Science and Conservation Media Literacy 101

Author’s note: This blog post is part of a multi-week assignment for students taking my introduction to marine biology course at Arizona State University, and also part of an exercise in my professional development training workshops on communicating science to the popular press. I am sharing the background information publicly because I believe it’s a topic that is of broad interest.

The internet in general and social media specifically have made it easier than ever before in human history for experts to share information relevant to their area of expertise with the interested public, with journalists, and with policymakers. Unfortunately, these same communications tools have also made it easier than ever before in human history for misinformation to be widely shared. When wrong information goes viral, it can lead to the destruction of democracy and civilization as we know it people believing factually incorrect things about fish.

Therefore, it’s important for anyone and everyone who cares about the future of democracy and civilization as we know it my marine biology students and media training workshop participants to be aware of how to find reliable and accurate news, and how to spot misleading or inaccurate news. If you can do this effectively, you may well save democracy and civilization as we know it do well in my course.

Something need not be actual “fake news,” a term we should consider using less because it’s become politically charged to the point that it’s nearly meaningless and people don’t hear what you actually mean to say, to be inaccurate and problematic. There are many different ways that a news article can be biased, misleading, and/or wrong.

First, I’ll go through some elements of a reliable, accurate science or environment news story. Then I’ll go through red flags of inaccurate, problematic news stories. Throughout, I’ll highlight representative examples. (Students, after reading this you’ll be assigned some articles to look for these elements and red flags in).

Read More

Come to the geek side of #scicomm: Marine science education by Dungeons & Dragons

A couple of years ago, several of the people organizing the International Marine Conservation Congress let slip in their planning discussions that they played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). There are many of us of a certain age that remember fondly playing in our youth, some of us have kids who are now getting of an age where we can, in turn, teach them how to play, and some were drawn in by the surge in Youtube and podcast shows like the hugely popular “Critical Role” where literally millions of people turn in to watch a bunch of nerds play Dungeons and Dragons … and have fun.

This led to the idea of playing a game at the conference. After more discussion, perhaps helped by a few drinks, the idea was spawned that perhaps we could make this game marine-themed and educational? Maybe even play this game in front of an audience at the conference? Perhaps even record it and share it online…?!

Read More

A decade of failures in Science Communication.

Eleven years is a long life for a science blog. Southern Fried Science was born in 2008, when the main writers were all graduate students. Over the last decade the online landscape has changed. Science Communication changed with it, adapting and evolving to meet an ever-shifting ecosystem. Looking back on the last decade and thinking about the next, it’s becoming easier to see where we went wrong. It’s not quite as easy to determine what we need to correct the course.

This is not a scientific assessment, this is my own personal observations from the last decade of running Southern Fried Science, from teaching Social Media for Environmental Communications for the last 7 years, from working with Upwell, one of the most dynamic and visionary ocean NGOs ever conceived, from helping build and launch multiple online platforms, dozens of novel programs, and hundreds of outreach campaigns, and from spending a lot of time since November 2016 reflecting on what we’ve done wrong.

That Hideous Deficit

Do we really need another 200 words on how bad the deficit model is and why it needs to die?

Apparently, yes.

The basic premise: that science perception and policy is shaped by an information deficit and that if we just make good science education content and spread it, we can combat the spread of misinformation, people will learn, and everything will get better.

It doesn’t work. It never worked. And it ignores the reality that misinformation is manufactured for political and financial gain, with tremendous incentives and, often, far better funding than science outreach campaigns. But beyond that, multiple studies have shown that, when confronted with information that challenges their fundamental world view, people don’t throw out their worldview, they reject the science, creating a more entrenched and intractable audience.

Read More

SciComm Infuses Science with Soul

Every scientist I work with spends most of the day communicating, whether that’s preparing grants, manuscripts, theses, outreach talks, emails to colleagues/students… the list goes on.  However, most of these outlets share fairly strict formatting rules. Grants comes with pages of guidelines. Talks have defined who I am, what I did, found, next, thank you slide.  While this sterile approach is arguably fundamental to science’s critical tenant of replication, it makes for terrible communication.

Read More

Five Questions with Irene Kingma

I spent last week in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019.

Expedition leaders Irene Kingma (left) and Dr. Paddy Walker (right) decked out in the official Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 gear.

I previously wrote about some of the goals of the expedition, and our first day out on the water tagging small Caribbean reef and silky sharks.  I also interviewed several of the expedition participants on their views on sharks and shark conservation. Yesterday I posted my interview with Tadzio Bervoets. Today, I’m posting my interview with expedition lead Irene Kingma.

