Oral Presentation NCGRT/IAH Australasian Groundwater Conference 2019

Are all rivers equal? Attitudes towards intermittent and ephemeral rivers in Australia, the UK and USA (22)

Catherine Leigh 1 , Kate S. Boersma 2 , Mark L. Galatowitsch 3 , Victoria S. Milner 4 , Rachel Stubbington 5
  1. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  2. University of San Diego, San Diego, Califormia, USA
  3. Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, USA
  4. University of Worcester, Worcester, UK
  5. Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK


Intermittent and ephemeral rivers and streams (IRES) are prevalent yet often overlooked and underprotected. This may be because inadequate understanding of their ecosystem services leaves them undervalued by society. However, evidence of negative attitudes towards IRES is scant. 

Design and methodology.

We investigated the strength and extent of negative attitudes to IRES by surveying undergraduate students from Australia, UK and USA on their agreement (positive attitude) or disagreement (negative attitude) with statements about the ecosystem services, moral consideration and protection of both perennial rivers and IRES. Students were surveyed at the start and end of teaching units covering environmental topics. 

Original data and results.

Disagreement with statements was uncommon (17% across all statements and surveys) and attitudes towards tIRESs were mostly positive. However, attitudes towards perennial rivers were more positive, particularly in comparison attitudes towards IRES when they were not flowing and in regards to their aesthetic value and recreational amenity. There were no significant differences in attitudes towards perennial rivers and IRES in one teaching unit in Australia, and responses were more often more positive at the end of teaching units in the UK.


Our study indicates education can change attitudes. The overall positive response to statements may reflect underlying environmental awareness and pre-existing interest of participants enrolled in environmental and biology degrees, but not necessarily specific knowledge of IRES. General environmental education across the wider community could improve attitudes towards IRES, particularly when they are not flowing or in regions where they are uncommon or inconspicuous, and could support positive protection measures and innovative, inclusive management of surface and groundwaters alike.