Category Archives: RSMAS

Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize

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I am truly fortunate to live my academic dream every day here at the University of Miami where I am now a Junior in the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) while pursuing a double major in Marine Science and Geology, as well as a minor in Climate Policy. The University and RSMAS are perhaps the best academic institution of its type in the world and I just love it. I know that’s a bit of a “nerdy” thing to say about one’s school but it’s also true. The world-class professors. My classes. Our facilities. My classmates. Our Administration. I even love walking (and right now very much miss this due to COVID-19) through our gorgeous subtropical campus environment and admiring the amazing landscaping that’s everywhere you look. It’s great, as we say around here, to be a Miami Hurricane.

But today, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, brings me a humbling surprise from the University that I will forever cherish and would like to also share with you. In the midst of a terrible pandemic, our ever growing climate crisis, and political discord that I worry about every day, comes an incredible honor within the following letter to me from Dr. Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami.

Dear Delaney,

Congratulations! You are a recipient of the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize. It is my honor to bestow on you the attached certificate commemorating this recognition of your important contributions to the sustainability and environmental stewardship of the University of Miami campus.

We hope you will watch a special video announcement on this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. The University website for all of today’s virtual activities is https://greenu.miami.edu/topics/nature/earth-day/index.html.

With my best wishes for your health and safety,

Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
President, University of Miami
Interim CEO, University of Miami Health System
Professor of Public Health Sciences

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The letter, and the certificate he kindly shared, is incredible but to think that such a busy professional, someone on the front line of fighting COVID-19 in our community and world would take time to film the 5 minute (!) video about Earth Day and the winners of this auspicious award is just a remarkable testimony to why I so love this place. The University is a special institution filled with special people doing monumental, lasting, work and that’s clear from Dr. Frenk’s comments in announcing the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize when he wrote the following to the entire U of Miami Community:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a call to action for the protection of our environment, which was inspired by student activism and unity around shared ideals. Earth Day is now celebrated in nearly 200 countries, serving as an annual reminder of the interconnectedness of our global community.

The historic times in which we are living bring this interconnectedness into clear focus. Now, more than ever, we see how individual actions affect collective wellbeing. If there is a silver lining to sheltering in place, it is that we have slowed down activities that have a damaging impact on our planet. The human family is getting the opportunity to reimagine our routines. We are getting a glimpse of possibilities—from telehealth to virtual events—that have the potential to help us lighten our carbon footprint and preserve irreplaceable habitats.

This morning, I announced the 2020 winners of the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize , which recognizes individuals in the University of Miami community who make meaningful and lasting contributions to the beauty and sustainability of our campus. This year’s winners include a group who led teach-ins to educate the University community on environmental matters and buried a time capsule on the first Earth Day, along with a current junior recently recognized among global young activists in National Geographic magazine. They beautifully demonstrate the vision and spirit of service that ’Canes have in common across generations.

Thank you, Dr. Frenk, and thanks to everyone at the University of Miami for your dedication to sustainability, environmental stewardship, and forward-thinking vision to make every aspect of our world a better place on Earth Day and all the other days of the year. Like I said, It’s Great To Be A Miami Hurricane.

Are Natural History Films Really Raising Environmental Awareness?

The following article first appeared on the Research Blog for Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s Shark Research and Conservation (SRC) Lab website at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. To learn more about SRC, visit here: http://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/, or to learn more about the University’s marine science school, please click here: http://rsmas.miami.edu/.

By: Delaney Reynolds, SRC intern.

Films have influenced the way people perceive certain topics for decades. We all know and love the Jaws theme song, but soon after the movie’s release, mass hysteria broke out and a negative stigma has been associated with sharks ever since. Here at Shark Research and Conservation we, of course, know these apex predators are nothing to fear, but rather a respectable species that can provide us with a lot of information regarding environmental vitality. Thankfully, many others recognize this as well and social media platforms have played a very large role in dissipating the adverse reputation sharks have obtained. With social media ruling the world we live in today, are natural films and documentaries doing as well of a job at educating about conservation issues? Researchers at the University College Cork and University College Dublin set to find out.

In 2016 the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) aired its wildly popular show Planet Earth 2 narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The show brought in over 12 million viewers (BBC News). By looking at the engagement on Twitter and Wikipedia between November 6th to December 11th, 2016 (when the show aired), a qualitative analysis was performed based on the show’s script, the animal species it mentioned, the screen time they each were given, and conservation themes. In total, 113 animal species were mentioned and classified as mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, and invertebrate (Fernandez-Bellon, Kane, 2019). It was also noted that each species was described in part based on their predator-prey interaction.

Taxonomic Group and IUCN Status

Figure 1: The proportion of taxonomic groups based on screen time and IUCN conservation status. The number of species is represented by circle size, colors represent the IUCN conservation categories, bars represent taxonomic groups and proportions, and changes in circle size represents differences in screen time (Source: Fernández‐Bellon et al. 2019).

