National Geographic: Fighting For Their Future

D National Geographic

Like my father before me, and his father before him, I‘ve grown up in what I would call a National Geographic household. Every month, year after year, decade after decade, dating to near the start of the last century, the magazine arrives in the mail with great fanfare as my entire family riffles through its pages and is transported all over the globe to learn about the wonders of nature, world cultures and some of the most profound issues of our time.

In fact, I honestly can’t imagine a more important publication or group of artists and story tellers than the people at “Nat Geo” and for that reason I am increadibly honored to have their amazing work cross my path once again by being featured in the April issue on climate change.

I first had the honor of working with the National Geographic Society when they televised the Emmy Award winning Years of Living Dangerously series in a piece that Jack Black hosted entitled Gathering Storm: Saving Miami (you can stream that and the other incredible episodes by clicking here).

I am still not sure it was a coincidence that on a family trip during the summer of 2015 to visit Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museums that our hotel was next door to, you guessed it, The National Geographic Society. It will not surprise you that we revised our plans and spent one entire morning walking through the building, enjoying an exhibit on monster river fish and another on anthropological archaeology. And as wonderful as the inside was, one of the billboards on the outside made the experience extra worthwhile.

IMG_6768

As we walked around the outside of the building to look at the pictures, I was overwhelmed to see that one featured one of my environmental heroes, famed shark scientist and frequent SharkFest National Geographic explorer Dr. Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami. Neil was deploying a “critter cam” with a very large tiger shark cruising just below him. That picture, along with the many shark tagging trips I’d taken with him in middle and high school, helped inspire me to apply to his Hammerschlag Shark Research and Conservation Lab here at the University where I have been a proud member for three years, have recently been selected as a Teacher’s Assistant, and have plans to work on a marine microplastic research project with him in Toronto, Canada.

IMG_5806

For the release of Years of Living Dangerously, we hosted an exclusive red carpet premiere here in Miami at the the Tower Theatre in Little Havana. I interviewed many of the characters featured in the episode, as well as many local scientists and politicians so viewers could learn about their work. It was a pleasure to also interview Dr. Hammerschlag and his wife, Dr. Caroline Hammerschlag who was coincidentally my AP Environmental Science teacher at the time. Yeah, you sure could say that billboard on the Society’s offices and his work with Nat Geo and UM have had a life changing impact on me.

NG Teen Service Award

And there was National Geographic once again, in 2017, changing my life by honoring me as an inaugural National Geographic Teen Service Award Winner for my educational work and activism. I am ever so grateful to be selected, much less to be the first, and to use that honor to draw attention to our climate crisis and plight.

And as incredible as being associated with that show or receiving that honor was the magazine is, well, different. It’s an iconic publication that has been sharing thought provoking stories and images with the world since 1888. And, in an increasingly digital world that has seen far too many print publications cease to exist, I am happy to report that over 5.1 million people subscribe to National Geographic today.

And I am also proud, ever so proud, to be associated with the magazine in an article about youth climate activists. People like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against our government that seeks climate justice, the counter part to the Florida suit (Reynolds v. State of Florida) that I am leading. Or Rabab Ali, an 11 year old Pakistani woman who has sued her government over the right to have a healthy environment. Or Greta Thunberg whose Friday Climate School Strikes have inspired countless young people to find their voices and demand change. And all the others. I do hope that you will read the feature and, as you do, I hope you will consider finding your voice, raising your hand and standing up for our mutual future before it’s too late.

Allow me to end by thanking a few people who worked to share my story and those of the other people featured in the article.

First, thanks so very much to Laura Parker who wrote the story and is a staff writer at National Geographic where she focuses on climate change and our marine environment. For a college kid like me that’s majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Climate Science and Policy, Laura was a dream to work with. Over the course of months we spent a great deal of time talking about my concerns and the need for action and Laura understood every word. Laura, thank you for sharing with the world that young people are not only seriously concerned, but that our concerns must be taken seriously.

National Geographic is most certainly known for its stunning, award winning pictures and with that in mind I’d like to humbly thank Victoria Will for taking mine for this feature. As she flew into Miami from another assignment in Colorado I was not sure what to expect but over the day we spent together at Miami’s Matheson Hammock Park, a place I learned to swim and have returned to many times to help educate people about our climate change crisis, it was obvious that she and her assistant Savannah Shipman were equal parts professionals and artists.