I first met Irene in 2014 when she invited me to give a keynote speech at the European Elasmobranch Association and have kept in touch with her through the years, mostly through Twitter.  Irene has been working in shark conservation for 15 years, both in Europe and the Caribbean.  She runs the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, which she founded together with Dr. Paddy Walker in 2010.

From 2015 to 2018 she worked as the Netherlands project lead in the Save our Sharks project of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. This project aimed to improve all aspects of shark protection in the Dutch Caribbean through legislation, education, management, and science.  The project has ended but the Save our Sharks brand is still used for shark science and conservation work in the islands. 

Irene and Dr. James Thorburn prepare the European Space Agency tiger shark satellite tags for deployment.

I sat down with Irene and asked her five questions:

Bucky: What is your role on this expedition?

Irene: I am the expedition leader.  I’m in charge of making sure everyone knows where they have to be and what they need to do. I do this together with Dr. Walker, who took on the lead role after I left the expedition a few days before the official end. Paddy and I founded the Dutch Elasmobranch Society together in 2010, a science-based NGO dedicated to the management and protection of elasmobranchs in the Dutch Kingdom.

Bucky: How does the work you do contribute to global efforts to protect sharks?

Irene: My main job is helping policy makers to take the right decision on shark and fisheries management. For example, here in the Dutch Caribbean the Dutch Elasmobranch Society is the main adviser to the Dutch government on shark management and the measures needed to make the Yarari Shark Sanctuary a success.  Together with local partners we wrote the proposals to get several sharks and ray species listed on the SPAW protocol, the only cross border legal protection instrument for the Caribbean region.

The expedition crew works up and tags a tiger shark.

Bucky: Why are sharks important to you?

Irene: My background is in ecology, so when I think of heathy oceans that should include all parts of the ecosystem. Sharks are a really good indicator of ecosystem wellbeing; to be able to sustain healthy, diverse shark and ray populations all elements of the system need be to in good shape. We need to protect everything from the corals and to whale sharks.

Bucky: How are we going to save the world’s sharks?

Irene:   I am a firm believer in a holistic approach to management. Putting a species on a list like CITES, CMS, SPAW is an important first step. But you also need to have sensible implementation on the ground linked to effective control and enforcement. Plus, to ensure you get buy in by the people who are affected or have to carry out the protective work you need to communicate on what you want to achieve and why throughout the chain. And lastly all needs to be grounded in sound science to ensure what you do actually makes a difference in the water and for sharks. My mantra is we need to get the science we need to deliver the policy we want.  

Bucky: What advice would you give to young scientists interested in a conservation careers?

Irene: Dream big! Here I am, a girl from Amsterdam who started out as a malacologist (snail specialist) leading an expedition to one of the most interesting places in the world to start up research projects which will help us protect sharks.  Somebody pinch me! There’s no clear path that led me here, the only clear thread I see is that I tend not to take the safe option when it comes to career choices and I never gave up. 

The Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 runs from July 15-25. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Five Questions With Tadzio Bervoets

I spent last week in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019. I previously wrote about some of the goals of the expedition, and our first day out on the water tagging small Caribbean reef and silky sharks.

Tadzio giving us the morning briefing before Thursday’s tagging.

I was able to reconnect with my good friend, Tadzio Bervoets. Tadzio was born and raised on the island of Sint Maarten and has worked in conservation for ten years, first as the MPA manager for the island of St. Eustatius and and today as the director of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation. In his role as director he helped to establish the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area and was the lead for the Dutch Caribbean Save Our Shark Project .

He led the team at the Nature Foundation to push through conservation measures for all elasmobranchs, establishing a moratorium on shark fishing in 2011 and designating a shark sanctuary in 2016.

I sat down with Tadzio and asked him five questions.

Bucky: What is your role on this expedition?

Tadzio: I am the lead for the tagging exercise, focused on temporarily catching large tiger sharks so that the necessary science can be gathered from them, including the application of the new prototype European Space Agency tags.

Tadzio securing a tiger shark on our first day of tagging.

Bucky: How does the work you do contribute to global efforts to protect sharks?

Tadzio: This expedition is a direct spin-off of the DCNA Save our Shark Project which was a three-year, multi-island regional shark conservation project in which we supported shark conservation activities on all six islands of the Dutch Caribbean: Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba. The project was centered not only on scientific research and establishing monitoring programs for the species, but also focused on policy changes concerning shark conservation as well as educational and outreach components informing us islanders on the importance of sharks to our ocean ecosystem. Based on all of these components sharks have received local protection through the establishment of the Yarari Shark Sanctuary for Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius, as well as pushing through regional conservation measures using the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocols of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity in the Caribbean Sea.

