HUBweek at New England Aquarium: “Engaged citizens can help address climate change”

Dr. William Spitzer and Lindsay Jordan talking about how climate change is threatening the reproduction of green turtles like Myrtle, during the Science Café event at the New England Aquarium Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, Boston, Mass. Photo credit Gaia De Simoni

Published on BU News Service 

By Gaia De Simoni

October 8, 2018

BOSTON, MASS. – Talking about climate change can be hard. According to a study undertaken by researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Communication, 64% of Americans occasionally or never discuss climate change with friends, colleagues, and family.

“We really need engaged citizens, and much more public discourse to build the political will we need to address the climate change issue,” said Dr. William Spitzer, Vice President of programs, exhibits, and planning at the New England Aquarium.

Scientists of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life and educators of the New England Aquarium discussed how we can break the silence on climate change in what was the first HUBweek event hosted by the Aquarium.

Dr. Spitzer and Lindsay Jordan, senior visitor experience specialist at the New England Aquarium, led a talk about climate change around the ocean tank on the third floor. People could admire the green turtle Myrtle,  whom Jordan defined as “a pretty famous” resident of the aquarium, swimming together with the other fishes and a green moray eel.

They explained to three different groups of eight people each “how we should all come together as citizens in our communities to help keep our planet healthy and stable.”

One of the problems Spitzer addressed at the beginning of the discussion is that it is hard for people to talk about climate change.

“There is a vast silence in terms of talking about the issue. Scientists are not always the greatest explainers, and people feel the topic is overwhelming and depressing,” Spitzer said.

Scientists and educators at the New England Aquarium have developed the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) using places like aquariums and museums to change the way people talk about climate change. NNOCCI started training people on evidence-based techniques, using museums as conveners, translators, and facilitators to bring people together.

“We are really building a social movement, and we have the evidence that it works,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer explained how NNOCCI is now working with over 170 aquariums, museums, parks, science centers and zoos in 38 states across the U.S. They have trained over 400 individuals who have in turn trained more than 38,000 people using the evidence-based technique.

Thanks to this method, the scientist said people are more knowledgeable about climate change, and they are more hopeful and confident talking about the issue.

“They are actually more likely to engage in communities’ actions, voting for candidates who pledge to address climate change and taking actions in their personal life,” Spitzer said.

Jordan explained how we are all connected to climate change and how we shape our landscapes and our ecosystems. Talking about climate change, breaking the silence, can help save the ocean life and green turtles like Myrtle.

Myrtle and her counterparts are suffering from global warming, primarily when they nest their eggs on beaches. Scientists working at the New England Aquarium have discovered that loggerhead sea turtles in Florida are hatching 90% female.

“This is pretty unusual. Usually, there is a balance between males and females for species to be able to reproduce and repopulate,” Jordan said to the astonished group.

The specialist explained that sea turtles’ sex is not encoded in their DNA like it is in humans, but is determined by whatever temperature their eggs are. The ones that are in deeper, cooler sand will be males; whereas the ones that are on the surface, receiving the sun’s heat, will be females.

“There are efforts to figure out ways to cool down turtle’s nests. It is is not clear in the long term how the change in the sex ratio will affect the turtles’ population,” Dr. Spitzer said.

According to Jordan, these nests are warmer due to things we do every day. Actions like having our lights on for a long time or creating energy by burning fossil fuels, all contribute to warmer nesting sites for these turtles.

“We should do our part to protect these animals. Together, we can keep our planet healthy. Not only for sea turtles but for all of us as well,” Jordan said.


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