Egosystem management. Or how tantrums and unprofessional behavior are hindering conservation

In helping to organize several meetings and events for conservation groups, I’ve frequently encountered conservation professionals loudly declaiming “Don’t you know who I am!” and expecting special treatment. Recently I got an email from someone whose abstract was rejected by a conference committee I was assisting, in which they had quite a tantrum. There were lots of exclamation marks and capital letters saying that it was unfair they were rejected and they will never ever go again to any meetings by this professional society and will resign their membership. I was asked by someone outside the conservation field whether it was usual that we get such childish and temperamental responses to rejections. Sadly we often do – whether it be rejections for journals, jobs or conference presentations.

However, I also told that person that anyone who’s been an academic for a while gets used to being rejected. Few papers get accepted at first submission, for example. So most conservation professionals take it in their stride. Moreover, anyone who is in the conservation field should really get used to difficulties and failures, as these are all too frequently components of the job. A conservation biologist is not going to last long if they go berserk at the least slight or hard knock or have a fragile ego. Conservation is often about conflict, and trying to resolve this conflict through reasoned argument, understanding and diplomacy. You often get knocked down, but to quote Chumbawumba, you just have to “get up again”.

As a result, one could reach the conclusion that someone who is really childish, temperamental, rude etc. should not last long in real-world conservation. Sadly, such tantrum-throwing individuals may last longer, or even thrive, in academia, but that’s another story. However, that person will be a horror for colleagues in the field. So for the case above, resigning from a society or refusing to go to conservation meetings is like natural selection, weeding the weak and unfit from the gene pool. If they are going to ditch going to premiere meetings to learn the latest cutting-edge conservation and science over a run-of-the-mill abstract rejection, then it’s their loss and frankly our gain…

However, despite the potential forces of natural selection, inflated – yet fragile – egomaniacal bloviates are still all too common in the conservation world. There are several major marine conservation initiatives that foundered because, for example, coalitions would not let certain organizations have top billing in materials, and the thwarted organizations walked away, taking their essential funding with them. Others would not cooperate with conservation academics from a competing institution, and held back essential information and resources, causing the project to collapse. Frequently managing a conservation project is more about managing the egos of collaborators, or the egos of their organisations, rather than managing the actual project itself. This type of “human resources” management is, unfortunately, a skill in which few conservation professionals receive any training. Too frequently these days, in order to achieve conservation success, you have to first manage the ego-system, before finally getting down to efforts to restore the eco-system.

Bot meets Whale: making friends in the ocean; or how I learned to stop worrying and mitigate harmful interactions between recreational ROVs and marine mammals.

An example of a microROV system. From Thaler et al. (2019)

Today, there are more robots exploring the ocean than ever before. From autonomous ocean-crossing gliders to massive industrial remotely operated vehicles to new tools for science and exploration that open new windows into the abyss, underwater robots are giving people a change to experience the ocean like never before. The fastest growing sector of this new robotic frontier? Small, recreational, observation class ROVs.

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Best Practices for Mitigating Negative Interactions Between Marine Mammals and MicroROVs

Today, we published our guidelines on the responsible operation of small recreational ROVs around marine mammals.

You can read the full paper here: Thaler and friends (2019) Bot Meets Whale: Best Practices for Mitigating Negative Interactions Between Marine Mammals and MicroROVs. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00506.

Reprinted below are the explicit guidelines proposed in the paper.

1. Education. Central to any mitigation strategy involving diverse stakeholders, ranging from professional to recreational, is user education. The following are critical to establishing a responsible user community: Ensuring all potential microROV users 1) not only understand the laws and regulations for wildlife viewing that apply to the jurisdiction in which they are operating, but understand why those regulations are in place; and, most importantly, 2) have internalized a stewardship ethic that motivates them to respect the rationale behind those regulations even when operating in regions where those regulations are not enforced. This is most effective when it occurs at point-of-sale or registration of the microROV. Thus, while the additional four guidelines relate to the user, this first one relates to the manufacturer. To most effectively convey the potential harm that microROVs could pose to marine mammals, the manufacturers are best positioned to educate their user base by providing informational material with each microROV sale. 

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Announcing the #BestShark contest for David’s birthday: make sandbar shark memes and art, win prizes!

