Finding Our Environmental Identity
An overview of the 7th California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium
by Gena Bentall
On November 9th and 10th of 2021, people from across the United States—and even the planet—gathered to learn and share information about human-caused disturbance to coastal wildlife and be introduced to some of the innovative new strategies to mitigate it. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the ubiquity and costs of human disturbance to wildlife, mitigation measures have evolved and diversified. One of the objectives of this symposium is to showcase ideas and campaigns – successful or otherwise – to inspire creativity and strive for effectiveness, and this year’s event featured an agenda packed with impassioned and creative people and projects seeking to embody and inspire stewardship.
Co-organizer Cara O’Brien from California State Parks started out the morning leading a word cloud activity that queried attendees about wildlife disturbance witnessed in their everyday life (see results below). Since the earliest inception days of the Sea Otter Savvy program, there has been a shift in my awareness. As a sea otter biologist, I was acutely aware of human disturbance to sea otters – I could not avoid seeing it everyday and it impacted my work. In the ensuing years I’ve been on my own journey of awareness and now notice the disturbance I and others cause, not just to sea otters, but for the birds, reptiles, invertebrates, and even plants that coexist in my environment—my neighborhood.
Speaker Claudia Pineda Tibbs of Latino Outdoors, drew us in to that inclusive sense of place, home, and family in their talk about community representation in the outdoors and parks. Of all the concepts covered on the symposium’s first day, Claudia’s discussion of the relevance of each person’s “environmental identity” to their actions within and towards their environment, rang out as a clarion call to draw people from all communities to experience, love, and protect nature. How do you define your environmental identity? How does that identity influence your actions? Community wildlife stewardship begins with that kind of self-awareness in every person entering outdoor spaces.
Lisa Duba of Gigantic Idea Studio, introduced the first materials from the collaborative Respect Wildlife project and shared lessons learned from the launch of a series of humorous memes on the project’s new social media platforms. Respect Wildlife is one of two campaigns showcased on day 1 that offer copyright-free digital media packets that anyone can access, download, and share! Here's the Respect Wildlife media kit. Follow and tag @respectwildlifeproject on Instagram and Facebook! Grace Bottitta-Williamson also shared NOAA Sanctuary’s wonderful “Recreate Responsibly” campaign, that also has a copyright-free media packet to offer.
There were many inspiring stories of stewardship, ranging from the deep cultural and environmental ecology of the Tolowa Dee-ni to the day to day balancing of human activities and wildlife protection by the Morro Bay Harbor Department. From the turquoise waters of Indonesia, Dr. Maulita Sari Hani talked about her community’s efforts to make tourism safer for manta rays. Did you hear news about the disruption to elegant terns nesting at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Orange County? Melissa Loebl gave the inside story of that and other challenges she has faced in her first year overseeing one of the largest and most diverse ecosystems in Southern California. Spoiler: the terns found a new, rather awkward place to nest!
To reinforce our “give wildlife space” ethic, Dr. Mike Murray from the Monterey Bay Aquarium ticked down his list of zoonotic diseases (diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans) in his talk, “Can marine mammals make me sick? Marine mammals and zoonotic disease”. Take home message: DO NOT be tempted to kiss a sea lion. Also on the science and physiology front, we were surprised to learn from Dr. Mark Ditmer of the U.S. Forest Service how good bears are at hiding their stress.
Finishing up day 1, keynote speaker Dr. Kirsten Leong from NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shared her insight on the importance of skills and disciplinary knowledge from fields such as human social psychology, communication, and interpretation to any wildlife protection strategy. Dr. Leong offered a couple of relevant quotes to illustrate this point (see below).
The day 2 workshops were well attended this year, offering tips for interpretation of wildlife issues during the turbulent months of the pandemic. The master of nature interpretation, Jim Covel, also offered sage self-care advice to keep yourself and your messaging positive. An all-star panel of social media leaders had advice and fielded questions from those bravely navigating the developing frontier of social media with wildlife conservation messaging.
At the end of the day, I felt encouraged and inspired, not only by our speakers and workshop hosts, but by the participation and dedication of attendees. We are all in this together, defining our environmental identity, seeking our “One Thing” (watch video below) and merging with our neighbors’ into a community wave of change.
Look for all of the talks and workshops from the 7th CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium coming soon on the Sea Otter Savvy YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe!
Abstracts of symposium talks are available here.