Modern zoos and aquariums aspire to contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation and research. For example, conservation research is a key accreditation criterion of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). However, no studies to date have quantified this contribution. We assessed the research productivity of 228 AZA members using scientific publications indexed in the ISI Web of Science (WoS) database between 1993 and 2013 (inclusive). AZA members published 5175 peer-reviewed manuscripts over this period, with publication output increasing over time. Most publications were in the zoology and veterinary science subject areas, and articles classified as “biodiversity conservation” by WoS averaged 7% of total publications annually. From regression analyses, AZA organizations with larger financial assets generally published more, but research-affiliated mission statements were also associated with increased publication output. A strong publication record indicates expertise and expands scientific knowledge, enhancing organizational credibility. Institutions aspiring for higher research productivity likely require a dedicated research focus and adequate institutional support through research funding and staffing. We recommend future work build on our results by exploring links between zoo and aquarium research productivity and conservation outcomes or uptake.
Communication and Education
Science helps us identify problems, understand their extent, and begin to find solutions; it helps us understand future directions for our society. Scientists bear witness to scenes of change and discovery that most people will never experience. Yet the vividness of these experiences is often left out when scientists talk and write about their work. A growing community of practice is showing that scientists can share their message in an engaging way using a strategy that most are already familiar with: storytelling. Here we draw on our experiences leading scientist communication training and hosting science storytelling events at the International Marine Conservation Congress to share basic techniques, tips, and resources for incorporating storytelling into any scientist’s communication toolbox.
Environmental education has long been recognized as critical for achieving environmental awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective participation in environmental decision-making. Since the Declaration of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment concerns about marine pollution and ecotoxicology, among other environmental challenges, should be included in environmental education. However, in the more than forty years since this significant environmental Declaration, marine education has struggled to find a place in the school curriculum of most countries, even though issues such as climate change, chemical contamination of marine environments, coastal eutrophication, and seafood safety continue to threaten human and other species' well-being. This viewpoint discusses how marine education is marginalized in school education, and how marine specialists need to embed school education in their action plans. Particular questions include: who should be educated, about what, where and with what goals in mind?
This article reports on new research that finds certain messages reduce fear of sharks, key to promoting conservation-minded responses to shark bites. Here it is argued that the sophistication in public feelings toward these highly emotional events has allowed new actors to mobilize and given rise to the ‘Save the Sharks’ movement. In a unique experiment coupling randomly assigned intent-based priming messages with exposure to sharks in a ‘shark tunnel’, a potential path to reduce public fear of sharks and alter policy preferences is investigated. Priming for the absence of intent yielded significant fear extinction effects, providing a viable means of increasing support for non-lethal policy options following shark bite incidents. High levels of pride and low levels of blame for bite incidents are also found. In all, this article provides a step towards improving our understanding of fear and fear reduction in public policy.
The marine world is, to many, remote and exotic. For city residents to fully embrace the wonder and beauty of the ocean world, and to actively work on its behalf, it will require emotional connection and caring. There are many different ways to do this and several of the more compelling and creative are described here: using social media to foster a sense of fascination and concern for the great white shark; taking children into the water and challenging them to find, look, touch and learn about the nature there; sending real-time video images from underwater divers to the surface; developing new long term institutions, such as a New York Harbor School and the Billion Oyster Project, to educate and engage residents of all ages. There are now compelling models that other cities can follow to foster this deep sense of emotional connection and caring for the marine realm.
Flagship species are widely used in conservation to raise awareness and funds, and recent observational research suggests that less popular species can be marketed to increase support for their conservation. Using two species groups, sharks and dolphins, this paper experimentally investigates whether stated conservation preferences can shift from more charismatic species to those not typically considered as flagship species. Although universal appeal is considered a desirable trait for flagship species, there are individual differences in preferences for species. Therefore, this paper also investigates the role of individual demographic and attitudinal differences on choices, as these may impact the success of conservation marketing. Using discrete choice experiments, six forced choice sets of two species were presented to 168 participants, with species shown and the amount of information presented about each one varied. Demographic differences between participants was found to affect donating behavior: individuals with more positive attitudes to sharks were more likely to donate to shark conservation, as are individuals with a biology background. However, it was found that individual choices can also be shifted through the provision of additional information. Participants chose to conserve species with more information, whether the two species in the choice set were both sharks, both dolphins, or a shark and a dolphin. When equal amounts of information were provided about two species, potential donors preferred the more endangered species. This research suggests that by selecting appropriate populations to target for marketing, even less charismatic species can be used as flagship species and attract potential donors.
This manual is intended to help marine resource managers, agencies and organizations plan impactful awareness activities. It provides an overview of key concepts in communications, with examples to guide the reader through the development and implementation of community outreach programs.
To successfully integrate and engage the general public into marine conservation decisions it is important that individuals are well informed. This study surveyed two sample groups, marine environmental professionals working in the UK, n = 61, and members of the public surveyed in Truro, Cornwall, UK, n = 71. Public awareness of marine environmental threats and conservation efforts was assessed through comparison with the, assumed well informed, professional sample. Findings suggest that the public are generally well informed of threats to the marine environment, but are significantly less well informed about marine conservation and management strategies. Furthermore, despite indicating concern for the marine environment, members of the public display significantly fewer pro-environmental behaviours than marine conservation professionals. Public knowledge (and action) gaps are discussed as well as how these may be minimised, including a more interdisciplinary and active approach to science communication and public engagement.
There is a growing realization among conservationists that human behavior is the main driver of all key threats to biodiversity and the environment. This realization has led to an escalation of the efforts to influence human behavior toward the adoption of more sustainable alternatives, more recently through the use of social marketing theory and tools. However, these initiatives have traditionally suffered from a lack of robust impact evaluation, which limits not only accountability but also a practitioner’s ability to learn and improve over time. We evaluated three social marketing campaigns conducted in the Philippines, which aimed at increasing the sustainability of local fisheries. To achieve this, we used the results not only from questionnaire surveys but also from biological and enforcement data. We found that although there is some evidence of impact around human behavior and perceptions of conservation results, those changes did not translate into biological outcomes during the 2-year time frame considered in this evaluation. We discuss many of the barriers to causal inference that still remain, particularly if causal links between outcomes and specific interventions are to be drawn, but also showcase how this current methodology can help us go further than the more basic approaches to impact evaluation commonly used. Lastly, we highlight a number of lessons learned from this experience in seeking a practical, ethical, and effective approach to impact evaluation.
The Shore to Statehouse project supported the creation of an open-source, replicable, undergraduate experiential course on marine debris. Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the course allowed undergraduate students in Connecticut, USA, to collect marine debris locally, then create a policy report for state legislators. Here we share the results of the project including data on four accumulation surveys on the Long Island Sound, as well as the impact on student motivation, attitudes, and behavior levels. Results include finding over 1600 individual pieces of debris totaling 19.4 kg (42.8 lb). In addition, the students experienced statistically significant improvements in knowledge and behavior scores. This open-source course can be replicated, empowering students to remove debris, provide important information to local policy makers, and improve knowledge and behavior.