Time to release the Kraken ! Addressing controversial questions in marine conservation

A few years ago, we organized a group of marine conservation scientists to meet to discuss, and list,  the most urgent issues that need to be studied. The resulting paper  came up with 71 questions which urgently needed to be addressed, because a lack of an answer was severely impeding marine conservation. However, during this exercise we also came up with a list of other questions – these were issues that were controversial, that everyone  knew were important, but were unwilling to raise as being an issue. These were the Voldemorts of marine conservation questions (they that shall not be named), the elephant (or elephant seal) in the room questions …. or as we more aquatically termed them: “the kraken in the aquarium” questions.

love-a-kraken

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Conservation Wanted – dead or alive?

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When I was an undergraduate studying conservation in the dim and distant past, we were told that the way endangered species would be saved would be to give them a financial value, and “wise use” of these species would allow them to survive. Well, that worked well, didn’t it…? The poster species of the “wise use” movement (such as elephants) are much closer to extinction today than they were decades ago.

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The 2016 presidential candidates address ocean issues (sort of).

Finally, after almost a year of silence, we have concrete responses from the leading presidential candidate about ocean health and, in particular, the state of America’s fisheries. Well, sort of.

ScienceDebate.org, a non-partisan science advocacy group, asked the four leading candidates a slew of 20 science-related questions, including the following about ocean health:

“There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?”

sciencedebate.org

Gary Johnson and Donald Trump declined to answer (Johnson declined to answer any question, Trump’s submitted boilerplate copy that makes no mention of the oceans or any ocean issue).

Jill Stein’s succinct response acknowledged the problems that overfishing, climate change, and ocean plastics pose to the oceans, but provides no specific policy recommendations.  Read More

How to follow along with CITES #COP17 on twitter

cop17_rhino_hpOn September 24th, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) begins. I’ve made a Storify guide to government agencies, scientists, activists, and environmental non-profits who will be tweeting updates from the event. If you want to follow along with these important conservation debates and votes on twitter, follow #COP17 and follow the accounts I’ve highlighted in this Storify.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Shark Daycare

A great white shark nursery in the North Atlantic that was discovered in 1985 south of Cape Cod in the waters off Montauk, New York  has received renewed attention due to the increased activity of white sharks off cape cod in recent years. The nursery was first documented in 1985 by Casey and Pratt who deduced the presence of a nursery based on the number of juvenile sightings and landings in the area. This work was followed up recently  by OCEARCH (an organization dedicated to generating scientific data related to tracking/telemetry and biological studies of keystone marine species such as great white sharks), which tagged and tracked nine infant great whites to the nursery, located a few miles off Montauk.

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Exploration wants to be shared

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act II: Transforming the Narrative.

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Now I want to shift gears and look towards the future, where we’re going, and what tools are available to help us get there. Because the future of ocean outreach, and really the future of ocean conservation, comes down to this one concept: “Exploration wants to be shared”.

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Sealand courtesy the Daily Beast

The online ocean ecosystem is full of platforms–preexisting tools that allow us to produce, share, broadcast, enhance, and manage our outreach campaigns. Not just the obvious ones like Twitter and Facebook, but more niche tools like Slack, github, Ushahidi, medium, and yes, even PokemonGo, or if you want something a bit more serious, consider R as something that’s not just a statistics package, but a way to share your own software and data with the scientific community.

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Dying for Reason in the Rational Utopia

When Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed his “Rationalia” thought experiment several months ago, I thought is was cute but misguided. Now that he’s doubled down on the concept, I can see exactly why it is such a naively flawed idea. Rationalia would be a disaster for conservation. This short science fiction story illustrates why.


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“Oyez, oyez, oyez!  This, the 107th session of the 16th Superior District Court, is hereby gavelled to order. Please be seated.”

Cope Johns remained standing. He surveyed the crowd, an odd assortment of bystanders, tourists, and his few supporters. Chief Justice Carlsson entered the hall, climbed onto his podium, and looked down on the assembled masses. Somewhere amid the crush of bodies, an elderly lawyer took his seat. All eyes turned to him. He timidly rose to his feet.

“Today we hear Dr. Cope Johns, on behalf of the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), versus the Free Republic of Rationalia. Make note that, as evidence suggests that timeliness is required in this decision, we have elected to expedite deliberations. The court has been briefed extensively on this case and requires no additional background. Dr. Johns, your opening statement?”

Cope approached the stand. The bailiff placed his left hand on the near-field ID scanner, confirming his identity. Cope raised his right hand to nothing and swore under his breath.

“Thank you, your honor. The Vaquita is a tiny porpoise that has been on the verge of extinction for the better part of a century. Its only remaining habitat is in the Gulf of Reason, where the Free Republic of Rationalia intends to establish the Lost Lobos tidal energy farm. This farm will displace the Vaquita breeding grounds and will likely drive the species over the brink to extinction.” Read More

Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Transforming the Narrative

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act I: Science is Storytelling. 

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In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.

But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.

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When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. Read More

Everything you need to know about working in conservation you can learn from Game of Thrones

Learned scholars and respected leaders of society warn that a major environmental change is coming and everyone should prepare. However, heads of state, politicians and wealthy oligarchs argue and bicker, more interested in riches and power than the imminent threat. Some realize that the oncoming change will be accompanied by a host of problems, to which no one has given the necessary consideration. Those who understand the situation try to set up systems to protect against this threat but are constantly having to argue with, and even fight, their own allies. In the end, just as some progress is being made, one of the champions of these vital preparations is stabbed through the heart by his closest colleagues, who stage a coup instead of dealing with the oncoming threat.

Sound familiar? It is of course the plot of Game of Thrones, but could also be a history of most conservation issues, whether it be the threat of DDT, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss or climate change. Read More

Reflections on the Boundary of Science and Policy

People have dedicated their careers and spilled much ink on bettering relations across the science – policy divide. In recent years, whole institutions have sprung up in order to better communicate and work across this boundary, the kind of institution formally called a boundary organization. In short, the people who work at such places must know the language and culture of both sides, be able to navigate around the sensitivities of each, and serve as a trusted person in moving a conversation along. These people are often called “honest brokers” because of the importance of the trust they must gain and hold. As someone who’s now working on the boundary for a number of years in the marine conservation world, I have some reflections of how exactly that role is not so simple. Hopefully my top 10 reflections will be helpful in building the next generation of boundary spanners. Read More