Tackling environmental issues using art and emotion
“I can see them! I can see them! There they are!”
This was the excited reaction everyone had when I took them on a boat to see dolphins for the first time. They would be wearing their biggest smile once they could finally spot them. Many of the visitors were from Sepetiba Bay in Brazil. The same beaches where they enjoyed swimming on weekends were home to around 800 Guiana dolphins, but they were unaware of this fact. Some didn’t even know dolphins and other cetaceans existed on the Brazilian coast.
But I'm sure they haven't and won't forget the experience of watching them so close by. I'm also sure they won't forget being in a boat surrounded by dolphins. In our small NGO focused on dolphin population research and conservation, we often found an ally for life following this experience.
A similar experience led me to decide to become a marine biologist when I was a kid. I watched small baby sea turtles walking toward the ocean line to start their lives on a sunset beach when I was very young. There were also biologists on the beach since egg nests are protected to ensure the survival of endangered sea turtles. I have met enough biologists and environmentalists in my life to know that most of them have had similar experiences. This has led them to a strong connection to animals and nature.
In this sense, I am happy to watch and be part of a substantial movement to advocate for science, conservation, and environmental issues by reaching people’s hearts. I do not see another way into this. Humans have been telling stories to each other for millennia trying to make sense of the world around us. To change how we see and interact with the world around us, we also need to tell better stories about the natural world and all the pressing issues we face and the solutions.
Nature documentaries and other related shows have brought the experience of watching amazing biodiversity from all around the globe to our homes. They have also contributed a lot to making people care. As an example, there was a strong push to ban single-use plastic in the UK after the release of BBC’s documentary Blue Planet with record audiences in the country.
Although it is much more difficult to get people’s attention nowadays, humans are naturally curious about nature. There are new creative ways and different media to tell all kinds of stories: podcasts, YouTube videos, social media, video games, online courses, streaming platforms, etc. It is now even possible to emulate the experience of being in close contact with dolphins using cutting-edge technology, like virtual reality.
We need to be more creative and we need to continue to advocate for the need to use more communication and art for environmental issues and scientific dissemination. That is of extreme importance if we hope to achieve sustainable development goals and tackle the pressing environmental issues we are facing right now. People will only act on what they care about, and they will only care if it stirs their emotions.