skills – and often because they have personal relationships with them. Neither Mandelson, Campbell nor Cummings are hypnotists able to control the minds of their political masters. They are appointed due to a shared worldview and, like any adviser, make convincing claims to have the qualities and expertise to help the leader meet their political goals.

While the individuals are often flawed, we should view them not as svengalis but as fall guys: the ones who take the blame when the flaws in the machine of government are exposed. Cummings’ exit may be a source of celebration, but will the next phase of the Johnson government really be more in touch with the people? Recent history suggests not. Blair post-Campbell, and May after the exit of Timothy and Hill, fared no better in the court of public opinion. Johnson, too, may struggle to find a new team to reset the image of his governing style.

Darren Lilleker, Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: When did humans first go to war?

Cain and Abel.
Palma il Giovane

Martin Smith, Bournemouth University and John Stewart, Bournemouth University

When modern humans arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago, they made a discovery that was to change the course of history.

The continent was already populated by our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, which recent evidence suggests had their own relatively sophisticated culture and technology. But within a few thousand years the Neanderthals were gone, leaving our species to continue its spread to every corner of the globe.

Precisely how Neanderthals became extinct remains a subject of fierce debate among researchers. The two main explanations given in recent years have been competition with the recently arrived modern humans and global climate change.

The persistence of Neanderthal genetic material in all modern people outside of Africa shows the two species interacted and even had sex. But it’s possible that there were other kinds of interactions as well.

Some researchers have suggested that competition for resources such as prey and raw materials for stone tools may have taken place. Others have proposed violent interactions and even warfare took place, and that this may have caused the Neanderthals’ demise.

This idea might seem compelling, given our species’ violent history of warfare. But proving the existence of early warfare is a problematic (although fascinating) area of research.

War or murder?

New studies keep moving the threshold at which there is evidence for human warfare progressively earlier. But finding such evidence is fraught with problems.

Only preserved bones with injuries from weapons can give us a secure indication of violence at a given time. But how do you separate examples of murder or a family feud from prehistoric “war”?

Human skeleton on rocky surface.
Preserved skeletons provide the best evidence of early warfare.
Thomas Quine/Wikimedia, CC BY

To an extent, this question has been resolved by several examples of mass killing, where whole communities were massacred and buried together at a number of European sites dating to the Neolithic period (about 12,000 to 6,000 years ago, when agriculture first emerged).

For a while, these discoveries appeared to have settled the question, suggesting that farming led to a population explosion and pressure for groups to fight. However, even earlier instances of group killing suggested by the bones of hunter gatherers have re-opened the debate.

Defining warfare

A further challenge is that it is very difficult to arrive at a definition of war applicable to prehistoric societies, without becoming so broad and vague that it loses meaning. As social anthropologist Raymond Kelly argues, while group violence may take place among tribal societies, it is not always regarded as “war” by those involved.

For example, in the dispensation of justice for homicide, witchcraft or other perceived social deviance, the “perpetrator” might be attacked by a dozen others. However, in such societies acts of warfare also commonly involve a single individual being ambushed and killed by a coordinated group.

Both scenarios essentially look identical to an outside observer, yet one is regarded as an act of war while the other is not. In this sense, war is defined by its social context rather than simply by the numbers involved.

A key point is that a very particular kind of logic comes into play where any member of an opposing group is seen as representing their whole community, and so becomes a “valid target”. For example, one group might kill a member of another group in retribution for a raid that the victim wasn’t involved in.

In this sense, war is a state of mind involving abstract and lateral thinking as much as a set of physical behaviours. Such acts of war may then be perpetrated (usually by males) against women and children as well as men, and we have evidence of this behaviour among skeletons of early modern humans.

Fossil record

So what does all this mean for the question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals went to war?

There is no doubt that Neanderthals engaged in and were the recipients of acts of violence, with fossils showing repeated examples of blunt injuries, mostly to the head. But many of these predate the appearance of modern humans in Europe and so cannot have occurred during meetings between the two species.

Similarly, among the sparse fossil record of early anatomically modern humans, various examples of weapon injuries exist, but the majority date to thousands of years after the Neanderthals’ disappearance.

Where we do have evidence of violence towards Neanderthals it is almost exclusively among male victims. This means it is less likely to represent “warfare” as opposed to competition between males.

While there is no doubt Neanderthals committed violent acts, the extent to which they were capable of conceptualising “war” in the way it is understood by modern human cultures is debatable. It is certainly possible that violent altercations could have taken place when members of the small, scattered populations of these two species came into contact (although we have no conclusive evidence for such), but these cannot realistically be characterised as warfare.

Certainly, we can see a pattern of violence-related trauma in modern human skeletons from the Upper Palaeolithic period (50,000 to 12,000 years ago) that remains the same into the more recent Mesolithic and Neolithic times. However, it is not at all clear that Neanderthals follow this pattern

Illustration of Neolithic family around a fire on a grassy plain.
Neanderthals probably struggled to survive in colder, more open habitats.
Pixabay

On the bigger question of whether modern humans were responsible for the extinction of Neanderthals, it’s worth noting that Neanderthals in many parts of Europe seem to have gone extinct before our species had arrived. This suggests modern humans can’t be completely to blame, whether through war or competition.

