We have engaged new audiences in many different forums and modes of interaction. Below are brief descriptions of each of these projects.
The potential synergism derived by bringing together artists and scientists to raise environmental awareness has been underused by conservationists. The Branching Out Project joined scientists with artists at a multi-aged forested area at Ellsworth Creek, a site partially owned by The Nature Conservancy in Washington State. Participants were taught to climb trees and access canopy platforms 60 feet above the forest floor. They were encouraged to record what they perceived, felt, thought, and saw during two three-hour platform shifts each day for one week. They recorded thier experiences in whatever medium they chose, such as writing, poetry, music, drawing, or sculpture. Multiple long-term cross-disciplinary collaborations were forged.
Ecologists worked with modern dancers to create a multidisciplinary program that celebrates the diversity of rainforests. The dance “biome” is an exploration of the forest canopy via modern dance. Jodi Lomask, artistic director and choreographer of Capacitor dance troupe, collaborated with ecologist Nalini Nadkarni in 2006 to bring the worlds of science and dance together. The result is an engaging dance that explores the interconnectedness of the forest ecosystem. With the support of a grant from the Audubon Society, Lomask and Nadkarni have jointly performed in Seattle and San Francisco (www.capacitor.org).
The Legislators Aloft project was initiated to facilitate the transfer of research and conservation messages directly from scientists to decision makers. In 2002, twelve Washington State legislators and their aides joined forest canopy researchers and conservationists for a day in the forest, climbing trees. This resulted in continuing dialogue among individuals from both academia and the legislature.
To investigate methods to sustainably grow mosses for the horticultural trade, Research Ambassadors enlisted the help of inmates at the Cedar Creek Correctional Center to grow mosses. One of the characteristics of plants is their ability to inspire renewal. Prisoners working with plants are given opportunities for both an emotionally rehabilitating experience and to learn about the process of science. Prisoners monitored the growth rates of four species of native mosses. This led to the multi-facedted Sustainable Prisons Project.
Often urban youth have little contact with nature and have had negative experiences with learning science in schools. To provide a positive experience that associates science with activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to youth, Research Ambassadors collaborated with the educational group “Gear Up” to create a unique program, “Sound Science – Gear Up with Music”. In this week-long project, the Program engaged three scientists, 40 at-risk middle school youth, and a professional rap singer to present field biology and the study of nature to the urban children. Each morning the group went into the field to encounter nature. The key was having the rap singer directly engage the students in the field by creating hip hop and spoken word poetry about the objects in nature that they encountered. Each afternoon, they went to sound studios to create their own rap song, and by the end of the week, had cut their own CD of songs about the forest, the marine environment, about insects, and their relationships to these ecosystems.
The Sustainable Prisons Project connects prisons with nature. The mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners. The project focuses on three key areas: 1) green-collar education and training; 2) sustainable operations of prisons; and 3) scientific research and conservation. With these foci in mind, we bring researchers and practitioners into four Washington prisons to provide scientific lectures and trainings, lead workshops, and teach sustainable practices.
Trees provide important medicines for humans, such as Taxol, which is derived from the Pacific yew and used to treat ovarian cancer. Trees can also provide hope and inspiration for the recovery of injured and ill people. A forest ecologist spoke to groups of medical students and health practitioners about the connections between trees and healing and how trees can be used to inspire patients and speed their recovery processes.
Although many churchgoers are interested and active in environmental issues, places of worship are not typical outlets for environmental scientists. If scientists can link their understanding of nature to something that is valued by a religion, then the place of worship itself can become an active venue for dissemination of ecological research. To enhance awareness and a sense of stewardship for trees and forests, Research Ambassadors engaged people directly at their places of worship and delivered sermons on the spiritual valued of trees as evidenced by readings from the holy scriptures of world religions.
TreeTop Barbie was designed to inspire youth – especially young girls – to become aware of the field of the forest canopy. She is a real Barbie doll, but wears hand-tailored clothes that are modeled on real field clothes and climbing gear, including a field guide to canopy plants and animals (both Barbie- and human-sized). The TreeTop Barbie package includes the doll and a personal letter from Barbie about forests and their importance to people.
Tourism is the largest industry in Costa Rica, and contributes greatly to ecologically sustainable economic growth. Forest canopy ecotourism – with canopy ziplines bringing thrills to forest visitors – has provided potentially sustainable alternatives to cattle farming and coffee growing. As ecotourism grows, the opportunity to provide scientifically sound information as a part of the adventure experience can also increase. The Research Ambassador Program joined with Selvatura Park, a leading canopy walkway and zipline operation in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to provide interpretive materials for eco-tourists.