My 35th birthday is next week, and I am calling upon the forces of the Internetz to help make it an amusing one. As you all know, sandbar shark is #BestShark. This spectacular shark is even the logo of my new consultancy!

David Shiffman Scientific and Environmental Consulting Logo: Original commissioned artwork by Ethan Kocak

I want you to help me celebrate my birthday by creating sandbar shark #BestShark memes and/or artwork! And my favorites will win prizes! Here’s how it works:

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Ballard’s hunt for Earhart’s wrecked plane, sink or swim for deep-sea mining, prints of whales, and more! Monday Morning Salvage, August 19, 2019.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

BEN (Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator) was made for the University of New Hampshire by marine autonomy tech company ASV Global(Credit: University of New Hampshire)
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A brutal slog through some of the worst ocean and climate news of the summer. Also, fish cannons. [Tuesday] Morning Salvage: August 13, 2019.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

  • Trump Administration Guts Endangered Species Act, setting back conservation efforts by decades, dooming thousands of charismatic species to extinction, and sealing his legacy as the racist president that is unambiguously worse than Nixon. Look, at this point, if you aren’t calling your representatives on the regular to demand impeachment, I don’t know what to tell you.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Image: Pierre Markuse (Flickr)
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A global assessment of biodiversity and research effort at active Seafloor Massive Sulphides: Transcript from my talk at the International Seabed Authority.

[The following is a transcript from a talk I gave at a side event during Part II of the 25th Session of the International Seabed Authority in July, 2019. It has been lightly edited for clarity.]

I want to change gears this afternoon and talk about a very different kind of mining. For the last two years, Diva and I have been engaged in a data mining project to discover what we can learn and what we still need to learn about biodiversity at hydrothermal vents from the 40-year history of ocean exploration in the deep sea.

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What we’ve missed in the Abyss: Mining 40 years of cruise reports for biodiversity and research effort data from deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

“When the RV Knorr set sail for the Galapagos Rift in 1977, the geologists aboard eagerly anticipated observing a deep-sea hydrothermal vent field for the first time. What they did not expect to find was life—abundant and unlike anything ever seen before. A series of dives aboard the HOV Alvin during that expedition revealed not only deep-sea hydrothermal vents but fields of clams and the towering, bright red tubeworms that would become icons of the deep sea. So unexpected was the discovery of these vibrant ecosystems that the ship carried no biological preservatives. The first specimens from the vent field that would soon be named “Garden of Eden” were fixed in vodka from the scientists’ private reserves.”

Thaler and Amon 2019

In the forty years since that first discovery, hundreds of research expedition ventured into the deep oceans to study and understand the ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. In doing so, they discovered thousands of new species, unraveled the secrets of chemosynthesis, and fundamentally altered our understanding of what it means to be alive on this planet. Now, as deep-sea mining crawls slowly towards production, we must transform those discoveries into conservation and management principles to safeguard the diversity and resilience of life in the deep sea.

Biodiversity of hydrothermal vents from around the world. Top: Indian Ocean, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Bottom: East Pacific Rise, Southwest Pacific, Southern Ocean. Photo credits (top left to bottom right): University of Southampton; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Ocean Networks Canada; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Nautilus Minerals; University of Southampton.
Biodiversity of hydrothermal vents from around the world. Top: Indian Ocean, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Bottom: East Pacific Rise, Southwest Pacific, Southern Ocean. Photo credits (top left to bottom right): University of Southampton; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Ocean Networks Canada; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Nautilus Minerals; University of Southampton.

Though research at hydrothermal vents looms large in the disciplines of deep-sea science, relative to almost any terrestrial system, they are practically unexplored. Over the last 2 years, Drs. Andrew Thaler and Diva Amon have poured through every available cruise report that made a biological observation at the deep-sea hydrothermal vent to assess how disproportionate research effort shapes or perception of hydrothermal vent ecosystems and impacts how we make management decisions in the wake of a new form of anthropogenic disturbance.

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Protecting the Iron Snail, more then meets the eye, ROV-bot in disguise, saying farewell to a glacier, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: July 29, 2019.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

The copper plaque will be installed on Ok in August 2019. COURTESY RICE UNIVERSITY.
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