In 2010, the Marine Education Center collaborated with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development's Shark Research Program to design an educational program that combined research experiences and educational opportunities for teenage audiences. This program, Shark Fest, educates students about the sharks of the Mississippi Sound and engages them in scientific studies of shark populations and movements. This program has reached 398 participants in grades 7–12. During the program, students assist in conducting a population survey using a 152.4-m (500-ft) bottom longline with 50 hooks and fishing with a rod-and-reel. Students measure, weigh, determine sex, and identify to species all captured sharks, and tag those in good condition prior to release. Program participants also conduct water-quality sampling (salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity) at each sample site for addition to the database. Students take a pre-test and post-test to assess the level of knowledge gained during the program. Results of a paired-sample t-test on 2015 pre-test and post-test data reflected a significant difference in pre-test (mean = 6.16, SD = 2.36) and post-test (mean = 8.54, SD = 1.93) scores (t = -9.172, P < 0.0001), indicating an increase in content knowledge. Written and verbal post-participation assessments also highlighted a positive student experience. We conducted opportunistic interviews with several students 4 years after they were in the program and found evidence of retained knowledge along with positive overall impressions. Some participants stated that the experience influenced their career pursuits.
Communication and Education
The role of public aquariums in promoting conservation has changed substantially over the decades, evolving from entertainment attractions to educational and research centres. In many facilities, larger sharks are an essential part of the collection and represent one of the biggest draws for the public. Displaying healthy elasmobranchs comes with many challenges, but improvements in husbandry techniques have enabled aquariums to have success with a variety of species. The establishment of organisations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the completion of texts like the Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual, has helped set high standards of care for sharks in captivity and promoted international conservation efforts. Aquariums keeping sharks are in a unique position to influence local, regional, and international attitudes and policies by acting as both educational and research facilities. Interactions with multiple stakeholders of diverse educational and demographic backgrounds through the use of in-house advocacy, public outreach, media interviews, and partnerships with academic and government institutions enable these facilities to engage and share information with a broad audience. Although the data collected on sharks in captivity often cannot be directly translated to animals in the wild, it offers better insight into a number of life history traits and poorly understood behaviours, and has been the foundation for many captive breeding programs. Several Northeast Pacific (NEP) shark species are commonly displayed for long durations or bred in aquariums, while other less studied species have been held for short periods to collect valuable data that can be applied towards ongoing studies and conservation measures. Here, we discuss past and current tangible benefits of holding NEP sharks in captivity, as well as noting several ways in which future research and education activities will continue to inform and shape public opinions on shark management and conservation.
The interest of the general public, especially young people, in ocean and coastal issues is crucial, and yet high school students often do not consider scientific careers to be attractive. Raising student awareness of careers in marine science is not only a task for educators, but for scientists engaged in marine research as well. This paper summarises the experience of three years of international science camp organized for 15–19 year old students from countries of the Baltic Sea region (Europe) and discusses international science camps as a platform for encouraging interest in marine science.
Celebrities are frequently used in conservation marketing as a tool to raise awareness, generate funding and effect behaviour change. The importance of evaluating effectiveness is widely recognised in both marketing and conservation but, to date, little research into the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement as a tool for conservation marketing has been published. Using a combination of interviews and an online choice survey instrument, we investigated the extent to which a sample of UK-based conservation organisations, and other charities, evaluate their own usage of celebrity endorsement, and then carried out an experimental evaluation of a hypothetical marketing campaign. This experiment compared participants' willingness-to-engage (WTE) with, and recall of, a conservation message presented in versions of an advert featuring one of three prominent UK celebrities (David Beckham, Chris Packham or HRH Prince William) or a non-celebrity control treatment (featuring Crawford Allan, a director of TRAFFIC USA). We find that the organisations we interviewed did not routinely evaluate their marketing campaigns featuring celebrities. Furthermore, our experiment provides evidence that celebrity endorsement can produce both positive and negative effects. Participants were more willing to engage when presented with an advert featuring one of the three celebrities than the non-celebrity control, and WTE varied according to the characteristics of the celebrity and the respondent. However, celebrities were less effective at generating campaign message recall than non-celebrities. These findings suggest that celebrity endorsement should be used carefully. Further work is required to fully understand the role celebrity endorsers can play in conservation but, drawing on best practice from the field of marketing, this study introduces an approach to evaluation which could be applied more widely to improve the effectiveness of conservation marketing.
First impressions based on facial appearance predict many important social outcomes. We investigated whether such impressions also influence the communication of scientific findings to lay audiences, a process that shapes public beliefs, opinion, and policy. First, we investigated the traits that engender interest in a scientist’s work, and those that create the impression of a “good scientist” who does high-quality research. Apparent competence and morality were positively related to both interest and quality judgments, whereas attractiveness boosted interest but decreased perceived quality. Next, we had members of the public choose real science news stories to read or watch and found that people were more likely to choose items that were paired with “interesting-looking” scientists, especially when selecting video-based communications. Finally, we had people read real science news items and found that the research was judged to be of higher quality when paired with researchers who look like “good scientists.” Our findings offer insights into the social psychology of science, and indicate a source of bias in the dissemination of scientific findings to broader society.
