Name: Sarah Pickup
Position: Host Supervisor of the Public Engagement Team
Organisation: National Marine Aquarium
Location: Plymouth, UK
Tell me a little bit about your role at the National Marine Aquarium
My role can be very variable. On a day to day basis it involves ensuring that the highest quality of public engagement is carried out by the Host Team; whether this is through talks and shows, ‘busking’ using artefacts and games, arts and crafts in our creative centre, exciting trails through the aquarium, outreach at public events, or any of our special holiday activities.
The National Marine Aquarium’s mission statement is “To Drive Marine Conservation Through Engagement” and the Host Team are essential in ensuring that this takes place every day of the year. Life under the ocean can be very hard for people to identify with, especially for those who may not live close to the sea, and the National Marine Aquarium is the perfect place to be able to show people from all walks of life exactly how amazing our marine environment is.
How did you become interested in science communication?
During my MSc Marine Environmental Management I undertook a three month internship working on a PhD project in Lamlash Bay Marine Reserve, the UK’s first fully protected marine reserve. This primarily involved a lot of scientific surveying and diving, but there were also lot of opportunities to interact with many different stakeholders as well as running public engagement events. During these events I saw the positive effect that even the smallest engagement techniques can have on someone’s perspective of how amazing and important the ocean is, and how this can then lead to small behaviour changes that can help with marine conservation.
How does marine microbiology influence your work?
The majority of our visitors at the National Marine Aquarium are family groups that are looking to have a fun enjoyable day out, and to see some incredible marine life. Very rarely will I get to talk about marine microbiology in depth on a daily basis! However, during our public engagement activities the Host Team are always trying to emphasise how important every aspect of the ocean is. No matter what animal or environment we are talking about we will try and link it back to the smallest living creatures in the ocean – plankton! Simple (and perhaps simplified!) facts such as ‘Plankton provides 50% of the oxygen that we breathe’ can really help to relate marine microbiology to everyday life.
What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the oceans and marine science?
As a science communicator I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing the ocean is the lack of understanding by the general public. There is so much amazing work being undertaken by scientists around the world to improve the health of the ocean, and to protect it from further harm, however I feel that there is not enough done to share this amazing work with everyone around the world.
One of the most encouraging aspects of my job is the fact that there are so many people out there that want to learn more about the oceans, and want to become more actively involved in marine conservation, but just don’t know how. Education is one of the most powerful tools in marine conservation, and could potentially have a huge impact on the health of the oceans.
The theme for the 2015/16 World Oceans Day is ‘Health Oceans, Healthy Planet’ – what does this mean to you?
The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day really sums up what the National Marine Aquarium stands for – connecting people to the ocean. If you can make people relate to the ocean they will become attached to it, and want to protect it. A lot of our interpretation throughout the aquarium is focused on this theory; with “LEARN, LOVE, ACT” becoming a prominent part of our engagement techniques. ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet’ can help people to see how by changing their own behaviour, for example by reducing the amount of plastic that they use, can directly the effect the health of the ocean and therefore the health of the entire planet.
On a more personal note, I have had a love of the ocean since an early age. Growing up in Cornwall (SW England) enabled me to connect to the ocean and I have always wanted to work in marine conservation. Working at the National Marine Aquarium has given me the opportunity to engage with many different people, and to help share the passion that I have for the marine environment.
How will the National Marine Aquarium be celebrating World Oceans Day this year?
On World Oceans Day this year we will be celebrating in style! We are going to have a special area in our main exhibit dedicated to World Oceans Day, with information boards, colouring and crafts. Additionally we will have a fun trail to show off all of our amazing marine life that we have in the Aquarium. Hopefully we will be able to spread the word about how amazing our oceans are, and continue to drive marine conservation through engagement!