Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Everything you think you know about shark conservation is wrong

By Leah Kaplan

As a child, I was terrified of traversing my room’s navy blue carpet in the dark to make it to the bathroom after watching the cinematic masterpiece Deep Blue Sea, a movie about genetically engineered sharks that go on a rampage. Many years later, I’m proud to say that I did safely make it to the bathroom and that I’ve since overcome my fear of sharks. While I’m still somewhat embarrassed about those childhood fears, I imagine that many of us have similar anecdotes about shark phobias.

On the other end of the spectrum, it seems like sharks have become quite trendy. Between Left Shark’s stellar Super Bowl performance a few years ago and the popularity of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, sharks have begun to seem like dolphins’ cool, edgy friend. 

I knew little about sharks and even less about effective methods for their conservation until the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, the science policy think tank where I work, hosted a talk by David Shiffman, an Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher, marine conservation biologist, and award-winning expert in public science engagement. During his seminar, Shiffman busted several myths about sharks and spurred me to reflect on how I think about my values and conservation efforts.

MYTH #1 – Sharks are a big threat

Movies have dramatically shaped public perception of sharks—most notably the quintessential shark film Jaws. Even decades after the film’s release, Shiffman explained: “There’s almost always someone in the audience at my public talks about shark research and conservation who cites Jaws as ‘proof’ that sharks are scary and bad.” But sharks are mostly not a threat to humans. Shiffman noted that in a typical year, more people are killed by falling flower pots, by collapsing vending machines, and by falling off a cliff while taking a selfie. (Please let us be better than that.)

Not only are sharks not a major threat, but humans are better off with a healthy shark population because of the important role they play in maintaining ocean food chains. 

COUNTER-MYTH: Public fear is the biggest threat to sharks

So maybe we feel bad about our distrust in sharks and want to mend this relationship. Shiffman emphasized that wildlife harassment is NOT the way to do this. Respectful appreciation of sharks via some types of ecotourism can be a positive way to combat public fear. Not all ecotourism endeavors are conducted in a manner that respects sharks and their habitats. (Don’t be a Darla.)

MYTH #2 – Ecotourism is the answer to conservation

Shark ecotourism can help local economies and promote conservation in some cases. However, a study by Shiffman and colleagues found that wildlife tourism of apex predators (sharks, crocodiles, big cats) can provide economic incentives for their conservation only under some conditions. The unique characteristics of the region and the predator will affect whether or not tourism actually helps achieve conservation goals. In many cases, the species of sharks that are most at risk are not the types that would typically be seen during your ocean Instagram photoshoot.

MYTH #3 – Finning is the biggest threat to sharks

The practice of finning in order to fulfill a global desire for shark fin soup has garnered a lot of attention. The legal definition of “finning” refers to catching a shark, cutting the fins of its body, discarding the body at sea where it will then bleed to death or drown, and then selling the fins on land. But if the shark’s body makes it to land, then it’s no longer considered finning. Most people don’t realize this. Finning has been illegal in the United States since 1993 yet online petitions calling for its ban frequently circulate the Internet. In addition to the finning ban, successful ad campaigns in China have led to a significant decline in this practice over the last 20 years. 

Instead of just talking about finning, Shiffman asserted that a bigger threat to sharks is unsustainable overfishing, including for fins and meat, and via bycatch. 

MYTH #4 – Sustainable shark fisheries do not exist

Within the scientific and fisheries management communities, there is a general consensus that sustainable fisheries can and do exist. Further, Shiffman and his colleague found that 1) the United States has some of the most sustainable shark fisheries in the world; and 2) a proposed U.S. ban on the sale of shark fins would harm these sustainable fisheries and have little effect on global killing of sharks.

MYTH #5 (My two-cents) – There is only one right way to protect sharks

There are many ways that we can protect sharks. A ban on the sale of shark fins is one option; sustainable shark fisheries is another; as are many other options. 

Science can show us some of the demonstrated and potential effects of different policy options but whether and how we protect sharks really comes down to our values. My work with the  Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes brings together members of the public to discuss these values questions underlying important sociotechnical issues. For more information, check out our website. I promise we don’t bite!

Leah Kaplan is a program specialist with the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes in DC. Her primary focus is supporting the Consortium’s work on Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA), aiming to incorporate public values and perspectives into critical science and technology decisions.

posted by | on , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Celebrating Women: Three Scientists Who Made an Impact and Inspired a Career

by Stacy Knight

As a marine scientist and conservationist, I’ve been inspired by many of the scientific greats—Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and Edward O. Wilson. But I am proud to have a long list of inspiring women to look up to, as well. Throughout history women have fought to be recognized, pushed to make a difference, and augmented the norm. As with many industries, women in science struggle with equity in pay, opportunities, and recognition. Despite these imbalances, many major scientific discoveries are attributed to women. Because March is an important month for women with Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day (March 8), and the anniversary of the 1913 suffrage march in Washington (March 3), DC EcoWomen is celebrating women all month long. I would like to celebrate the following amazing women who have inspired me throughout my career and pushed me to make a difference.

