Earlier this month at Summit at Sea, young artists, entrepreneurs, and activists gathered to share ideas and inspire each other. One of the major themes was that of ocean conservation, and a recurring question was “how do we get people to care?” Thankfully, cave diver Kenny Broad had the answer.
As a man who explores underground and underwater (at the same time), Kenny fully earns the “emerging” in his title as National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Not only does he break the surfaces of land and water though, he breaks through the barrier between learning facts and feeling excitement, and that can be a powerful tool for getting people to care. (Get the facts for yourself with Freshwater 101 and Ocean Issues.)
Listening to Kenny, it seems there are three things that can turn cold statistics into hot topics:
1. Hands-on experiences: In a time when we have access to so much information digitally, first-hand experiences are even more exciting and valuable.
2. Passionate perseverance: If you fully appreciate the excitement you have for something, you will be richly rewarded when you push past a fear or an obstacle.
3. Honest excitement: Express your excitement, and you can rally others to your cause and inspire them to do the same.
Kenny does all of these things. Regarding being hands-on, he says one of the major things that he loves about exploring the underwater cave environment is that “it’s one of the hardest [places] to go to, and one of the few where you still physically have to go in person.” When it comes to passionate perseverance, he’s swum into whirlpools, under undulating peat bogs, and through toxic water layers. And for honest excitement, just listen to him talk and judge for yourself.[audio:http://www.nationalgeographic.com/radio/episodes/NGW-412/ngwkd1025-hour2_seg4.mp3|titles=Kenny Broad]
(From a 2010 NG Weekend interview with Kenny Broad)
The other young, entrepreneurial Summit at Sea attendees also seemed to be on board with this teaming-up of education and enthusiasm, and that highlighted an opportunity that Kenny sees: filling the gap between cutting-edge research and old fashioned dissemination and fundraising approaches in the university system. “There is a partnership,” he said, “that could be forged to more rapidly diffuse conservation knowledge to the public in meaningful and innovative ways.”
The School of the Future
The University of Miami, where Kenny is a professor and Director of the
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, is actually one institution that is starting to make progress here. Their new Exploration Initiative is intended “to promote exploration of unique aquatic ecosystems with citizen scientists” as Kenny put it. Another example is their R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, which gets high-schoolers (and in this case, Summit at Sea attendees) out on a boat for some serious, hands-on shark research.
In basically the same process as that seen on “Shark Men” on the National Geographic Channel, the RJD team lead by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag reels in a shark, lifts it on to the boat, records vital stats, attaches a tracking tag, and releases the shark back to the water all in a matter of minutes. While Neil and others could certainly do this by themselves, giving other people the opportunity to come face to face with these creatures gives them the kind of first-hand experience that speaks more strongly than any number of statistics (though the stats themselves are striking: estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000 sharks killed daily).
If enthusiasm is what the ocean needs from people, it looks like Kenny and Neil’s work is paying off. Just see how pumped up actress and activist Kristen Bell was as she discussed her experience with Jay Leno:
So the lesson from Summit at Sea was clear. If people are going to care for the ocean, they need to get excited about the ocean. And the best way to get excited is to get out there, get your hands dirty, face the facts, face some fears, and have some fun.
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