Bucky: Why are sharks important to you?

Tadzio: I was one of those kids obsessed with sharks and dinosaurs growing up. I soon realized that dinosaurs were quite dead, but sharks are some of the most majestic yet misunderstood creatures on earth. My childhood obsession set me along the path of becoming a marine conservationist and helped me focuss on my work to establish MPAs on St. Maarten as well as the Yarari Sanctuary and shark sanctuaries in the Dutch Caribbean.

Bucky: How are we going to save the world’s sharks?

You: By continuing fighting the good fight! Although focusing on science and policy is critical and important, the most important aspect is changing people’s perception of sharks and how important they are to the Caribbean Sea and by extension to our way of life as Caribbean People.

Bucky: What advice would you give to young islanders interested in conservation careers?

Tadzio: There is a great need for the work to be done even though you may be told otherwise. It is also important that us Caribbean people are front and center in tackling the conservation issues that we face, instead of relying on foreign researchers who may not have the affinity and connection with our own natural areas. If you are interested keep and cultivate that interest, don’t get discouraged by the artificial appearance of a lack of work in the field as this is far from the truth. Don’t be afraid to travel and intern and get experience, but please come back to our beautiful Caribbean to make sure that it remains exactly that, beautiful.

The Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 runs from July 15-25. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Small Shark Tagging Day

We’re all smiles 5 minutes into the first day on the water.

I am in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019.  Today was our first day out on the water and our objective was to catch, measure, and tag small sharks on the Saba Bank.

It’s a girl.

We caught three Caribbean reef sharks and a silky shark – the first time I’ve ever seen a silky shark (check that one off the list).  Each shark was worked up by the scientists, with data collected to serve their respective research areas.  When each shark was brought to the boat, the first observation was for sex, which we determined from the presence or absence of claspers.  And then measurements were taken for total length, fork length, caudal length, and girth.  We also took a fin clip, a muscle sample, and a blood sample.  Each shark was handled for only a few minutes, and then released back into the water.  Every shark today quickly swam away.

Guido, Jergen, Ayumi, and Walter work up a small Caribbean reef shark on the deck of the boat, with the island of Saba looming in the background.

Our island hosts Ayumi and Walter from the Saba Conservation Foundation were eseential in making today a success.  Walter drove the boat all day and Ayumi served as our expert fisher, helping us with the gear to target the species we were after.

You came for the science, but I’m showing you my fishing pictures.

We also trolled for bonito to and from the Saba Bank.  We didn’t catch any, but I handlined this barracuda, and we also caught a beautiful green mahi mahi.

Stay tuned for a few more blogs where I introduce some of the researchers and conservation practitioners participating in the expedition. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Studying Sharks in the Dutch Caribbean

On the ferry from St. Maarten to Saba with Dr. Paddy Walker of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society and Dr. James Thorburn, a shark researcher from St. Andrews University.

I’m in the Dutch Caribbean this week with a team of international researchers for an expedition to the Saba Bank to study sharks.  This endeavor has been pulled together under the leadership of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, the Saba Conservation Foundation, and the Nature Foundation Sint Maarten.  I’m only here for five days, but the entire research trip will span from July 15 to 25.

Those of you who know me, are probably thinking, “but wait, you’re not a shark scientist!”  That is correct.  I’ve joined this expedition as a research assistant, which means I’ve signed up to carry a lot of heavy things and sing Jimmy Buffet songs with my ukulele.  My main role will be helping with communications.  I hope to share with you what we’re doing this week on this blog, and you can also follow along on social media with the hashtag #SabaShark2019.

Our expedition is based on Saba, and we’ll travel to the Saba Bank each morning to conduct shark research.

We are going to be spending most of our time out on the Saba Bank, a large submerged atoll just off the coast of the beautiful island of Saba.  We’ll be within the borders of the Saba Bank National Park, which extends across 2,680 square kilometers of ocean, an area about the size of Rhode Island.  The region is high in biodiversity, and home to sea turtles, migrating whales, and over 200 species of fish.  Researchers also think it is incredibly important for Caribbean shark species.

The scientific projects carried out during this ten-day expedition will focus on a couple of different species, including tiger sharks (YES PLEASE!!), silky sharks (there are a lot of juveniles in this part of the Caribbean, a nursery perhaps???), nurse sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks. The overall goal of the research is to gain insight into the role that Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of the species that live here, knowledge that is essential to adequately protect sharks. Four projects that will be carried this week are:

This tiger shark was tagged on a previous research expedition. Photo Credit: Duncan Brake.

