We love people who love sharks- especially those who educate others about sharks! This is why Lindsay Laughner is a fave of ours. She not only brings the ocean into the classrooms she steps in, but also brings students out to the ocean.
OCEARCH is lucky to have her as an education ambassador-- and The Fins United Initiative is lucky to have her here for the Behind the Fins series! We'll be diving into what makes her tick, what an education ambassador does, and talk about sharks!
The Fins United Initiative: Tell us a little bit about Lindsay!
Lindsay Laughner: I have always been fascinated by the ocean and the life within it under its waves. I grew up visiting Jekyll Island, Georgia, going shelling, and playing in the waves on spring break with my mom's family. I became interested in sharks in particular, when I was around 10 years old. I had a few cousin, who showed me the movie “Jaws” and instead of being afraid, I was fascinated, and I wanted to learn everything I could about sharks. I would go to the library and check out any and every book I could about them, and when I went to college, I would read research papers being published about them, and I still do. Now I love that I can go diving with sharks as an open water scuba diver!
TFUI: For those TFUI readers who don't know, what is OCEARCH?
LL: OCEARCH is a nonprofit organization, founded by Chris Fischer in 2007, that is helping scientists to collect data on keystone species such as sharks and the ocean, at a rate and scale that helps the ocean move toward abundance faster. OCEARCH has held 31 expeditions all over the world, enabling researchers to collaborate and obtain data and samples that they weren’t able to collect before. The M/V OCEARCH vessel becomes an at sea laboratory when it is on expedition. The OCEARCH crew works together to bring practical fishing knowledge and expert skills to safely catch these keystone species for the researchers’ science projects. The ship has a hydraulic lift that is able to give researchers access to large animals such as white and tiger sharks. Researchers are able to perform at least 12 different research projects in 15 minutes or less, before the shark is released with a SPOT, acoustic tags (and others), and named. When the shark’s dorsal fin surfaces for 90 seconds, it communicates with a satellite to provide location data on that animal for about 5 years. The animal’s tracking data is open sourced for free on the OCEARCH Global Shark Tracker for everyone to follow. The research conducted on the ship, and the tracking data, is also used to create a free STEM curriculum for grades K-8, so all students can build skills in STEM and be educated about the important role sharks have and the impact we are having on the ocean, so they can be better stewards of it.
TFUI: And you are OCEARCH's Education Ambassador! What does that entail?
LL: When OCEARCH is not on expedition, my role as one of the Education Ambassador is to write STEM lessons and activities, and collaborate with the team to create programs for students in grades K-8 that educate them about the ocean, connects them to the research on the ship, and enables them to build skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. I also give school presentations, host Skype sessions, and use my Twitter account to help tell people about sharks and the ocean.
TFUI: This sounds like an amazing job.
LL: When OCEARCH is on expedition, I am given the opportunity to be a part of the education outreach. I have helped with teacher workshops and STEM camp on the ship, ship tours and Skype sessions. I will also talk with scientists and ask them questions about their research, and talk with crew members and ask them about their experiences, which in turn is included in the STEM curriculum.
TFUI: Yup. Definitely a dream job. [laughs] Why is your outreach and marine education work so important?
LL: Education helps to connect people to the ocean and the issues it is facing. We are able to use data and research to show the impact we are having on sharks and the ocean. Sharks are charismatic and exciting to learn about. Students are always engaged during lessons about them, whether we are learning about fractions or engineering a better seal decoy, students find sharks fascinating. My students used to ask me why they had to learn about different things in school, but now they see these skills in the classroom being applied in the field and they want to learn more.
TFUI: A great teaching moment!
LL: Outreach is important because there are many people who will never see the ocean in person in their lifetime. Yet, they have an impact on the ocean, the life force for our planet. By open sourcing marine science education, we are able to reach everyone and help them see how incredible the ocean itself is, let alone the amazing life in it and show them that it is worth protecting.
TFUI: So were you a marine science educator before teaming up with OCEARCH?
