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.

March 29, 2012

7 miles deep

Congratulations to James Cameron and the DeepSea Challenge team! 

On March 26th, Cameron achieved something historic when he went to the deepest point on our ocean planet, Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, about seven miles (11 kilometers) below the ocean surface. It is located approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Guam in the Pacific Ocean and is part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Cameron's feat was the first solo dive to the deepest known point on Earth. In 1960, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh and late Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard descended the 35,756 feet in the Navy submersible Trieste. Of the dive, Cameron said he felt like he had "gone to another planet."

Unlike the Trieste, Cameron, with the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, was able to conduct extensive scientific exploration, with much more planned. In fact, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program's got great potential for increasing public interest in the ocean and enhancing ocean science education.

March 23, 2012

Are young people less “green”?

A recent study has set the US environmental community all abuzz in the past week, revealing that compared Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers, Millennials are less green and less inclined to do anything for the environment. 

The study has impressive scale (two sets of data total more than 9 million respondents) and longitude (almost 40 years from 1966 to 2009), and compares the snapshot of three generations, with some interesting core findings:

Compared to Baby Boomers (born 1946–1961) at the same age, GenX’ers (born 1962–1981) and Millennials (born after 1982) considered goals related to extrinsic values (money, image, fame) more important and those related to intrinsic values (self-acceptance, affiliation, community) less important. Concern for others (e.g., empathy for outgroups, charity donations, the importance of having a job worthwhile to society) declined slightly. Community service rose but was also increasingly required for high school graduation over the same time period. Civic orientation (e.g., interest in social problems, political participation, trust in government, taking action to help the environment and save energy) declined …, with about half the decline occurring between GenX and the Millennials. Some of the largest declines appeared in taking action to help the environment.

What is notable in this finding is that “some of the largest declines appeared in taking action to help the environment.” This finding seems to fly in the face of the findings from The Ocean Project – that youth are the most socially and environmentally conscious, and have the greatest belief in the power of individual action….or does it?

In fact, these two sets of findings are quite separate, not contradictory, and point to important questions. The study in generational differences compares respondents of the same age across different generations, i.e. the Millennials, when compared to their parents or their grandparents when they were in high school/college, are less environmentally conscious and also less politically engaged. Whereas our study looks at Millennials when compared to participants in other age groups in the same time frame, i.e. Millennials when compared to their parents/grandparents NOW. In the latter case, youth are still the most environmentally conscious and socially aware group. 

When taken together, these findings suggest that we need to look at whether environmental awareness and social consciousness changes over time.

March 19, 2012

How can we take action on ocean acidification?

With the rate of ocean acidification accelerating rapidly, we need to take action, individually, at the community level, and as a society. Resource managers and policymakers can help, but they need to hear from us. Without the political will, it’s hard to make change on the scale needed.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to get your legislators to pay attention and help our ocean. Just 10 days ago the US Senate passed the RESTORE Act. In addition to many other ocean-positive policy aspects, RESTORE includes a NationalEndowment for the Oceans (NEO), which will establish an annual fund for ocean conservation that ensures that some revenue from the extraction and use of ocean resources is invested back into better ocean science and programs to conserve our ocean.

But it's far from a done deal. The House of Representatives needs to pass RESTORE and NEO so that the legislation can be signed into law by the President. Please lend your voice to this important cause by contacting your Rep and/or you can work with a variety of our partner organizations to help, including OceanChampions and OceanConservancy. Your quick action today will help future generations yet to come, on land and in the ocean.

March 16, 2012

Ocean Acidification: Osteoporosis of the ocean?

Ocean acidification has been studied by scientists for years with growing alarm, but the extent of the problem was not fully known. A study just out this month makes it quite clear: marine scientists warn that the rate of ocean acidification occurring is unprecedented in the last 300 million years. 

Why is the ocean becomingmore acidic? Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – much of it from human activity such as burning fossil fuels -- dissolves in the ocean and increases its acidity. Because acid breaks down calcium carbonate – an essential ingredient for shells and skeletons – many marine animals are at risk. 

Coral reefs have already been greatly affected and, even more disturbingly, tiny plankton – the base of the oceanic food web – are showing signs of being unable to form shells and grow. If plankton and related building blocks of the ocean food web cannot survive in a more acidic ocean there will be disastrous consequences for many ocean animals. A whole range of species would be impacted by a ripple effect up the food chain: from plankton-eaters like scallops and blue whales to humans who depend greatly on a healthy and productive ocean. This relatively unknown issue has potential to cause mass marine extinction events this century if we don't reduce our collective addiction to fossil fuels. 

