Tuesday, 29 March 2011

"Talking Ocean" or "Communicating Marine Sustainability"

Fred the monkey calls marine education "talking ocean" (- see soaronhirschi.blogspot.com for details on Fred) I like this - it's simple, it's to the point and you know what I mean, hopefully!

Sometime ago I was asked by the Devon Maritime Forum group to present at their biannual conference. I was asked to talk on, "Communicating marine sustainability."

Whilst I was nervous about talking with Chris Packham and Kate Humble on live TV in front of 3 million people this put the fear of God into me. Crazy really, I know, but somehow it was so much more daunting. Devon Maritime Forum's project officer sits in my old seat at Devon County Council. I used to work there for nearly 3 years back in 2003 - 2005 ish. It was an interesting experience. It was part of a European project on water catchment issues - I loved the transnational learning and being able to use my french and I loved the content of the project but..there's always a but! I am going to be honest here as that is the only way that I can be now. I was less keen working for local government. I felt like a black sheep - I used to walk into my office smile and say, "Good morning". The staff would look at me nervously as they broke from their aggressive typing to smile questioningly. I'm not suggesting they weren't friendly or kind but just the atmosphere dry.

I would go to meetings and the hour (or more) sessions were full of terms and slogans that were wrapped around different content but to me said very little - " we must be transparent" , "we mustn't reinvent the wheel" but it would have been nice if they reinvented the way they communicated if I am brutally honest. People would leave not sure what they were supposed to have learned, done or digested. I am sure things have changed and I am not casting aspersions on all local councils but this was my experience back in the early "naughties".

So the way I talk now - isn't perfect, it's grammatically incorrect, I make typos I'm not very good at saying what I need to say at times but I try and say what I say simply. I had ongoing arguments at university with my lecturers on simplifying scientific papers so we could all learn from them - whether we are scientists or not. So I felt very nervous of what I have become (in conversation) and what felt I had to be when I worked in teh council walls and so too now in front of this audience of councillors and others. Sometimes we throw long words in to make us feel smart to make sure people know we are intelligent and to boost our confidence. I'm not afraid of long words I love to throw in the odd biggy - for dramatic effect, maybe even to prove I can but generally I like to keep it simple.

So I did my talk about the importance of marine education. I spoke about why, in modern society we need to ensure we all have an understanding and love of our oceanic world. We need to understand that it is important to us, to our society and for global health. We all worked in the marine industry because at some time we had formed a relationship with the sea. We all loved the sea. Therefore, we wanted to protect it, look after it and manage it so that we could share those experiences with children and grandchildren.

I introduced Fred the Monkey to the crowd. Fred was an example of how storytelling is so valuable in communicating about the sea. Fred tells his story of his trip to Midway Atoll, his experience of litter and albatross and how he wants to inspire children to conserve the sea. He's so valuable for my workshops - everybody loves Fred (including Tim Maddams - Hugh's right hand chef man from Big Fish Fight, who made us some amazing mackerel buns for lunch)...

He adds a bit of fun, he tells a story - people love stories they love emotions and sentiments that they can relate to. So when I ended up in Midway and had my own story to tell along with Fred of how I peeled back the ribcage of a dead albatross chick to find a lighter with the ironic inscription, "Freedom and Innocence" it was so much more powerful. I was able to translate my very real feelings that are still as powerful today as they were then. I resolved at that point to never give up on my mission to talk about the sea and tell my story of Midway and the rubbish and to help share my knowledge of the sea however I can. You will find people listen to that so much more than regurgitated statistics which do little more than the litter sitting in the stomachs of the albatross chicks. We need to inspire change if we want our seas and oceans protected - legislation and conservation designation are great. They are set up by people who care with great intentions. We need to make sure that everyone else cares and the only way to do this is to avoid ignorance. The answer is and always will be, for me -  marine education.

If we do not understand our seas we will not protect them. If our seas are not protected we have little chance of life on land. But that's not what will inspire you. What will inspire you, I think, is to go to the coast - breathe the salty air, rockpool, surf, walk the coastal paths and with every step and every rock you turn over to be so incredibly humbled by the fact that we owe everything to the sea. That is what makes the sea so magical. That is why marine education is so important. Kate Humble is advocating more countryside visits - I hope this includes the marine environment too for all children.

I love Sylvia Earle's statement that I often repeat,

"No water, no life, no blue, no green."

If the majority of society truly understood this statement perhaps we would not need this legislation.  But I am veering into what my lecturers called, "Maya's World" and what somebody at the conference called, "Maya's version of reality". I am a dreamer and I have aspirations that are at times a little lofty but it's what got me here today. My careers advisor told me, "you live in a dream world, Maya. There are few careers is marine biology. I fear you think you will swim with dolphins - you should consider a career in translation or in personnel management."

Luckily, I do live in a dream world , I've swum with dolphins off Devon and I encourage anyone interested in a career in marine biology - DO IT!

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