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Soapbox Science

Published: 15 August 2017

It was by chance that the invitation to contribute to the Exeter Soapbox Science event caught my eye in January. Twelve female scientists presenting their research in a busy shopping area of Exeter to the general public on a Saturday afternoon… what a great idea!

I applied for one of the positions and soon was off to a training event in Exeter where we were introduced to each other, alumni of the event and to the fabulous organisers Safi Darden and Ana Neves, both veteran presenters of Soapbox Science before becoming organisers. I had to give a 3 minute clip of my envisaged talk on the day while standing on a wooden box with a little sign in front of me, no powerpoint, no props.

A few weeks later, I had my talk at hand to get some further feedback from organisers, other presenters and alumni, and suggestions as to the use of props to entice the crowds. I gathered material that I thought would be interesting and useful, for example, maps demonstrating how vast the oceans are compared to the land, photos of benthic activity which I still had from my PHD. I also got a massive (enough) plush thresher-like shark and I recycled a little food web game that Elaine Fileman had created for British Science Week, which I used to demonstrate the complexity of the food web by using children and adults that were (mostly) willing to participate.

Saturday afternoon in Exeter is busy enough and I had one hour to discuss MERP research with those who had indeed drawn in by the shark, my other props and general interest. My main aim was to discuss how we are working in MERP to unravel the complex net of all the species in the UK marine ecosystem, their functions and how we humans use them but also can help protect them. Here Elaine’s game came in useful because it was interactive, raising interest in the attendees.

I explained sustainability and how we have done a lot of damage to the ocean and continue to do so, naming pollution and overfishing as examples. But I also wanted to show that our work in MERP and that of many other researchers, policy makers and governments really does make a difference by gaining better understanding of how the marine ecosystems function and by applying this knowledge to management. I therefore also gave as examples our work in Work Package 3 where we recently talked to local stakeholders in the North Devon Biosphere Reserve, the UN Ocean Conference that has just taken place in New York and the designation of a large area of the Ross Sea in the Antarctic as a Marine Protected Area.

I gave similar talks three times to fill the hour, and the uptake by attendees was good, with between 30 and 60 people who either stayed for one entire talk and some who moved between speakers. The organisers counted nearly 1200 visitors for the entire event with many more passing by and being aware of the event, so my own estimate of 30-60 may be lower than was the actual case. It was a great experience and I was asked lots of interesting questions by those who listened to my talks. 

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Soapbox Science

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