A National Coalition of Aquariums Educating About Climate Change
Principal Investigators:William Spitzer, New England Aquarium; Cynthia Vernon, Monterey Bay Aquarium; Nancy Hotchkiss, National Aquarium in Baltimore
National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationGrant # NA09SEC4690047
This collaborative project is being led by three major national aquariums – New England Aquarium (NEAq), Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBAq), and the National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAIB) – to develop a national leadership initiative that builds capacity within aquariums and related informal science education institutions. The project's strategic impact will be its potential to transform how aquariums and related ISE institutions present the topic of climate change and the oceans and, ultimately, how they address other complex environmental/science/policy topics.
Over three years, we will develop climate literacy among informal science educators by:
- Creating a national network for training, resource sharing and support. Deliverables include an interactive website, online seminars, and an empowerment evaluation framework;
- Developing materials to support exhibit interpretation. This initiative will create and disseminate a set of portable, replicable, cart-based educational activities on climate change and the oceans. These will complement and assist interpretation of aquarium live animal exhibits;
- Providing training and gallery activities for youth interpreters. Using interactive exhibits to create "conversation sites," young interpreters will be able to engage visitors in conversations about climate change and ocean health; and
- Hosting regional and national summits to strengthen collaboration and showcase and disseminate model programs.
This project supports Goal 1 of NOAA's Education Strategic Plan, specifically focusing on Outcome 1.2: "Educators understand and use environmental literacy principles." Outcomes for educators include increased knowledge of climate change science; strategies, tools and materials for educating others about climate change; and confidence in their ability to communicate about climate change.
As centers of informal learning, aquariums have the potential to bring important environmental issues to the public by presenting the facts, explaining the science, and motivating concern and action. Live animal institutions are unique in that they present exciting and engaging collections that attract large numbers of people of all ages and have strong connections to the natural world (Belden, Russonello & Stewart, 1999; The Ocean Project, 2009). Recent research (The Ocean Project, 2009) indicates that climate change is the environmental issue of most concern to the public, yet most people do not associate climate change and carbon pollution with ocean health. Aquarium interpreters can help to build on visitors' affective connection with live animals to provide information about climate change, stimulate interest, and promote learning and action. This is not easy, however, as many interpreters do not have the understanding or the tools to make these connections. This project will provide educators with the resources, training and support they need to engage and inspire millions of visitors to take action about climate change and the ocean.