Dr. Euginie Clark was a Japanese American marine biology rockstar! Like me, she was drawn to the ocean through a place accessible to all Americans—the local aquarium. This experience inspired her to become SCUBA certified, and during her career she performed more than 70 deep submersible dives. She earned a Ph.D in 1950 and dedicated her career to studying fish and sharks. Her passion to debunk myths and fears about sharks earned her the nickname “Shark Lady”. She helped create Mote Marine Laboratory, which focuses much of their research on shark biology, including the presence of cancer in the species. Reading about this research as a kid fueled my never-ending curiosity of elasmobranchs.

Dr. Theodora Colburn was a trailblazer for endocrine disruption research. Her seminal research showing that small concentrations of chemicals can alter human reproductive, metabolic, and immune systems is chronicled in the novel Our Stolen Future. Born in 1927, she spent her early career as a pharmacist and went back to school at age 51 to earn an M.A. in freshwater ecology and a Ph.D. in zoology. In 1985 she “started” her career with a fellowship advising Congress on science. Over the next several decades she directed research on toxicology and human health and testified about the effects of chemicals in front of Congress. My early research in an endocrine disruption lab was encouraged by her work, but today, more than ever, her efforts to push  for Congress to make science-based decisions, and her commitment to disprove industry claims with scientific evidence is inspirational.

Dr. Amanda Vincent is a Canadian marine scientist and seahorse guru. In 1996 she co-founded Project Seahorse, an international, non-profit organization focused on seahorse conservation and community-based sustainable ocean ecosystems use. Dr. Vincent’s recognition that coastal communities rely on ocean resources served as the foundation for her innovative ideas integrating local communities and social science into conservation needs for seahorses, such as marine protected areas and small scale fisheries. Learning about her dedication to protecting the ocean without excluding humans from its use was a pivotal moment for me, which drew me to the sustainability and conservation field.

DC EcoWomen celebrates women every day and we’d love for you to celebrate women with us all March long by sharing on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #celebratingwomen and #dcecowomen. We’d love to hear who inspires you and how you’re celebrating women. Let’s start a conversation!

Each one of us has the power to inspire, and what better way than through our signature event: EcoHour. Join us on the third Tuesday of every month at Teaism Penn Quarter for an hour of inspiring stories about career growth from women in the environmental field.

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Stacy Knight is a marine scientist and a DC EcoWomen board member. She recently moved to DC to apply her diverse science skills to the environmental policy arena, and currently works for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership on the Political Affairs team. A science nerd at heart, she loves nature, the ocean, and photography. In her free time, she can be found enjoying local restaurants, sampling craft beers, and taking landscape photographs.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on That’s a Wrap! A Film Review from the D.C. Environmental Film Festival

By Alix Kashdan

Of Ants and MenOne day after work, I entered the Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, headed downstairs to the museum’s theater space, and settled in to watch a film: “E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men.” Beautiful shots of the Alabama wilderness floated across the screen, while the biologist Edward Osborne Wilson described his career in biology, his passion for the natural world, and the early experiences that influenced his life and career.

This was one of dozens of screenings, receptions, and events that are part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (also known as the D.C. Environmental Film Festival, or DCEFF).

The festival began in 1993 and is the nation’s largest environmental film festival, showing more than 100 films at locations across the city over the course of a week and a half each March. DCEFF includes a ton of events including screenings, premiers, local documentaries and international films, shorts and feature-length movies, and discussions with filmmakers, to name a few.

“E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men” is one of many films that were screened at this year’s DCEFF. It tells the story of biologist and Harvard professor Edward Osborne Wilson.

The film touches on many themes, including Wilson’s adolescence in Alabama, moving beyond his study of ants to sociobiology and the negative response from many in the scientific community, and finishes with a look at his work with conservation efforts in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Both the film’s story and style are captivating. The entire movie has a sense of lightness and calm while simultaneously delving deeply into complex ideas.

The cinematography is breathtaking, with lingering close-ups and wide-pan shots of forests, tree branches, marshes, and ferns. Even the close-up photography of ants is mesmerizing – even for someone who wouldn’t normally enjoy pictures of insects on a large screen.

Photo from the screening, depicting an abandoned ant colony filled with cement and then excavated.

Photo from the screening, depicting an abandoned ant colony filled with cement and then excavated.

The story and its themes are just as compelling as the film’s look and feel. One fascinating idea the film explores is the rise of sociobiology. It describes how Wilson has studied the cooperation, altruism, and complex social behavior exhibited by ants.

The film goes on to review the limited number of species that exhibit this type of behavior, called eusocial species, and reviews how Wilson expanded on this idea through writing about sociobiology in the 1970s. While today the evolution of social behavior is an accepted idea, at the time it caused a lot of controversy. The film depicts the backlash Wilson faced from scientists who disliked the idea of applying sociobiology to humans and our evolution.

The film “E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men” explores the intersection of biology, environmentalism, anthropology, psychology, and conservation science in an interesting and effective way. I highly recommend this movie, which can be watched online from PBS here: www.pbs.org/program/eo-wilson. I would also recommend checking out dceff.org, which includes an archive of festival films from the past few years, plus more information about this year’s festival.

Alix Kashdan works in digital media and communications at a non-profit. She’s passionate about climate policy, international relations, and digital media, including blogging, photography, and mapping. She grew up in the D.C. area and currently lives on Capitol Hill.