Your Message Could Be Many Places

Signs, exhibits, videos and TVs are the most common media selected for interpretive messages at natural and cultural heritage sites and in communities. There are some variations on these approaches that will convey a message powerfully and creatively. Here are a few to think about:

 

You find Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card on an exhibit or in the hand of a volunteer but you carry around in your wallet because the message is helpful and business card size.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch cards are given out on an exhibit or by staff or volunteers. The card can be  carried around in a wallet so that the information is readily available when buying seafood after leaving the aquarium.

A well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.

Although the design could be improved, a well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.

Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

 

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places and the message stays around, a reminder of an important story.

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places, a reminder of the important stories found at the site.

Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages to where you are.

Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages about solid waste management.

Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.

Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.

Even electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.

Even the electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.

The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from their tourists in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim.

The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from residents in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim, answering the question “what’s special about El Paso?

A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.

A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.

The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.

The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.

Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.

Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.

Kids are invited to create artworks that have a message and then they are used as the sign.

Kids are invited to create artwork with a message that is then incorporated into sign design.

Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.

Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.

This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

Visiting natural and cultural heritage sites and communities will become more interesting if we broaden our view of where messages can be shared.

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Shark Bait – Revealing the Real Story

Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.

Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.

Recent shark attacks in Hawaii are the current subject of conversation when we call family members on the mainland. In the past few months, a shark attack on Maui and a surfer bitten by a tiger shark in the Big Island’s northern waters were reported nationally as major stories. The focus of media attention makes it sound as if Hawaii’s waters are somehow increasingly dangerous. And they are to a degree, as more people than ever are enjoying snorkeling, surfing, fishing, boating and other water-related activities in the islands. But drowning poses a far greater hazard for snorkelers than sharks. In 2014 there were 8 million visitors to the islands and only three reported shark attacks. Since 2013, only two shark-related fatalities, both around Maui. Compare that to an average of 60 drownings each year, which usually occur because someone entered the water without knowledge of how to snorkel, kayak, or surf safely.

 

The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.

The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.

When I was a state park interpreter in the mid-1970s and doing live snake programs routinely, I would ask my audience which was more dangerous to humans – sharks, venomous snakes, bees, autos, aspirin, alcohol or tobacco. Both children and adults would guess that snakes and sharks are more dangerous to people than the other items (all of which are more deadly). The news media at that time reported every venomous snakebite and rarely brought up the medical statistics related to it, about ten deaths a year nation-wide. Two deaths from sharks worldwide was the average. Compared to 350,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from tobacco use, the danger of snakebite or shark attack was minimal. Snakes and sharks provide benefits that far outweigh any dangers and they are essential in healthy ecosystems.

 

Fear is a powerful persuader. Just look at the sensational headlines and stories that grip the nation. We often don’t look beneath the headlines unless the reporter does a very responsible job of helping us understand the real dangers involved. Great journalists put stories in perspective but the tabloid press mentality of many digital and print media reporters leads to amplification of the dangers and make nature seem more dangerous than our personal drinking habits or driving behaviors.

 

Interpreters help reveal nature’s mysteries and important stories, but safety is always an important messaging opportunity. People want to survive the experience and ignorance of the real dangers in the environment can threaten that. We can help people understand the real hazards of recreation and how they might behave to be more safe and treat wildlife and the environment more responsibly. It’s a chance to teach some natural history and reveal the incredible benefits of predators in their natural roles in the ocean or on land.

 

Tourism is the big economic driver for Hawaii so various sources publish excellent information on the real dangers in the water and the value of sharks. Interpreters who are skilled at getting in front of the news cameras should let media sources know when they get the story wrong and help them share a better understanding of how we may all live, work and play safely in the outdoors.

 

– Tim Merriman