IMG_8045 IMG_7826 IMG_7728
IMG_8062 IMG_8106

The day started along the Biscayne Bay shoreline, the city of Miami sparkling off in the distance, but soon evolved into the mangrove forests that help make the park so magical and ultimately we waded off into the middle of the same salt water lagoon, dress and all, that as a young child I learned to swim in. Visitors walked the sand beach that surrounds the lagoon and must have wondered what in the world that young woman was doing in a dress with water up to her chest, much less the photographer with one camera after another shooting pictures but I knew I was in great hands. Victoria was incredibly friendly and kind in her comments about my work, its importance, and being involved in this issue. She truly touched my heart. Little did I know that Victoria is a Princeton University graduate “celebrity portraiture” who has photographed some of the most famous people on the planet including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Selena Gomez to name just a few. To learn more about Victoria’s work please visit www.victoriawill.com and you will see what I mean when I say I am humbled that she graced me, this issue, and story with her artistry.

IMG_6576_2

And finally, a special thanks to everyone at National Geographic. The work you do, the stories you tell and the images you share have long been globally important, but are more important now than ever. In a world that’s often confused or distracted by “reality television” or “alternative facts”, you share the truth in unique and thought provoking ways that truly matter. For what all of you do, much less for the indelible role you have played in my life and that of my family’s for generations, thank you and keep up the most excellent work.

Reynolds v. State of Florida Update

30728952_2042195092769584_1304675352148180992_o

Over the last few years I have come to learn first-hand that the “wheels of justice” often truly do move slowly as they say. When seven of my friends and I filed our landmark environmental lawsuit against the State of Florida seeking climate justice in April 2018, I was “just” 18. And today, as I am pleased to share news that our first Hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 21st, I am approaching 21.

Three judges assigned to our case and many motions by the State asking the Court to dismiss the suit later, the very first Hearing for Reynolds v. State of Florida is scheduled to take place by Zoom video conference at 1 PM. The delays and such aside holding it on April 21st, just one day before the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day (which takes place on April 22) is pretty poetic.

In October of last year we filed a motion adding allegations about recent ways Florida government’s officials have made the climate crisis worse.  A Hearing on that motion was scheduled for January 8th but two days before the Hearing, the Governor’s office stipulated to our request and the Hearing was cancelled. At that time the Court signed an order granting our motion and allowed us to supplement our briefing on the government’s pending motions to dismiss the case.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the State, Governor DeSantis, Agricultural Commissioner Fried or other elected “leaders” are serious about putting a stop to the pollution that is killing our state’s natural resources and harming our citizens. Their actions speak far louder than the buzz words they use when speaking to voters. In fact, recent actions by both DeSantis and Fried make their and the State’s ongoing dedication to an energy system based on the fossil fuels that principally cause the pollution clear.

Governor DeSantis has recently certified a large scale fossil fuel based project at TECO’s Big Bend Facility. He’s also done little to nothing to take actual action on our climate change crisis or sea level rise. His appointment of Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer received much positive fanfare and made folks pause to think progress could be made yet, other than travel around the state for photo ops and feel good speeches, she did nothing what-so-ever before predictably moving on to serve President Trump as Homeland Security Advisor. And what has the Governor done since Nesheiwat left her role in Resiliency? Nothing. He’s not replaced anyone in the position. #SheepsClothing.

To some, Commissioner Fried seemed ideologically well positioned to lead a fight for change, yet has since gone so far as to call for an end to the energy efficiency conservation goal setting program and has openly supported an energy system powered by fossil fuels. Simply stated, if Commissioner Fried were truly serious about addressing Florida’s climate change crisis, then she should end her opposition to our lawsuit and join us. The fact that she continues to oppose our desire for change says far more than some political speech she might give that’s geared to getting votes ever could. #DisappointedButNotSurprised.

DSC_7603a

I want to again thank my brave young friends for their fortitude and passion. Thanks to Valholly, Luxia, Andres, Oscar, Oliver, Isaac, and Levi. I want everyone to know that the eight of us are in this for the long term. We know this will not be an easy fight, nor a fast one, but we also know it’s the most important issue that our generation will ever confront and how we fix the problem will define our time here on earth. I know that I speak for the other children when I say that if takes us a lifetime of litigation, then so be it. We will not rest until things truly change.

I also want to thank our amazing legal team for their passion and care. Listening to our concerns, often shared laced with anger and/or tears, can’t be easy but your support and guidance means more than I could ever say. So thanks to all of our lawyers and most especially Mitch, Andrea and Dick. You are more than our lawyers now, you are our friends and soldiers in our fight for what is just.

I look forward to our first day in court and celebrating this historic step while celebrating a historic Earth Day milestone at the same time. Just poetic in every way.

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.

1 2 3 4 5 43