Gaia De Simoni
BU News Service
BOSTON – The New England Aquarium hosted an event called Science Café as part of HUBweek featuring scientists from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life and educators from the aquarium who discussed what can be done to tackle ocean issues and climate change.
“We really need engaged citizens and much more public discourse,” said William Spitzer, Vice President of programs, exhibits and planning at the Aquarium. “To build the political will, we need to address the climate change issue.”
The Science Café, held on Monday, was made up of three talks, each in different rooms inside the Aquarium and focused on three topics related to ocean life.
Spitzer and Lindsay Jordan, senior visitor experience specialist at the aquarium, led a talk about climate change around the ocean tank on the third floor, while people admired Myrtle, the green turtle, swimming with other fish and a green moray.
This talk took place one day after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report saying the world has 12 years to make drastic and unprecedented changes in the global energy economy to limit global warming’s impact on the environment.
“We should all come together as citizens in our communities to help keep our planet to be healthy and stable,” Spitzer said in his opening.
The Aquarium expert also spoke about the difficulties people face to even talk about climate change.
“There is a vast silence in terms of talking about the issue, because people feel unprepared. They feel they don’t need to talk about it or they’re worried that people will disagree,” Spitzer said, calling upon scientists to try to better explain the issue. “People feel the topic is overwhelming and depressing.”
According to a study undertaken by researchers at Yale University, 64 percent of Americans occasionally or never discuss climate change with friends, colleagues and family.
Scientists and educators at the New England Aquarium have developed the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), using places such as aquariums and museums to spark conversations about climate change and transform the way people talk about the issue.
Using museums as conveners, translators, and facilitators to bring people together, NNOCCI trains people on evidence-based techniques, to help them understand the risks associated to climate and change and think about potential solutions.
“We are really building a social movement and we have the evidence that it works,” Spitzer said.
NNOCCI is now working with over 170 aquariums, museums, parks, science centers and zoos in 38 states across the U.S. They have trained more than 400 individuals, who have in turn taken the conversation about climate change to more than 38,000 people. According to Spitzer, these trainings have made many people more knowledgeable about climate change, while also helping them improve their confidence when talking about the issue.
“They are actually more likely to engage in community actions, voting for candidates who pledge to address climate change and taking actions in their personal life,” Spitzer said.
To illustrate the impact that climate change is having on different species around the globe, Spitzer and Jordan used the example of Myrtle, the green turtle. Scientists working at the New England Aquarium have recently discovered 90 percent of loggerhead sea turtles in Florida are born female.
“This is pretty unusual,” Jordan said. “Usually there is a balance between males and females for species to be able to reproduce and repopulate.”
Sea turtles’ sex is not encoded their DNA as it is in humans. Instead, it is determined by the temperature of the sand where their eggs are laid. The ones nested in deeper, cooler sand will be males; whereas those closer to the surface, receiving the sun’s heat, will be females.
“There are efforts underway to figure out ways to cool down turtles nests,” Spitzer said. “It’s is not clear in the long term how the change in the sex ratio will affect the turtles’ population.”
According to Jordan, everyday human actions such as having lights on for long periods of time or burning fossil fuels to produce energy, contribute to warming up turtles’ nesting sites.
“We should do our part to protect these animals,” Jordan said. “Together, we can keep our planet healthy. Not only for sea turtles, but for all of us as well.”