About Me

This blog is primarily geared toward staff at the zoos, aquariums, museums (ZAMs), and other conservation education organizations that are part of our growing global network. We aim to provide you with cutting edge, challenging, and creative information, ideas, and tools to become as effective as possible at communicating about and for conservation with your visitors and the public.

See our ongoing communications research, or join our growing network, at The Ocean Project's website.

February 29, 2012

Human rights: Another criterion for determining “sustainable” seafood?

Many of us are familiar with the convenient "sustainable seafood" pocket guides that help us make decisions about seafood. The Ocean Project has helped promote Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program since its inception. "Best Choices," "Good Alternatives," and species to "Avoid" help those of us keen to make the right choices. 

The process to develop these lists is rigorous and meticulous. Scientists carefully review studies based on a set of criteria and make recommendations on which wild-caught and farm-raised species can be consumed without jeopardizing the long-term viability of the species and the ecosystem. They also have been increasingly looking at human health concerns as many toxins such as mercury make their way through the food web, into fish and into our bodies. It's especially important for pregnant women and children's developing brains and bodies. (See KidSafe Seafood for good options for children.) Another issue that should be taken more into consideration is that so much seafood is transported by plane around the world. It gives a new meaning to 'flying fish' and creates a carbon footprint that is not inconsiderable. 
While there are differences in opinion as to which ecological or health criteria should take precedence when trying to categorize the species, there has not yet been much attention focused on human costs to those involved in the fishing industry. 

NBC recently featured the risks of lobster diving in Honduras. Driven by consumer demand in North America and Europe hundreds of fishermen have died and thousands of others paralyzed.  
Another criterion that has not been taken into consideration is human rights. A series of recent investigative journalism pieces raises the question of whether we should include human rights violation in determining whether seafood is “sustainable”. 

With modern day slavery added to the mix, it might now be more important than ever to ask: “Where is my seafood coming from?”

February 27, 2012

The Heartland Leak--Visualized

Here's a visual timeline of the Heartland Institute internal document leak. See our previous blog for more info, but here's a summary: scientist Peter Gleick used a false name to obtain confidential strategy and budget documents from the Heartland Institute--a conservative 'think tank' which works against the idea of human-made climate change.

February 23, 2012

What "gate?" The Heartland Institute Strategy Documents Leaked

If you’re someone who is titillated by political intrigue and care about the environment, you may have noticed some exciting headlines lately! A reverse ‘climategate’ has recently taken place—with secret internal documents from The Heartland Institute (a not-for-profit thinktank which promotes an anti-climate change agenda) being made public. If you haven’t heard, here’s a quick summary to catch you up. You can also view a timeline of related news articles here.

The Players

The Heartland Institute is ostensibly a not-for-profit organization which aims to promote ‘free-market solutions to social and economic problems.’ It has a checkered past, including working with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question the science linking secondhand smoke to health risks, and to lobby against government public health reforms. It is a member of the ‘Cooler Heads Coalition,’ a group with the mission of "dispelling the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis".

Peter H. Gleick is a scientist who co-founded the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. He’s most well-known for his work onincreasing human access to safe water, and climate change. Gleick made public confidential Heartland Institute documents obtained using a false name.

DeSmogBlog. A blog focusing on climate change, especially featuring articles about global warming misinformation campaigns by industry and political forces. The blog first broke the story and made the documents available online.

Timeline of Events

  • February 14th, 2012
DeSmogBlog editor, Richard Littlemore, posted an article entitled ‘Heartland Insider Exposes Institute's Budget and Strategy’ stating an anonymous source had provided him with “the Heartland Institute's budget, fundraising plan, its Climate Strategy for 2012 and sundry other documents (all attached) that prove all of the worst allegations that have been leveled against the organization” and attached said documents to post.

  • February 15th,  2012
The Heartland Institute confirms it mistakenly leaked documents, but claims one, the Climate Strategy Memo detailing pushing anti-climate change curriculum in schools, was a fake.

