In Part I of our series on conservation asks at World Oceans Day events, we explained the concept of seizing these unique opportunities to encourage your visitors to take environmentally-friendly actions (conservation ‘asks.’) In Part II of the series, we introduced you to how an innovative pilot program at California Academy of Sciences is exploring how to best make conservation ‘asks’ by interpreters through a collaborative professional learning program. In this installment, Part III, we’ll take a look at how Seattle Aquarium has made conservation ‘asks’ an integral part of their World Oceans Day celebrations in 2012 and 2013 – and what they’ve learned from the experience.
Seattle Aquarium takes action
Seattle Aquarium’s 2012 and 2013 celebrations had a strong conservation orientation – the institution definitely doesn’t shy away from civic engagement. In 2012 they focused on messaging about ocean acidification, marine debris, and MPAs. For 2013 they narrowed the focus more by encouraging action on ocean acidification and marine debris.
To help in these efforts, the Seattle Aquarium has turned to their youth advocacy volunteer group, Puget Sound: We Love You. The group has run the ‘Hour for the Ocean’ campaign , leading to hundreds of people in the Seattle area taking one hour on June 8th to do something clean up their local watershed.
For 2013 the aquarium experimented taking it to the next level with the ‘Be an Ocean Hero’ campaign. Each station at their World Oceans Day event presented three actions visitors could take to protect the ocean: on an individual, community, and civic level. They supported these recommendations by giving examples of what the aquarium was doing as well. The aquarium implemented consistent messaging on multiple levels: they presented the same action tips in a blog post prior to the event, pushed them out via several social media posts prior and during, and had docents repeat them during interpretation with guests at various stations.
So what did Seattle Aquarium learn from their experience which could help other institutions encourage their visitors to take action for environmental health?
Focus on fewer issues.
This provides a consistent narrative and doesn’t leave guests overwhelmed. The Seattle Aquarium, for its part, plans to continue to use effective story telling and strategic metaphors to emphasize one or two of the most prominent issues for their local marine environment.
Emphasize local impact.
A local narrative helps visitors see why the actions - whether individual, community or civic actions - are relevant to them personally, and encourages local pride. It also is much easier for visitors to understand, accept and appreciate than impact on "the ocean."
Use animal ambassadors.
Visitors care about the animals and want to help. With this in mind, the aquarium incorporated conservation action into their harbor seal presentation. Nicole Killebrew, Marine Science Interpreter shared the following example:
“One of our primary themes this year was marine debris. Using our harbor seals as ambassadors for the local wild population, we facilitated a series of enrichment presentations to demonstrate the impact that marine debris has on marine mammals... At the end of the presentation, we received streams of visitors encouraging us to do this type of presentation every day because of the messages’ relevance and importance.”
Encourage the sharing of stories.
Certain activities can also give visitors a chance to talk to other guests about what they themselves are doing, spreading the knowledge and normalizing ocean protection as a part of responsible citizenship. Nicole recalls:
“A guest responded to our ‘Oceans of the World’ activity by sharing their involvement in donating to various organizations that promote coral reef conservation and ocean health...The conversation was rich with ideas about ways people can get involved in supporting grassroots organizations that are making a difference.”
Thanks to Nicole Killebrew, Dave Glenn, and Becky Bingham at Seattle Aquarium for their great help, insight, and willingness to share their experiences. If you’d like to share how your institution is inspiring visitors to help the environment, please don’t hesitate to email us.