Masters candidate in the Marine Biodiversity, Aquaculture, Conservation Education and Ecophysiology (MACE) laboratory in the School of Life Sciences, Ms Kaveera Singh, won the award for the Best Novice Presentation at the annual Conference of the Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) in Durban.
The theme of the Conference was: “Our Changing Coasts”.
Singh, whose research is on innovative strategies to evaluate the effects of plastic pollution in the marine environment, focused her MCEN presentation on the urgent need for effective communication of scientific knowledge as well as innovative ways to spread conservation messages to the public and encourage pro-environmental behaviour.
‘Conventional conservation message formats need to be reinvented,’ said Singh. ‘The identification of a new messenger - not the stereotypical scientist - and the incorporation of new technological trends, such as social media, were some of the topics discussed.’
Singh says social media is an important tool for scientists to directly educate a large group of people quickly. She emphasised the importance of using the correct pitch, terminology and format in order to urge individuals to engage with the information.
‘Our research has found the recipe to drive conservation messages to thousands of people and gain responses from these messages after identifying our key target audience,’ said Singh.
The Conference extended beyond academic presentations with delegates spending a night at the uShaka Sea World Aquarium with the fish and other marine life, visiting mangrove forests in northern KwaZulu-Natal and exploring the iSimangaliso Wetland Park ecosystem.
What stood out about the Conference for Singh was the sense of connectivity among delegates, who are all passionate about enhancing education.
The youngest delegate at the Conference, Singh was struck by the vast years of experience represented at the Conference combined with educators’ humility, enthusiasm and inspiration.
In a fun MCEN competition, Singh won the award for best potjie/bunny chow.
After completing her Masters, Singh hopes to pursue a career in science communication and conservation education. She was inspired to do this by her late grandfather, who taught her about marine biodiversity during frequent visits to Durban beaches, and spent time watching environmental television programmes with her.
‘It is important to emphasise how desperately we need to take care of the natural world around us,’ said Singh, who aims to educate, motivate and inspire today’s youth to achieve a brighter future.’