  • February 17th, 2012
Scientists involved in the debunked ‘climategate scandal,’ in which scientist internal emails were stolen, misconstrued, and widely misinterpreted, publish an open letter in The Guardian decrying Heartland’s hypocritical attitude.

  • February 20th, 2012
Peter Gleick publishes an article on the Huffington Post admitting that he had ‘received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy,’ and then went on to use a fake name in order to obtain more documents.

  • February 21st, 2012
The Heartland Institute begins damage control, including sending many cease and desist letters to organizations discussing the event such as DeSmogBlog and the National Wildlife Foundation.

  • February 22nd, 2012
The leaked documents have also lead  ‘Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic member of Congress, to call for a congressional investigation into whether Goklany, described as a senior policy analyst at the Department of the Interior, had broken rules by accepting a monthly stipend of $1,000 from Heartland.’

  • Today
As of today, Gleick is facing a possible firing from his job due to ethics violations, along with commendations of ‘hero’ from some environmental organizations. What do you think? Is Gleick a villain or a hero?

February 16, 2012

Social media and social change

Recent events have once again reminded us of the power of social media for social change that the Arab Spring so dramatically demonstrated last year. Whether for fundraising or toppling despotic regimes, social media is revolutionizing the ways that we think about information sharing and collective action. 

What implications does this have for our efforts to communicate for conservation? Our research clearly shows is that an Internet presence is critical for communicating for conservation action. 

Preliminary results from our youth focus groups suggest that there are limits to reaching young people through social media, however. Social media is perfect for inspiring young people to take immediate action and organizing an event, e.g. “Click to donate”, “Send this letter to your senator”, “Come to our beach cleanup”, but less effective for education or information sharing, e.g. “How to manage invasive species in your backyard”, “Scientists look at how people may be influencing evolution in raccoons”.

How have you used social media in your efforts to communicate with your audience? What have you found to be successful?

February 14, 2012

Our ocean planet's future should transcend partisan politics

Race for the political cure?
The social media world in the US was recently abuzz over the decision by Susan G. Komen (SGK) Foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Regardless of their perspective of the work that Planned Parenthood does, most people agree that the search for a cure for cancer shouldn’t be a political issue: the search for a cure for cancer should transcend political affiliations. 

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could agree on the same thing with conservation and climate change? Wouldn’t it be great if climate change – an issue that more than 97% of scientists agree to be real and likely human-caused – was taken to be true and not dismissed as "another theory". Yet even among many zoo, aquariums, and zoo visitors in the US – a large segment of the population identified as much more concerned about conservation issues than the general public – the threat of climate change is still largely seen as “overrated” and “politicized”

How do we then convince people that climate change is very real and growing worse due to human causes? One of the tenets of social marketing is that “perception is reality”, i.e. what people perceive to be true is what people will believe in, regardless of “facts”. Throwing more facts and data at people not only does not change their minds – a phenomenon known as “motivated reasoning” – but instead makes them dig their heels in deeper. So instead of trying to convince people that climate change is “real”, we recommend focusing on communicating to audiences that, regardless of what they feel about climate change, it's important to  take conservation action because they care about a species, a place, their healthy, their children, the future, or simply because they are “green-friendly”.

February 10, 2012

Show your love for the planet—have an ethical and sustainable Valentine’s Day!

Everyone needs a little sugar! But at what cost? Chocolate and bouquets of roses are Valentine’s Day staples and--like many staples in our lives--they become so familiar we often forget to really think about them. Unfortunately, these sweet mementos often have more sinister origins than you would expect. Read on for some tips for having a Valentine’s Day that will make your belle or beau and our blue backyard feel appreciated!

Cocoa farming… not so sweet

Chocolate may seem as American as Apple Pie (which is not actually so American!), but cocoa is actually produced far from where it is typically marketed. The cocoa industry has had serious issues with child labor in the past; a 2005 report from the International Labour Organization found there were 200,000 children working in the cocoa industry in Côte d'Ivoire. Much cocoa farming also contributes to rainforest and old-growth deforestation. In addition, a shockingly wide variety of chocolate products use palm oil. Palm oil plantations are responsible for rainforest destruction and harm threatened species such as orangutans, the Sumatran tiger and the Asian rhinoceros.