Based on the qualitative analysis, it was found that mammals were overrepresented in the show, thus all other categories were underrepresented, and the screen time that was allocated to specific species based upon their IUCN categories did not discuss or reflect conservation priorities (Figure 1). As such, audience engagement was highest in response to the mammals on the show and animals with an IUCN “least concern” conservation status also dominated airtime.

Twitter and Wikipedia Engagement

Figure 2: Audience engagement for ten species that were featured in Planet Earth 2 from (a) Twitter and (b) Wikipedia. Twitter engagement was based on the number of times each species was mentioned under #PlanetEarth2 and Wikipedia engagement was based on the number of visits to each species’ specific page. Colors represent the IUCN conservation status, red shading in (b) represents the 6 weeks that Planet Earth 2 was aired, and the darker red band illustrates the specific episode each animal was highlighted in (Source: Fernández‐Bellon et al. 2019).

In total, 30,000 tweets were posted under #PlanetEarth2 during the broadcast of the show and it was evident that species screen time per episode had a significant impact on audience engagement. Only 6% of the entire script for the show was dedicated to conservation education, leading to 1% of tweets mentioned containing conservation themes (Figure 2a). Based on the Wikipedia analysis, 41% of the animal species highlighted in the show recorded a yearly peak in page visits during the episodes of their respective animal species and, again, screen time of animal species had a significant effect on engagement (Fernandez-Bellon, Kane, 2019). The more screen time an animal received, the more it was tweeted about or searched for.

Given the extreme success of nature films and documentaries, just like Planet Earth 2, they can be fantastic platforms to educate a large amount of people about different conservation and environmental issues. Unfortunately, Planet Earth 2 did not feature conservation themes nearly enough, but this study shows just how effective such a platform can be in informing an extensive audience and with environmental issues emerging as a key issue for our society, it will be crucial to include them. So, no, not all nature films are currently doing their job in raising environmental awareness

Works Cited:

Fernández‐Bellon, D, Kane, A. Natural history films raise species awareness—A big data approach. Conservation Letters. 2019;e12678. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12678

“Planet Earth II More Popular than X Factor with Young Viewers.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Dec. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38170406.

The Biggest Challenge Facing the Insurance Industry: “Climate Change”

One of the first interviews that I ever conducted, I guess I was 14 at the time, was with Dr. Ben Kirtman, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). Dr. Kirtman was incredibly gracious with me that day and offered hours of insight, as well as my very first tour of the RSMAS campus on Key Biscayne.

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I vividly remember many things from my visit and time with Dr. Kirtman that day, but two things particularly stood out.

The first was his answer to my question about what he thought would happen to animals in coastal places such as South Florida, Antarctica and elsewhere, as sea levels continued to rise and rise. His response was something to the effect of “well, Delaney, I’m not sure, but I think the polar bears are in trouble.” That answer led to the title of the comic book I wrote a few months later entitled “Where Did All Of The Polar Bears Go?” So props to Dr. Kirtman for planting that particular seed.

The other comment from that day that I have been thinking a lot about this week had to do with his answer about what he believed might ‘force’ the changes that our society will require to get serious about addressing our climate change crisis. He explained that he thought that certain industries such as mortgage lenders and insurance companies might lead the way. Coastal homes or businesses subject to routine flooding and rising seas would become poor risks for mortgage lenders who would fear that a property could be rendered useless, abandoned, and then have their loan defaulted. Insurers would also increasingly be reluctant to insure such locations and stop offering coverage all together at some point rather than pay claims for flood losses was his other thought.

His comment about the insurance industry came to mind again when I read an article this week from Insurance Business Magazine that quoted a New Zealand insurer as believing that our climate change crisis is the biggest challenge the insurance industry faces in its future. Here’s the quote from David Rush, Director of Vision Insurance, that captured my attention:

“The first challenge we face is climate change – dealing with the increasing frequency of natural disasters, and the on flow effects of premium increases and policy restrictions.”

Mr. Rush’s comments are, of course, logical.

More and larger devastating wildfires, as we’ve seen in California and elsewhere around the world as temperatures continue to rise.

More numerous and larger devastating hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis.

Carbon pollution in our oceans and atmospheres that have grown to historic and alarming levels.

Rising sea levels all over the planet.

Record heat waves and temperatures (with 2018 behind us, consider that four of the hottest last five years on record have just taken place).

Droughts in the American West and elsewhere in North America much less all over the world including in the Holy Lands in Israel and other places in the Middle East.

All sorts of industries are beginning to find the value of becoming sustainable and of offering sustainable products. They are doing this not only to meet increasing consumer demand, but also because it is good business for their bottom line.

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Dr. Kirtman sure was right when he predicted that our climate change crisis would soon capture the attention of industry and that some industries would likely force changes in their business, what they are and are not willing or able to do, in order to address the opportunities and challenges that they face.

To start off 2019 by reading that an insurance executive believes that climate change is the biggest challenge his industry faces is, I am sure, just the start. As the damage from our climate change crisis continues to grow, the impact to people and businesses all over the world will likewise exponentially increase and, thus, the sooner we shift our world economies to sustainable, clean energy solutions, the less costly these impacts will be for all of us.

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