Scicomm and the Sea

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I grew up by the sea, with generations of my family making a living from our waters – it’s in my blood. I would spend countless hours exploring the local coastline, or waiting at the pier for my dad to come back with his latest haul, ever hoping for some weird and wonderful creature to come back amongst the lobsters, which I’d often gawk at before releasing back to the sea. Pipefish, eels, octopuses – they all captured my imagination; no wonder then that I began my academic journey studying marine science at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), where I discovered just how much, and how little, we knew about the largest habitat on Earth.

I explored every aspect of the marine world, from chemistry to conservation and everything in between, but I realised that my background afforded me an insight that few others had access to – I was able to see how policy is implemented based on science thanks to classes within academia, however, I was also witness to how these decisions, and the effects of climate change, were affecting those out-with academia, who depended upon good fish stocks and clean, accessible waters to make a living. Year after year I would return home, and find fewer and fewer boats in the harbour, until one day I came home, and there was my dad’s boat gone as well…

The threats to our oceans, and to those that rely upon healthy marine ecosystems, are now numerous, and intensifying; with ocean acidification, deep-sea mining, plastics, de-oxygenation, and more all having an ever-increasing impact on our marine ecosystems.  Only a few of these threats are seeing the attention that they deserve, I mean, when have you heard anyone talking about the expanding Oxygen Minimum Zones in our ocean? Now compare that with how many times you’ve heard folks chatting about the issue of plastics in the sea!

I’ve now made it my mission to not only raise awareness of the threats to our oceans, but also to shine a light on the depths of our seas, and the incredible life and habitats that we desperately need to protect, and yet, will never likely see. This brings me to where I am now, Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, where I have the privilege of working as the Discovering the Deep project officer, helping to bring Scotland’s marine world, and rich marine heritage, to the fore. This project is one close to my heart, and it is beyond exciting. This National Lottery Heritage Funded project will look at Scotland’s relationship with our oceans; from the Challenger expedition, led by Charles Wyville Thomson of Edinburgh 150 years ago, bringing about the birth of a new field of science, Oceanography; to our cold water carnivorous coral reefs, found off of the Scottish West coast; and of course, we can’t discuss Scottish marine science without discussing the internationally collaborative marine research that Scotland is a leader in.

 I am currently assisting in developing a brand-new interactive museum gallery exploring these areas, but once that opens in April I will be running our activity plan, with events, school workshops, showcases, and so much more, all of which will bring the people of Scotland closer to our ocean, to this world that has such an impact on our everyday life without many of us even realising! I wear many hats in this role, of which more than a few my MSc in Science Communication at UWE Bristol has prepared me for well. Interviewing scientists, writing copy, and engaging with the public – everything that I do, I think back to my training, and every time, the first thought that comes to mind is a question that I was asked from day 1 of this course – who is this for? I am very lucky that in my position, I have a whole range of groups I will be working with, from young people, rural communities, community groups, schools and everyone in between – for the next couple of years I will be engaging with them all, tailoring my content to meet their needs.

Where I go from here, once this project reaches its conclusion is anyone’s guess, but what I do know is that I will be taking the skills and experiences that I have gained over these years, and I will fight to empower our communities, to give them a voice, so that they can properly contribute to decisions being made around our waters, and so they can fully understand just how critical our oceans are to our way of life. Our oceans are our last frontier, with only around 20% fully explored so far, but already the commercial opportunities are mounting, and we all know what happens when a natural area can be exploited for profit, so now is the time to give our communities the tools they need to fight for our largest, and arguably most important environment, our ocean.            

By Blair Watson, Discovering the Deep project officer at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh and former MSc in Science Communication student at UWE, Bristol.

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