However, what was present throughout the period was dramatic and persistent climate change that appears to have decreased the Neanderthals’ preferred woodland habitats. Modern humans, although they had just left Africa, seem to have been more flexible to different environments and so better at dealing with the increasingly common colder open habitats that may have challenged Neanderthals’ ability to survive.

So although the first modern Europeans may have been the first humans capable of organised warfare, we can’t say this behaviour was responsible or even necessary for the disappearance of Neanderthals. They may have simply been the victims of the natural evolution of our planet.

Martin Smith, Principal Academic In Forensic and Biological Anthropology, Bournemouth University and John Stewart, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Expanding marine protected areas by 5% could boost fish yields by 20% – but there’s a catch

Sweetlips shoal in the Raja Ampat marine protected area, Indonesia.
SergeUWPhoto/Shutterstock

Peter JS Jones, UCL and Rick Stafford, Bournemouth University

Marine protected areas, or MPAs as they’re more commonly called, are very simple. Areas of the sea are set aside where certain activities – usually fishing – are banned or restricted. Ideally, these MPAs might be placed around particularly vibrant habitats that support lots of different species, like seagrass beds or coral reefs. By preventing fishing gear such as towed seabed trawls from sweeping through these environments, the hope is that marine life will be allowed to recover.

When used well, they can be very effective. MPAs have been shown to increase the diversity of species and habitats, and even produce bigger fish within their bounds. A new study argues that by expanding the world’s MPAs by just 5%, we could boost future fish catches by at least 20%. This could generate an extra nine to 12 million tonnes of seafood per year, worth between USD$15-19 billion. It would also significantly increase how much nutritious fish protein is available for a growing human population to eat.

So what’s the catch?

Spillover versus blowback

The scientific rationale is sound. We already know that MPAs can increase the numbers of fish living inside them, which grow to be bigger and lay more eggs. The larvae that hatch can help seed fish populations in the wider ocean as they drift outside the MPA, leading to bigger catches in the areas where fishing is still permitted. We know fish can swim large distances as adults too. While some find protection and breed inside MPAs, others will move into less crowded waters outside where they can then be caught. Together, these effects are known as the spillover benefits of MPAs.

The study is the first to predict, through mathematical modelling, that a modest increase in the size of the world’s MPAs could swell global seafood yields as a result of this spillover. But while the predictions sound good, we have to understand what pulling this off would entail.

The study maintains that the new MPAs would need to be carefully located to protect areas that are particularly productive. Locating MPAs in remote areas offshore, which are hard to access and typically unproductive, would have much smaller benefits for marine life than smaller, inshore MPAs that local fishing vessels can reach. Just 20 large sites in the remote open ocean account for the majority of the world’s MPAs. As the low hanging fruit of marine conservation, these MPAs are often placed where little fishing has occurred.

A world map showing the locations of marine protected areas.
A minority of the world’s MPAs are strict no-take zones.
Marine Conservation Institute/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

The MPAs themselves would also need to be highly protected, meaning no fishing. Only 2.4% of the world’s ocean area has this status. Increasing this by a further 5% would mean roughly trebling the coverage of highly protected MPAs, and that’s likely to provoke a great deal of resistance. Many fishers are sceptical that spillover can boost catches enough to compensate for losing the right to fish within MPAs and tend to oppose proposals to designate more of them.

People in the UK are often surprised to learn that fishing is allowed in most of the country’s MPAs. While 36% of the waters around the UK are covered by them, only 0.0024% ban fishing outright. Increasing the number and size of highly protected MPAs from just these four small sites to 5% of the UK’s sea area would represent more than a 2,000-fold increase. This would be strongly resisted by the fishing industry, snatching the wind from the sails of any political effort ambitious enough to attempt it.

Keeping fishers on board

Gaining the support of local fishers is crucial for ensuring fishing restrictions are successful. That support depends on fishers being able to influence decisions about MPAs, including where they’ll be located and what the degree of protection will be. Assuming that designing highly protected MPA networks is mostly a matter of modelling is a mistake, and implies that fishers currently operating in an area would have little say in whether their fishing grounds will close.

A fisher on a wooden boat casts a net into tropical water at dusk.
Ensuring fishers buy into a new MPA is crucial for its success.
Sutipond Somnam/Shutterstock

But this study is valuable. It provides further evidence for how MPAs can serve as important tools to conserve marine habitats, manage fisheries sustainably and make food supplies more secure. It’s important to stress the political challenges of implementing them, but most scientists agree that more MPAs are needed. Some scientists are pushing to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.

As evidence of the benefits of MPAs continues to emerge, the people and organisations governing them at local, national and international scales need to learn and evolve. If we can start implementing some highly protected MPAs, we can gather more evidence of their spillover benefits. This could convince more fishers of their vital role in boosting catches, as well as keeping people fed and restoring ocean ecosystems.

Peter JS Jones, Reader in Environmental Governance, UCL and Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.