These are not facts likely to get your sweetheart in the mood!

Chocolate as ethical as it is tasty

Luckily, there are many ethical chocolate options out there!

Every rose has its thorn, or should I say thorns?

Looks can be deceptive. A beautiful bouquet of flowers on your dining room table could be the result of an environmental mess elsewhere in the world. Like chocolate, most flowers are grown 1,000-2,000 miles away from where they are eventually sold. That’s a lot of carbon! And when it comes to ethical farming, out of sight is definitely out of mind. Not only are excessive amounts of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides used to grow the flowers, they must also arrive pest-free. A common “sanitizer” is methyl bromide, a serious ozone depleter. Don’t forget—the many workers on these farms are exposed to these chemicals on a regular basis.

(Organic) Flower Power!

Don't worry, there are plenty of growers who are dedicated to providing your loved ones with an ethical centerpiece.

  • Always buy local first! Venture out into the world, and talk to your local florists. Ask them about their flowers and try to buy ones grown organically, nearby, before ordering out.
  • Ethical Consumer also has a great report on the most responsible big florists
  • Organic Bouquet is all organic flowers
  • Some large florists like FTD do have green options
  • Check sites like Local Harvest and Veriflora for ethical florists near you!

Extra Credit

Want to make a unique impression on your date and support conservation? Buy your love bug a chocolate covered roach from the Bronx Zoo! For $10 you can name a hissing cockroach after the object of your affection, and dropping $25 gets you “a hand-painted, artisanal chocolate roach.” Delicious.

February 8, 2012

Vision for our National Ocean Policy Part II

Update as of 2/29/12:  The National Ocean Council is extending the public comment period on the draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan through March 28, 2012 (an additional 30 days). This extension will provide stakeholders, users, and the public additional time to review the draft Implementation Plan and provide their input to inform development of the final Implementation Plan.

We blogged previously about the National Ocean Policy draft implementation plan that’s open for comment till the end of February. To our growing network of aquarium and informal science education partners we would like to highlight several aspects of the plan that are particularly relevant.

·         Recommendation that the National Ocean Commission increase collaboration with aquarium and zoo partners. Clearly, there is much to do to improve ocean sciences in K-12 educational experiences; likewise, there is much that informal science education centers like aquariums can offer to complement and enhance school-based learning. These institutions provide vital opportunities for connecting kids with nature, something that is proving to improve students’ educational performance and future as environmentally responsible citizens.

·         Actions 5 and 6 in the draft plan's Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding section (pp. 23-25) focus on developing a skilled workforce and increasing ocean and coastal literacy, respectively. Action 6 focuses on increasing ocean and coastal literacy by expanding the accessibility and use of ocean content in formal and informal educational programming for students, educators, and the public.

Formal and informal science education programs can work together to be much more effective at getting children involved in hands-on activities, raising levels of knowledge and awareness and become civic-minded citizens who actively engage in sustainable behaviors and community actions. Furthermore, coordinated networks of aquariums, museums, science centers, others can work together to enhance efforts and collaborate for ocean conservation.

One thing we'd ask you to remember is to urge the Obama Administration to ensure prioritizing adequate funding to helping youth to become actively engaged in ocean stewardship and learning, which will lead to significant increases the numbers of citizens who actively engage in protecting the ocean. Healthier communities of life in the oceans will also lead to creating healthier communities where they live.

February 5, 2012

60 seconds or 35 years?

Super Bowl Sunday is a big deal. Never mind the football teams (sorry, no disrespect to the New England Patriots  and NY Giants), but as everyone knows, it's an annual opportunity for advertisers to show off their best stuff.

This year, a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl costs on average $3.5 million. So in one minute, advertisers spend $7 million. 

Are we envious that Honda's spending money not on ocean conservation but on advertising with Matthew Broderick?

or Volkswagen's spending money not on ocean conservation but with a dog?  

