Tiny steps outside of the ivory tower

I’ve become frustrated with how removed “conservation science” often is from actual conservation.  This applies to my own research as much as to the field in general – I realize that, in my current capacity and with the current pressure to finish a dissertation, I cannot devote the resources and time that I’d like to in order to make a real, significant, on-the-ground difference at my sites.

This gap between knowing and acting has been lamented by many besides myself, and recent movements such as Nancy Knowlton and Jeremy Jackson’s “Beyond the Obituaries” initiative strive to close that gap.  An excellent paper on the topic, sent to me by my advisor after I came to her with my conservation research angst, really spoke to me, and I’d recommend all conservation students read it (Knight et al. 2008, “Knowing But Not Doing: Selecting Priority Conservation Areas and the Research–Implementation Gap”, Conservation Biology, 22(3)).  Though I’m a long way from being able to close that gap at my sites, I wanted to make some gesture, some baby (very baby) steps toward becoming more engaged in environmental education and management with the communities where I worked.

So, here’s the ragtag collection of outreach contributions that I managed to squeeze in:

  • Outreach programs to 9 elementary schools.  I couldn’t be present for 3 of them, but I bought the supplies and funded the trips to the schools for the rest of my team.  In addition to teaching the children (and often, the interested adults who looked on) about the dolphins and marine conservation, we gave out basic school supplies.
  • “Business cards” with information on the endangered status of the dolphins and how to report dolphin mortalities.  My interviews showed that many fishers were not aware that the dolphins were endangered, or that bycatch is a major threat to the dolphins. We also learned that many dolphin mortalities went unreported, which is a shame because recording these events will help us better understand trends in the dolphin population and are also a valuable opportunity to collect samples from the dolphins.
  • 8 informational tarps (posters) to distribute to the 7 villages and the protected area office about the threats to the dolphins and what to do in the event of a stranding or bycatch event.
  • Dolphin mortality record datasheets, which I gave to Ricky, one of my research assistants and a ranger with the Protected Area Office.

It’s certainly a tiny, tiny contribution compared to what is needed, but I feel a bit comforted knowing that those kids now have more basic school supplies than they did before I came to Malampaya Sound.  At least it’s something…anyone have suggestions for how students like me can improve their contribution to their study sites?