While ocean acidification may not yet be on the radar screen for the vast majority of the public and decision-makers, given the immensity of this issue that will likely be changing soon. In fact, a March2 article on this emerging issue was the most read story on the financial website Bloomberg.com. Stay tuned for more info about how we can address this serious threat to ocean health.

March 9, 2012

Communicating to “the general public”?

So who is your audience? Is it the “general public”? Is it the ten year old Girl Guide looking to earn her merit badge, or the 78-year old grandfather taking his grandchild to the zoo? Or perhaps you are thinking of speaking to the 38-year old migrant worker who holds down 3 jobs to support his family of four? Or the young mother deciding what is best to feed her newborn child? 

As you can imagine, the variations are endless. While our research shows Americans as a whole are often motivated by similar values, the wide range of backgrounds and interests mean your visitors identify differently, are preoccupied with different concerns, and view issues in vastly different ways. Consequently, the idea of the “generalpublic” is misleading. Effective communication is predicated on clearly identifying the values and concerns of each group – the more clearly defined the target audience the better the chances of communicating effectively - and then figuring out the best medium by which to reach them. 

Targeting a narrow audience might be scary, but it can have significant payoff. Take for example one narrowly-defined, non-traditional audience that is gaining traction since it was started in 2007: Christians observing Lent. “CarbonFast” taps into a shared value (Christianity) and experience (period of sacrifice) of a specific group of people (observant Christians) during a very specific time (Lent) and transforms that into a call for action. Guiding with a listof daily actions, Carbon Fast is focused on “changing climate and care for God’s good creation”. From its start in England, it is now an international movement. 

Another iconic and really effective movement that targeted a very specific audience was the Chipko movement, some of the earliest (literal) tree huggers. Identifying the concerns of women in rural India who were spending increasing amounts of time gathering firewood to cook, the organizers effectively inspired one of the most successful protests against deforestation – a ban on deforestation in the region – as well as many future environmentalists. 

So, who is your audience?

March 6, 2012

Sign on to support essential education programs!

For nearly a decade, NOAA and EPA education programs have been essential to advancing ocean, climate, and environmental literacy in the United States, a major goal of both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy Report and the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes. 

On February 13, 2012, however, President Obama released his FY 13 budget (the upcoming fiscal year running Oct 1, 2012 – Sep 30, 2013) and, unfortunately, the Administration eliminated funding for, among other things, the Environmental Literacy Grants (ELG) program at NOAA, as well funding for National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To cut back on programs like these would be a huge step backwards for environmental education.

During tough economic times like these, it is imperative that we continue our investment in education, to prepare tomorrow's entrepreneurs and innovators with the skills necessary to help protect and conserve our blue planet and rebuild our economy. It is critical that Congress appropriate the necessary funds to maintain full funding and ensure these programs continue.

Your help is needed, to make sure these programs are not permanently eliminated, by signing onto these two organizational sign-on letters:

These letters will be sent to both the US House of Representatives and Senate on March 15th.  Please sign BOTH - it takes 15 seconds and will do a lot of good!

Please forward this information to your networks and if you're an individual, please send to an organization you're affiliated with and ask them to sign on to these letters. Thank you!

March 2, 2012

Stepping up to the plate: How “science experts” must provide guidance on conservation

In the wake of the recent uproar over Peter Gleick’s leak of the Heartland’s documents, trust is re-emerging as a topic of discussion in the climate change debate. Gleick had previously co-authoreda paper on the importance of having the trust of the public and policy makers in achieving a sustainable future: “That trust is earned by maintaining the highest standards of scientific integrity in all that we do.” 

The way to maintaining “scientific integrity” is often seen as ‘presenting the facts and letting people decide what to do’. Consequently, many conservation institutions shy away from telling people what to do, wishing to leave “advocacy” to the “activists”.
However, the findings are clear. The Ocean Project’s marketresearch as well as Chicago Zoological Society’s CLiZEN research repeatedly point to the fact that visitors to zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs) expect the institutions to provide guidance on how to be part of the conservation solution. 

In fact, the findings also suggest that the credibility of the conservation institution is compromised if they do not provide guidance on conservation action. Visitors look to experts to help them understand the amount and complexities of the information, and the implications in their daily lives. They want to help, but want solutions in easily digestible chunks because the environment does not rank as a top-of-mind issue.
When we are seeking help from legal experts (e.g. lawyers) or financial experts (e.g financial planners), we are looking for guidance on what to do, so why are “scientific experts” so wary of offering guidance? Maybe it is time to shift away from thinking about these things as “advocacy” but really “expert recommendations” or “expert guidance”.