Training a Growing Community of Climate Change Interpreters

This summer a collaborative group of aquarium interpreters from six different aquariums will be putting the finishing touches on a climate change interpretative training program three years in the making. Sponsored by a grant from IMLS, the “Ocean Change” project group is comprised of interpreters from the Vancouver Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the National Aquarium, and the New England Aquarium. The training program will be both hosted online (here) and presented at a series of regional trainings beginning this summer. (Are you interested in training?)

All of the materials and activities included in the training were taken from the group’s collective experience interpreting climate change to visitors at aquariums. The lessons are applicable beyond aquaria though. Training focus areas include better understanding the Earth's climate system and how it interacts with other Earth systems, especially the ocean, as well as the causes and effects associated with climate change. This understanding, commonly referred to as climate change literacy, is essential to developing the confidence necessary to discuss the issue within an interpretative setting.

There is also a thorough exploration of interpretative and communication strategies that help make addressing climate change a more empowering experience for interpreters. The group brought unique experience and perspective to this area in particular, offering helpful insights on how to engender a thoughtful interaction and learning experience with an individual, audience, as well as with colleagues and peers.

Collaboration as a Solutions Model

Most inspiring, however, is the empowerment that the individuals who have worked on the project have received from it. Working together across institutional boundaries has been a powerful process and experience for everyone involved, and an exciting impetus for future collaboration focused on similar climate change related topics. It is both a timely and strategic effort – climate change requires a collective response, and collaboration is a fundamental building block toward producing solutions by and for groups. It comes as little surprise then that the group’s participants describe the process of working together as “inspiring” and “extremely rewarding.”

“It was the first time I felt I was with a group of like-minded peers interpreting about climate change. Everyone in the project is as dedicated (to the climate change message) as I am,” says Sarah Mae Nelson, a Climate Change Interpretative Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “It was like walking into a group of old friends who spoke my language.”

Billy Spitzer, Vice President of Programs, Exhibits & Planning at the New England Aquarium, would agree. “I've been very impressed by everyone's willingness to take on something difficult and approach it with open minds, a collaborative spirit, and a willingness to share both failures and successes. We have definitely achieved way more than any one of our institutions could have achieved by itself, and built a powerful support network in the process.”

That support network will only grow, as more interpreters are trained and feel comfortable with their understanding of climate change and the tools they need to address the topic with an audience. That is a primary goal of this project, to support and expand a growing community of climate change interpreters across the country, and beyond. In the meantime the group’s work continues, so stay tuned for updates and more information about how you can receive training and get involved.