Saving the Coast through Storytelling

Last month, we were excited to explore science communication on the Gulf Coast courtesy of OCEANDOTCOMM, a collaborative storytelling event hosted by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). People from around the world and all walks of life came together for five days to share, learn, collaborate and create.

Often abbreviated to “scicomm” (pronounced “si-com”), science communication is about sharing scientific information in createive and innovative ways including infographics, videos, art, social media, podcasts and more.

On the first day of the conference, after months of mystery and anticipation, the theme of the event was finally unveiled: coastal optimism.

That’s something that we strive for here at Ocean Conservancy, so our crew of two RAY fellows (Emi and Melia), a Gulf restoration expert (Rachel) and ocean planning aficianado (Rafeed) were excited to get started on storytelling projects with the added bonus of all the LUMCON resources for making it happen.

We pulled a trawl net on the R/V Acadiana to learn about the critters that live in Terrebonne Bay. We were invited to eat dinner with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe to understand how land loss and sea level rise are affecting their community. We even rode an airboat!

In Cocodrie, Louisiana, where the bayou meets the Gulf of Mexico, LUMCON’s facilities and staff are experiencing the effects of a changing climate. LUMCON scientists were also some of the first to take a research vessel to the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it exploded in 2010. We sat down with the LUMCON staff to talk about the OCEANDOTCOMM event and why this fresh approach to ocean and coastal science is so important.

Photo Mar 19, 3 20 50 PM_preview

Ocean Conservancy’s questions to the group are highlighted in blue. 

How did y’all come up with the concept for OCEANDOTCOMM?

Murt Conover: The concept was really a brainchild of Craig’s. Coming from a scientific and science communication background, he was actually kind of tired of attending SciComm events where people were teaching you how to do SciComm. So he wanted to be extremely innovative and create a product-driven event for “SciCommers.”

Craig McClain: It was a collective vision. This is an idea that had been floating around the SciComm community for a while. It came out of my conversations with some of the people who are here [at OCEANDOTCOMM]. These are people I’ve known for years, and we all felt very unfulfilled after science communication conferences and basic workshops on things like “this is how you use Twitter.”

What makes LUMCON the ideal host or venue for this event?

Virgina Schutte: LUMCON is a special place because we have full time scientists on staff. We also have full time educators on staff, and I would say that at least half of our staff are not scientists. We are South Louisiana. We’re not the ivory tower. Everybody has a cousin that lives right down here and knows what life is like and they come into work every day telling us about it. So I think a combination of things that’s hard to recreate elsewhere.

The theme of the event was “coastal optimism.”

Why do you think we need coastal optimism?

McClain: Well, because we have everything else but hope when it comes to coastal loss here in Louisiana. It’s a huge problem we’re facing. But our politicians are all on the same page. It doesn’t matter what your political agenda is—everybody agrees that coastal loss is an issue, and the money is there to address it. And we have the expertise through multiple institutions, from colleges and universities to NGOs, to government agencies, you name it. So we have the money, we have the political willpower, we have the expertise. What we don’t seem to have a lot of is hope.

You don’t hear a lot of success stories. Where are we winning? What things give you hope about the future? We don’t often talk about it, and we have to help build the momentum because morale is actually a really fundamental factor to all of this and one that doesn’t often get addressed.

Conover: You have to have something to work towards. People will gravitate towards optimism. That’s what we’re achieving. So it’s important to celebrate the good because it gives you a reason to get up at 4:00 a.m. every day.

Schutte: We as a society can’t only focus on the problems. What difference does one drop in the ocean make? You need the optimism to keep you going and to provide that motivation so that you can see that one drop affects the drops around it, and then who knows how far that can go.

Photo Mar 17, 5 03 18 PM_preview

What gives you optimism or hope for the coast?

McClain: People in Louisiana, especially in coastal Louisiana, are fundamentally tied to the landscape. It’s part of everything that we do. The food, the music, the art, the religion—everything is tied to this sort of land-water interface. So their ability to be adaptive and resilient and just be fighters—that gives me hope.

Conover: What gives me optimism for the coast is how much everybody wants to be a part in the success of the coast. I think here in Louisiana, we’ve gotten to the point where we realize that change is inevitable, but we’re moving more towards an adaptive, resilient frame of mind. People have lived along the Louisiana coast for hundreds of years and they will continue to live on the coast for hundreds of more years and they will continue to adapt and be strong.

Working with such an innovative, supportive and collaborative community showed us that scicomm is more than a tool, it is a movement. It speaks to our shared curiosity to learn more about the world around us. Through scicomm, scientific inquiry becomes a conversation, rather than a lecture. We look forward to keeping up the connections we made with the many artists, writers, educators, photographers and scientists we met at OCEANDOTCOMM. We’re grateful to LUMCON for the opportunity to experience the Gulf Coast from the perspective of their facilities and community connections.

To learn more about LUMCON and their work, visit them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And you’ll find more fun photos, videos and amazing stories from our time at OCEANDOTCOMM by searching for #odotcomm18 on Twitter.

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