Identifying the right stakeholders to engage with is fundamental to ensuring conservation information and initiatives diffuse through target populations. Yet this process can be challenging, particularly as practitioners and policy makers grapple with different conservation objectives and a diverse landscape of relevant stakeholders. Here we draw on social network theory and methods to develop guidelines for selecting ‘key players’ better positioned to successfully implement four distinct conservation objectives: (1) rapid diffusion of conservation information, (2) diffusion between disconnected groups, (3) rapid diffusion of complex knowledge or initiatives, or (4) widespread diffusion of conservation information or complex initiatives over a longer time period. Using complete network data among coastal fishers from six villages in Kenya, we apply this approach to select key players for each type of conservation objective. We then draw on key informant interviews from seven resource management and conservation organizations working along the Kenyan coast to investigate whether the socioeconomic attributes of the key players we identified match the ones typically selected to facilitate conservation diffusion (i.e., ‘current players’). Our findings show clear discrepancies between current players and key players, highlighting missed opportunities for progressing more effective conservation diffusion. We conclude with specific criteria for selecting key stakeholders to facilitate each distinct conservation objective, thereby helping to mitigate the problem of stakeholder identification in ways that avoid blueprint approaches. These guidelines can also be applied in other research and intervention areas, such as community development studies, participatory research, and community intervention.
As human impacts cause ecosystem-wide changes in the oceans, the need to protect and restore marine resources has led to increasing calls for and establishment of marine reserves. Scientific information about marine reserves has multiplied over the last decade, providing useful knowledge about this tool for resource users, managers, policy makers, and the general public. This information must be conveyed to nonscientists in a nontechnical, credible, and neutral format, but most scientists are not trained to communicate in this style or to develop effective strategies for sharing their scientific knowledge. Here, we present a case study from California, in which communicating scientific information during the process to establish marine reserves in the Channel Islands and along the California mainland coast expanded into an international communication effort. We discuss how to develop a strategy for communicating marine reserve science to diverse audiences and highlight the influence that effective science communication can have in discussions about marine management.
Clarity and accuracy of reporting are fundamental to the scientific process. The understandability of written language can be estimated using readability formulae. Here, in a corpus consisting of 707 452 scientific abstracts published between 1881 and 2015 from 122 influential biomedical journals, we show that the readability of science is steadily decreasing. Further, we demonstrate that this trend is indicative of a growing usage of general scientific jargon. These results are concerning for scientists and for the wider public, as they impact both the reproducibility and accessibility of research findings.
The aim of this study is to assess the impact of two forms of short-term knowledge communication—lectures and group deliberations—on public managers’ policy beliefs regarding genetic biodiversity in the Baltic Sea. Genetic biodiversity is a key component of biological variation, but despite scientific knowledge and far-reaching political goals, genetic biodiversity remains neglected in marine management. Previous research highlights lack of knowledge among managers as one explanation to the implementation deficit. This multidisciplinary study builds on the identified need for an improved knowledge transfer between science and ongoing management. A basic knowledge package on genetic biodiversity in the Baltic Sea was presented as either a lecture or a deliberative group discussion to two separate samples of public managers who are involved in Baltic Sea and other biodiversity management at the regional level in Sweden. The empirical findings show that the communicated information has an impact on the public managers’ beliefs on genetic biodiversity of the Baltic Sea. Lectures seem more efficient to transfer knowledge on this theme. Those who received information through a lecture strengthen their confidence in area protection as a management tool to conserve genetic diversity. They were also more convinced of the obligation of authorities at national and regional level to take on larger responsibility for genetic conservation than those managers who participated in a deliberative discussion.
Australia’s developed coasts are a heavily competed space, subject to urban, industrial and agricultural development. A diversity of habitats, such as mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses, comprise Australia’s coastal seascape and provide numerous benefits including fish productivity, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, coastal protection and recreation. Decision makers need to be able to weigh up the relative costs and benefits of coastal development, protection or repair and to do this they need robust, accessible and defensible data on the ecological function and economic value of Australia’s coastal seascapes. We reviewed the published literature, with a focus on saltmarsh as a vulnerable ecological community, to determine the availability of information on key ecological functions that could inform ecosystem service valuation. None of the publications we reviewed quantified nutrient cycling, coastal protection or recreation functions. Only 13 publications presented quantitative information on carbon sequestration and fish productivity. These were limited geographically, with the majority of studies on sub-tropical and temperate saltmarsh communities between south-east Queensland and Victoria. This demonstrates a lack of quantitative information needed to substantiate and communicate the value of Australia’s saltmarshes in different locations, scales and contexts. Research should focus on addressing these knowledge gaps and communicating evidence in a relevant form and context for decision-making. We discuss four principles for research funding organisations and researchers to consider when prioritising and undertaking research on key ecological functions of Australia’s saltmarshes, and coastal seascapes more broadly, to support sustainable coastal development, protection and repair for long-term economic and community benefit.