27 Aug 2015 Outreach activity proves to be a key element for EnAlgae partner
One of the scientists involved in macro algal research for EnAlgae has spoken out about the importance of public engagement as part of the project.
Dr Karen Mooney-McAuley has led work for the project at Queen’s University Belfast for the past four years. For her, ensuring the public understood the importance of the research her and her team were undertaking was integral to the project’s success.
“This was especially true given that our at-sea cultivation location is Strangford Lough, a very busy lough with very involved stakeholders and under several conservation legislations,” said Dr Mooney-McAuley, writing in Qubio, the biological sciences blog of QUB. “From early discussions with adults, it was clear that this was a tough market to break.
“A combination of cynicism, experience (and inexperience) mixed with simple disinterest meant it was difficult to get our message across, so we decided to tackle those more open-minded souls.
“We came up with a plan to do school talks, child focused events and hope that the interest would trickle upwards to the parents. Even at this stage, it was hard to convince colleagues that a “seaweed road show” would be interesting to children, even if it meant a few free hours at school!
“We devised a talk, made props, and collected seaweed to take with us on the day. We delivered talks to over 20 schools across the Ards Peninsula, and were amazed by the positive response.
“Primary pupils could tell us about photosynthesis, global warming, renewable energy and marine ecosystems. They told us about eating seaweed and seaweed baths in Newcastle. In short, they loved it.
“This quickly grew from school talks to public events. EnAlgae became principal sponsors of the Strangford Lough Maritime Festival, we worked with Titanic Belfast for their “A Day in the Life Of…” videos, the Into the Deep Maritime Festival, talks at the first ever NI Science Festival, the 20th Anniversary Eco-Schools event, a BBC Summer of Wildlife event, and the Royal Manx Show.
“We had radio interviews (BBC Ulster, Radio 4, Manx FM, Radio FM4 in Austria), a TV appearance (ITV’s Off the Beaten Track with Christine Bleakley), a New Scientist article. We’ve had extended engagements, with a summer-long exhibition in Exploris aquarium and a scientists-artists collaboration with Seacourt Print Workshop in Bangor.”
And while this all sounds like a lot of effort, Dr Mooney-McAuley says the rewards have been worth it.
“I’ve heard all manner of complaints about wind energy, biofuels, fishermen, scientists, eco-warriors and yachties. I’ve had few complaints about seaweed biofuels, and about cultivating seaweed in general (although there are the steadfast few, we can’t please everyone I suppose!).
“Instead, through it all, I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting teenagers who found an interest in seaweed, a student who has decided to specialise in kelp biology; primary pupils who tell me they want to be marine biologists and marine engineers; adults who have a new found respect for something they never even had an awareness of previously, and my absolute favourite – during a talk in Titanic, I met a four year old girl who asked why the seaweed had a face.
“She was absolutely disgusted that I felt it necessary to include a childish cartoon of seaweed, with a face, instead of a photo of the real thing. She was much too smart for cartoons. Well, that’s me told!!
“I’ll never underestimate the value of outreach, or the intelligence of children again!”
Dr Mooney-McAuley will be at our close out event in Brussels on Tuesday 29th September, along with other scientists involved in the project to talk about the work we’ve undertaken and its value and impact. Further details on the close out can be found here.
The blog entry can be found at http://blogs.qub.ac.uk/qubio/