By Kristen Weiss
Steeped in a deep history of marine resource exploitation and management, the town of St. Johns in Newfoundland served as the backdrop for this year’s International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC). Several COS staff and affiliated researchers participated in this year’s Congress by leading workshops and symposia and giving presentations on our work involving ocean tipping points and bridging science to policy.
Communicating Science through Storytelling
Stephanie Green, a COS early career science fellow, co-developed and co-led a pre-meeting workshop with colleagues from Oregon State University and COMPASS entitled Tales from the sea: Communicating science and conservation through storytelling. They created the two-day training to help scientists hone their science communication skills and craft engaging stories about their research. Over the two days, participants learned the key elements of storytelling, and through many hands-on exercises developed their own conservation stories. Participants then had the opportunity to perform on stage at the Longshoremen’s Protective Union Hall in St. Johns in an event that was attended by over 150 members of the public.
“Stories are universal for sharing knowledge across cultures and backgrounds, but for many scientists it is a lost art. Conferences like IMCC gather scientists from all over the world who have witnessed some of the biggest changes on our planet and are working to find solutions. They have stories that everyone should hear, but we have to tap into them”, says Green. “So far, our training has helped 19 scientists develop and share their stories with students, journalists and public audiences around the world.”
This year’s stories were filmed and will be added to a growing library on the Society for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Stories webpage in the near future. You can also find recordings of past storytelling events on their page.
Science storytelling workshop participants gather together on stage.
Green also presented on her own research at the IMCC session, Conservation and the land-sea interface. She discussed her work which looked at the environmental consequences of oil/tar sands extraction on marine environments. Green and her colleagues have found that multiple stressors from oil extraction are cumulatively impacting coastal ecosystems, including the storage, transportation and industry-derived greenhouse gas inputs. They highlighted that these impacts need to be better accounted for in future energy development decisions.
Bridging Science to Policy and Management
Ashley Erickson, COS’s Assistant Director for Law & Policy, presented in two symposia at IMCC. The first, Connecting theory and practice to advance marine conservation science and outcomes, was hosted by UCSB's Sustainable Fisheries Group and featured a range of practitioners and researchers from the non-governmental organizations and academic communities who are working to embed the best available science into management. Erickson discussed ways to overcome the knowledge and communication gaps that often exist between academic science and policy decision making, including the role that boundary organizations like COS can play in bridging this divide.
“IMCC did an excellent job drawing a diverse range of interdisciplinary perspectives to Newfoundland,” said Erickson. “I was impressed by the meeting’s focus on solutions and applied research questions, and particularly the high-quality work being done to include traditional cultural knowledge and indigenous history into applied research projects and management solutions.”
Ashley Erickson presents on bridging science to policy.
Erickson also participated in a symposium hosted by the Ocean Tipping Points team which focused on putting tipping points science into practice in social-ecological systems. The team highlighted stories from the field that show how researchers and managers can work together to make science relevant to management decisions, and what tools and methods have helped.
“Our symposium really stood out as we heavily showcased our work to co-develop research questions and solutions hand-in-hand with our management partners on the project,” explained Erickson. “We even had one of our management partners in Haida Gwaii, Hilary Thorp, give a talk on her perspective working with the Ocean Tipping Points team as a part of the symposium - one of the few management voices in the room. In addition, one of the project’s Expert Management Advisory Group members and Haida Gwaii partners (Ernie Gladstone) was in the audience!”
Examples of Success through Cooperation and Co-Production of Knowledge
Elena Finkbeiner, a COS early career science fellow, played a key role in both an IMCC symposium and panel session. In the Conservation and stewardship in small-scale fisheries session, she presented her ongoing behavioral economics research with fishing cooperatives in Mexico. Through a number of experiments run with actual fishers in her case study communities, Finkbeiner has found that with increasing resource uncertainty (i.e., uncertainty in how many fish will be available in a given year), cooperation and stewardship among fishermen also increases, at least in communities with past exposure to uncertainty and that have some sort of institutional structure in place for communication among fishers.
Elena Finkbeiner presents on behavioral economics work with small scale fisheries.
“We often think of coastal communities as passive victims of global environmental change. This research shows that, with proper institutional and social mechanisms in place, local communities can be active agents capable of influencing their own resilience and buffering their local environment from the negative effects of global change,” said Finkbeiner.
Finkbeiner described the small-scale fisheries symposium as one of hope and optimism, with a number of case studies providing evidence of successful fisheries co-management.
In the panel Solving marine conservation problems using all available tools, Finkbeiner contributed to the discussion on how to cultivate truly interdisciplinary conservation science. She presented on the need to understand the process by which science informs policy, how environmental management links to social and economic well-being, and the specific socio-political context within which decisions are being made. Key to the successful implementation of conservation actions is realizing how closely natural resources are linked to cultural identity, food security, issues of equity and other social consequences that can affect conservation success.
“Designing and implementing effective conservation or environmental management policies is like playing a game of chess. You always need to think proactively four steps ahead to anticipate interactions, trickle down effects, or unintended outcomes,” said Finkbeiner.
The panel discussion also highlighted some of the challenges facing tenure-track scientists who want to focus on applied, interdisciplinary conservation problems and provided some advice for early career scientists on how to navigate the research and publication world.
The stimulating discussions among diverse conference attendees that occurred both during and in between the IMCC sessions were encouraging sources of interdisciplinary brainstorming. Hopefully, they will lead the way for creative collaborations to solve conservation challenges into the future.