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Science for Parks conference report, part 2

2. Speaker Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Do you know how some people can stand up in front of a group and immediately grab everyone’s attention? You just know s/he will have something interesting and important to say. You sense that this is someone who spends time pondering big ideas.

This occurred last Thursday morning when Jane Lubchenco was introduced at the “Science for Parks, Parks for Science” centennial conference. Her forty-minute talk was titled, “Seas the Day! A Blue, Saltier Second Century of Interdependent Science, Parks, and People.”

GoldenGatePartLogo 2015-04-01 at 11.23.05 AM Part of the conference logo

Being more of a mountain person than an ocean person, I had not previously given much thought or attention to the seas—but she certainly has. Although Ms. Lubchenco was brought up and went to college closer to mountains (in Denver and Colorado Springs), she was turned on to marine biology by a summer program at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and went on to receive a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Washington and a Harvard PhD in marine ecology.

Beginning in 1977 she and her husband, Dr. Bruce Menge, shared a unique arrangement: Oregon State University (Corvallis) allowed them to split a single position into two half-time but tenure-track positions, thus giving them both time for family duties.

Dr. Lubchenco has won numerous awards for her research and teaching, served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and from 2009 to 2013 was chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is still Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State. Her excellent lecture—scroll down to: Mission of the National Park Service and Its Relevancy Today (Part 2)—gives listeners a clear idea of how she has achieved so much.

Beginning by telling us that only 6% of U.S. territorial waters and less than 1% of international waters are protected, she explained that there are two types of protection but that only Marine Reserves (and not the so-called Marine Protected Areas) are truly effective. Scientists have determined that 20-30% of the oceans need this protection, yet there is little public awareness of the need. A glimmer of hope appeared last summer, when President Obama set aside the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Now is the time for countries to create “blue parks,” our speaker suggests, to complement the many green and brown spaces we have. Oceans are already 30% more acidic than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A radical but valuable proposal is to close the high seas (all non-territorial ocean areas) to all fishing; she explained how this would actually benefit protected areas and fishermen.

Dr. Lubchenco ended her observations with a story illustrating another point she wanted to stress. While briefing Vice President Joe Biden as they flew together to view the devastation and talk to people after the 2010 Gulf Oil spill, she told him among other things how some fish and seafood can metabolize the chemicals in oil and some—such as oysters—cannot. Listening for a while, Biden said, “I thought you were a scientist.” “I am,” she said. “But I just understood everything you told me,” replied Biden. Scientists must learn to tell stories, concluded our speaker, to be “bilingual,” that is, to talk both in science-speak and in everyday language, in order to engage the public.

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