Tracking tiger sharks from space. During the expedition, tiger sharks will be provided with tags equipped with a completely new satellite technology developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The space organization has developed an advanced technology that allows the tags to communicate with satellites in space in an innovative way allowing the tags to last much longer and collect much more data than tags currently used.  Stay tuned for a blog on these tags.

Preventing bycatch of nurse sharks. The Dutch Elasmobranch Society and the Saba Conservation Foundation have been working together with local fishermen to reduce the by-catch of nurse sharks in lobster traps. One essential element to achieve this is insight into the behaviour of sharks in and around the traps. Fishermen report that juvenile nurse sharks break into lobster traps to eat the trapped lobsters, but this is only anecdotal. Dr. Robert Nowicki of Mote Marine Lab has developed a camera system that can record the behavior of sharks in and near the traps, and this will be deployed this week.

Connectivity between habitats of Caribbean sharks. Between 2015 and 2018, a number of silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and nurse sharks were equipped with acoustic tags to find out more about how these species utilize the area and the connectivity between different Caribbean habitats. Guido Leurs from the University of Groningen is building upon this research by collecting samples from Caribbean reef and nurse sharks to analyse diet and age of the sharks. Combined with the knowledge from the tagging program, this will offer government managers more insight into the role the Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of these sharks.

Stress levels of sharks in captivity. Blood samples will be taken from all sharks caught to determine the level of stress hormones in their systems. Based on this, researchers, can gain insight into how much stress the animals experience when they are examined for the different experiments. This information can be used to make the catch and research process as efficient as possible so that the animals are not adversely affected by the procedures.

There are also a couple of smaller projects the organizers aren’t promoting — but I’ll see if I can share an update or two about them. We’ll be out on the boat all day, and then back on land at night and I’m going to try to post an update each night. If you just can’t wait for the daily update, follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Worldwide SciComm Challenge: #SharkSafetySlogan

Can you remember how young you were when you were first taught stop, drop, and roll? How about turn around, don’t drown? Slogans are abridged stories that fulfill our human need to convey information quickly and memorably. Their uses range from social connection, cooperation, and informing cohorts of risk. Sayings like the above are effective because of these three main achievements:

  1. They are memorable.
  2. They incorporate knowledge with action.
  3. And by fearlessly acknowledging rare, potentially fatal, risks – they create a constructive dialogue.

Imagine a world without stop, drop and roll where children are simply taught that there is an incredibly rare risk that they could catch fire, and that’s it. While the statistic may be true, just providing the information would result in a classroom full of hysterical first-graders. A great slogan captured and presents the risk fearlessly.

Put another way, slogans are science communication wins. So let’s get together and apply this human craft of slogan creation to another incredibly rare risk: shark encounters! Your risk of encountering a shark is extremely low–a statistic that is repeated ad nauseam. But just like our classroom of traumatized first-graders, stats alone aren’t always enough. Enter the #SharkSafetySlogan challenge!

Join us on twitter at #SharkSafetySlogan to crowd-source a memorable slogan. Shark experts and organizations from across the globe will be sharing sharky information to help you on your scicomm quest. Anyone who visits a beach is encouraged to participate!

Remember, keep it memorable, brief, and incorporate shark smarts with actions. An example could be:

Seals? Seabirds?! See ya!

The above slogan is brief, memorable, and incorporates the knowledge that an abundance of seals and seabirds is a strong indication that sharks are present, and you’re better off not swimming juuuust yet.

Come join us at #SharkSafetySlogan and see if your slogan ends up with the most likes and retweets! I’ll be leading the charge at @ScienceRhapsody. See you on the interwebs!

The dark side of “Stop the Scroll”

I have had the pleasure of working communications roles in several industries over the years.  During this time, I’ve seen the rise of a dubious campaign metric commonly referred to as “Stop the Scroll” (or “Swipe”).  This metric has conscientious roots.  Online communications strategists have less than a second to grab a potential donor, stakeholder, or client’s attention.  Good strategists have read Craig McClain’s paper, as a great visual will make your thumb quiver before scrolling on to a video of dogs doing literally anything.  In this light, stop the scroll seems like a pretty good metric for individual post efficacy.  Time is the currency of experience, after all.

Can we count the seconds people spend learning untrue facts as progress towards our campaign? Or change the campaign goals to justify a resource-heavy shit post? 

Read More