The Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab enjoys using science as a forum for sharing knowledge and bringing people together to solve problems. This can be done in many ways, from public presentation of research results to collaborative studies with citizens and stakeholders. Here are some ways we are working to foster collaboration and communication with the general public to make science more accessible, engaging, and relevant.
As scientists, we spend a lot of time learning how to do science, but not much time learning how to effectively communicate and share what we do with the public—in fact, so of what scientists do is hidden from the public eye, even though science touches every aspect of our lives. In the years it takes to get a Master’s or PhD, so much of that time is learning about scientific methods, analyses, and training our brains to think in the language of science, which is entirely new to so many of us when we begin our training. It’s hard to learn this new language, but the paradox is that once it’s learned, it can be really hard to go back, to be able to explain what we do clearly and simply, so that you don’t need special training to understand what we do all day and why we love doing it. Beyond just being able to connect with non-scientists about science, knowing how to communicate our research to the public is critical for effectively managing our shared natural resources.
In the Communicating Science class that Anne teaches, graduate students and professional scientists practice translating their research for the public, both in written and spoken form. At the culmination of the course, the students present their research to the public in a series of outreach events that we organize together. In the 4 classes offered since 2013, 33 students have presented to more than 480 people in 7 communities across Alaska (and one community in Germany!).
Outreach events and products
We regularly host outreach presentations to share research results and get feedback from fisheries stakeholders, policy-makers, and other community members. Recent events have been held at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer, University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage. Follow us on Facebook to stay updated on future outreach!
Research summaries are provided for many of our past and current projects on the Research page. We started a blog to provide updates on our research adventures, observations, and discoveries. We have been exploring other ways to connect with a broader audience, including film.
Community Engagement in Science
Documenting local and traditional knowledge
A component of our research documents local and traditional knowledge through interviews with resource users. Broadly, this work aims to connect the experiences of resource users with current scientific knowledge in a way that may contribute to more effective, collaborative local management of coastal resources. Through this work, we have shown that scientific understanding can be greatly enriched through collaboration with stakeholders.
Past work by Anne and colleagues documented local ecological knowledge of recreational fishers, divers, and researchers in Puget Sound, Washington, to reconstruct historical abundance of 22 marine species from the 1940s through the 2000s. Currently, we are documenting subsistence, recreational, and commercial fishers’ knowledge to understand changes in Alaska’s fish populations.
Anne and collaborators created a short film called Knowing Fish, which celebrates the importance of fishing in Alaska’s coastal communities and the value of fishermen’s knowledge for science and management.
Collaborative research with fishermen
We have done several projects in collaboration with recreational fishing communities in Washington and Alaska. Most recently, we have worked closely with fishermen in Juneau, AK, to collect stomachs of Pacific halibut and arrowtooth flounder for a diet study. Over two summers, 11 charter captains collected samples and recorded associated field data. An additional 20 staff members and 160 lodge guests were exposed to project objectives and associated methods. PhD student Cheryl also attended the annual holiday party for the Alaska Charter Association in December. There, she discussed preliminary results and other topics of interest about the project with local charter captains. Overall, fishermen collected more than 2000 fish stomachs for the project.
From 2007 to 2010, Anne worked as an educator and research facilitator for Kwiaht – Center for the Historical Ecology of the Salish Sea, a non-profit research organization on Lopez Island, WA. The work being done at Kwiaht empowers citizens to have a stake in their environment by generating and sharing knowledge through research and education. The project she was involved in is aimed at understanding the importance of nearshore habitats to juvenile salmon in the San Juan Archipelago and is part of a broader study aimed at understanding how public and private land use practices affect the nearshore marine environment.
Citizen-scientists play an integral role in every component of this research, including study design, field and lab work, and analysis. During spring and summer, teams of volunteers conduct beach seining near Lopez and Waldron Islands. Fish are quantified and measured, and gut contents of juvenile salmon are non-lethally sampled using gastric lavage. Prey items are identified and enumerated by trained volunteers in classroom and kitchen laboratories throughout the fall and winter. The results of these efforts will be used to better understand the importance of terrestrial and marine derived energy sources to juvenile salmon as they migrate through the islands.
For more information about this project, please contact Russel Barsh and Madrona Murphy at Kwiaht.