Bringing the Ocean to Society
2 Jul 2020
Living by the sea as a medicine against worries about corona
EurOcean Member VLIZ provides scientific data on how the proximity to the coast contributes to our well-being during the pandemic.
EurOcean Member VLIZ reports that, during the corona crisis, people in Flanders (Belgium) worried more, experienced more stress and were more bored. For coastal residents this increase was more limited, possibly attributable to the proximity and easy access to the sea. This is the outcome of a survey on the impact of being outdoors during the crisis period, performed by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), Ghent University (UGent), and KU Leuven.
The past few months have been a difficult time for many, and a wake-up call to learn to live in an unprecedented reality. During the corona lockdown, people worried more about their own health and that of others, their social isolation and the changed work situation. A third of the interviewees experienced more stress and boredom, slept worse, and were less likely to engage in physical activity. Quite the opposite, a slightly larger group (46%) exercised more frequently. A survey performed by VLIZ, UGent and KU Leuven during the months of April-May 2020 (22 April 22 – 8 June) with 687 people living in Flanders (Belgium), investigated for the impact of the corona lockdown on the general well-being.

Despite a limited group showed less physical activity, the number of people who visited green environments (e.g. city parks and forests) every day increased by 8%. For daily visits to the beach (for those who had the opportunity) this increase amounts even 11%. Also, a majority (81%) indicate they visited their garden, terrace or balcony on a daily basis, which is 23% more than under normal circumstances. More than half of the respondents noted that they mainly preferred nature and green environments when outdoors, rather than urban environments. City visits fell sharply, no doubt (at least partly) because shops, bars, restaurants and cultural centres remained closed for a long time.

Half of the surveyed coastal residents named the sea, the beach or the dunes as an ideal outlet in these dark times. Coastal residents scored themselves 5% higher in happiness than those who live more than 5 km from the sea. This confirms earlier research led by VLIZ: coastal residents consider themselves healthier than those living inland. The present survey also shows coastal residents scoring themselves more favourable on whether they worry during corona (35 instead of 49%), are bored (20 instead of 27%) or experience stress (29 instead of 37 %) – compared to those who live in the interior. Although both groups (coastal inhabitants and others) indicate an increase, the increase seems to be less strong among coastal inhabitants. Proximity and access to the beach and the sea seem to act as an extra buffer during crisis periods.

The underlying causes of these results have not been answered yet. Further research, with experiments and a deep analysis of the mechanisms behind it, may provide more insight.

Who participated in the survey?

  • Two-thirds (66%) of the respondents are over 40 years of age, with an average of 48 years (range: 19-81 years)
  • Two thirds (69%) are female
  • Nearly half have a university degree (46%)
  • Almost half are living in West Flanders (44%); 24% are "coastal inhabitant" i.e. live <5 km from the sea