LL: I was an educator for 12 years before moving from Indiana to Maryland, 3 years ago. I taught in a first grade classroom and wanted my first graders to learn about sharks and the ocean and created my own lesson plans, using the OCEARCH Global Shark Tracker.
TFUI: And how did the opportunity to work with them come about?
LL: I saw that Chris Fischer did Skype sessions with students and I wrote him a message. He responded and did our school’s first ever Skype session with my first grade class. A few months later, I moved to Maryland and Chris gave a presentation at the National Aquarium. Afterward, I had the opportunity to meet him and I offered to give him my lesson plans because there weren’t lessons at the time for grades K-2. After sharing the lessons with them, and talking with OCEARCH, I was asked to join them as an Education Ambassador.
TFUI: Do you think people are becoming more aware of the elasmobranchs and the science around them because of the work you and OCEARCH support and do?
LL: I think people are getting to know the message of “Don’t Fear The Fin”. OCEARCH is sharing the work and the research they do through their social media handles, and the sharks they tag have Twitter accounts, like Mary Lee, Katharine, Whale Shark Rocky, and Hilton! These accounts do a great job of educating, bringing laughter, sharing facts, and represent sharks in a positive and dynamic way.
TFUI: What do you hope comes from the awareness people are receiving from OCEARCH?
LL: One of the ways I like to bring sharks to students is to have them talk with the OCEARCH sharks on Twitter! I asked Katharine the Shark to have a #SharkChat on Twitter with my students, so they could ask her questions about her and her travels. She talked about her track with my “tiny humans,” and answered all of their questions with interactive tweets, pictures, and videos. It was fintastic! Other classrooms have started joining in the conversation with sharks and OCEARCH on Twitter too. I think that the tracker and social media give us an opportunity to show everyone how amazing elasmobranchs are.
TFUI: I LOVE those twitter handles.
LL: OCEARCH also open sources everything. From “Shark Science Friday” education videos, to Science Briefs on Facebook Live and Periscope, and posting research papers and blogs on their website, everyone has access to the research being done on the ship.
TFUI: That is amazing. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
LL: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing teachers and students using the STEM lessons, getting excited about sharks at an ocean STEM camp, and sharing how they want to help save sharks. When I share my experiences scuba diving with sharks, seeing a tiger shark on OCEARCH’s lift be tagged and released, tell them “fin facts”, and let them know that we are losing 100 million sharks every year, students see that sharks need our help and always ask what they can do to help.
TFUI: In your opinion, what could be the best thing to happen (conservation, protection or policy-wise) to elasmobranchs in your neck of the woods?
LL: I think that the best thing that could happen here in Maryland, and everywhere, would be for people to stop using single use plastic. So much plastic ends up in the ocean every year and is affecting every level of the food chain in every ocean zone.
TFUI: We 100% agree with you! And what is one shark myth you want to lay to rest?
LL: I would like people to know that we are not a part of a shark’s diet. Much of the fear people have comes from this thought, and it is not true. It is an irrational fear. I have seen white sharks be cautious around a fishing boat, and even swim off at the sight of a GoPro.
TFUI: Yes! The idea that these are "mindless man-eaters" has got to go.
LL: Sharks investigate things, just like we do. They make mistakes, just like we do. We are not a part of their regular diet. We need to respect them, their space, and their home.
TFUI: What is one piece of advice you wish you had been told in the very beginning of your marine science career journey?
LL: I wish that someone had told me, when I was young, to "pursue your dreams, regardless of what anyone else says”. I had a couple of middle school teachers that told my parents that I shouldn’t be a marine biologist because the road would be too difficult for me. Those teachers were wrong. I have found ways to be a part of shark and ocean research and communicate what these scientists are doing with everyone. I'm thankful that I have been able to accomplish more of my goals than I ever thought possible. I love to use my knowledge to serve others and the ocean. OCEARCH is helping make my dreams a reality by giving me opportunities to use my background as an educator to connect classrooms and families and the world to sharks and the ocean.
TFUI: We look forward to seeing how you continue to connect people to the ocean and sharks!
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK lindsay FOR Her TIME AND
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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