Of course we would always prefer a nice donation! :)

Just to put that in perspective vis a vis The Ocean Project, those 60 seconds of advertising dollars could keep us operating nicely till about 2050! Not having to fundraise for operating costs for a few decades would make us much more productive, allowing us to free up time and creative energy to ramp up our activities and have a laser sharp focus on doing what we need to do to protect our world's ocean.  The ocean would become healthier and more productive

But at least we can celebrate one of our partners, SeaWeb, which presumably got a donated 30 second spot, which viewers in the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to see live during the pre-game show. Bob Talbot brought his amazing talents to bear, with stunning footage supported by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.  

Watch it here:

(If you cannot see the ad here, please link to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJEMR3uFPTI) 

As SeaWeb president, DawnMartin says, “Most of these viewers will be focused on the end zone rather than the tidal zone and this commercial will spark them to think about both!”  Let's hope there is lots of action in the end zones and in helping the tidal zones, and the wider ocean! 

It was a unique approach for an ad to have the screen be completely and intentionally black for part of the 30-second spot. Let us know what you think about this ad: Does it work for you? Do you think it's effective? Think it will inspire people to take action?

February 3, 2012

Social marketing: tools for change

Social marketing – the art of marketing social causes with the tools well-honed in product marketing, i.e. instead of selling a physical product like soap, selling a cause or a change in behavior – has been successfully used by many organizations, and examples abound. For those of us in conservation education and communication, figuring out how to motivate people to change their behavior to “save the world” is an ongoing challenge. 

Key to social marketing (or all marketing for that matter) is understanding your audience. Information about audiences like those offered by The Ocean Project, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, and Eurobarometer are great places to begin. Our research has clearly identified two key constituencies – youth and minorities – to focus on for greatest impact. These two groups show tremendous promise as groups that not only are willing to take action, but likely to have significant influence on others. 

Who is your audience – who are you trying to sell “soap” to – and what are they like?  Please share your thoughts as we explore the ideas and tools of social marketing.

February 1, 2012

Achieving the Vision for our National Ocean Policy

Photo thanks to: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza/Marine Photobank
“To achieve an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well‐being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations.” 
That grand vision for our National Ocean Policy can become reality with your help! Executive Order 13547 lays out a policy that is based on science and puts ocean conservation first. 

As part of that policy for stewardship of the ocean, on January 13,  the White House released for public comment the first-ever National Ocean Policy draft implementation plan. This draft Plan identifies key actions that will move us beyond the more than 100 different laws and policies, toward comprehensive ocean planning and fulfilling that audacious, but direly needed, national vision.

We have never had a comprehensive system for managing our ocean and protecting and conserving the huge diversity of animals, plants, and habitats that constitute healthy oceans and which contribute to tens of millions of jobs. Our EEZ (or Exclusive Economic Zone) covers an ocean area nearly one and one-half the size of the landmass of the entire continental US; and we have jurisdiction over more ocean territory than any other country.

Isn’t it about time we protect this resource that contributes more to our nation’s economic output than the entire farm sector? Our children, and seven generations hence, deserve no less. As our ocean faces increasing threats to its health and productivity, from ocean acidification to dangerous water quality to habitat degradation, resultant environmental and social challenges are becoming evident and we need to take action now.

For most people, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind. Public opinion research clearly shows that oceans are not top-of-mind -- yet, US citizens are willing and able to take conservation action to protect and conserve the ocean and its diversity of animal life; they just need pointing in the right direction from trusted messengers such as aquariums.  

Everyone has the ability to get involved in this discussion about our ocean's future, no matter what age. The oceans belong to no one person, no corporation; they belong to all of us, and therefore it's our obligation -- and opportunity -- to get involved in shaping the future. The White House needs to hear from all stakeholders, including interested citizens from sea to shining sea.

Let's keep in mind the quote from Jacques Cousteau: "We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one." We are all connected to the ocean; no matter where we live we affect the ocean and the ocean affects us. Let's strive to make sure that we don't squander the world's ocean that our children will inherit.