Elin Kelsey: How Optimism Can Help Save the Oceans

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Elin Kelsey of Ocean Optimism“We recognise and respect the many challenges facing our oceans, yet too often 'doom and gloom' stories are the only kind of ocean news we hear.

"The evidence suggests that if we do not balance the bad news with good, and the problems with solutions, we will not motivate people to act.”

That’s a quote from the website of Ocean Optimism, a movement to inspire action to save the oceans not by highlighting what’s going wrong, but by sharing stories of what’s going right.

Our guest this time is Ocean Optimism’s founder, Elin Kelsey.

Elin Kelsey

(From elinkelseyandcompany.com/curriculum_vitae)

Dr. Kelsey is a recognized leader in creating communications strategies that engage communities in sustainability and conservation issues, including the impact of climate change on the oceans.

Elin has worked on public participation in marine reserves in Britain, Australia, Canada, U.K. and the USA and she wrote the scientific brief for Pew Global Oceans that led to the dedication in 2009 of one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the Mariana Trench National Monument. Dr. Kelsey recently worked with a coalition of more than 40 aquariums and visitor centers on a multi-year empowerment evaluation of communicating climate change and the oceans.  In 2017 she led the development of a new social media program for the Monterey Bay Aquarium in which teens used their online skills to communicate ocean conservation though a range of social networking platforms.

Over the past decade, Dr Kelsey has become a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment.  In November 2013, the World Conservation Union, the largest international assemblage of government and non-governmental environmental organizations, featured Elin and her work on hope in their “Inspiring People” campaign. She conducts communication-based research into the emotional responses of children, environmental educators and conservation biologists to the narrative of “doom and gloom” that permeates environmental issues.  Working in collaboration with Dr Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution, Dr Heather Koldewey, Head of Global Conservation Programmes at the London Zoological Society, and Ms Cynthia Vernon, Vice-President of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, she pioneered a social media campaign called #OceanOptimism. It sources and shares science-based marine conservation successes to improve global access to ideas that work, and to help shift people’s feelings about the environment beyond hopelessness. The #oceanoptimism twitter campaign they launched for World Oceans Day in June 2014 went viral reaching more than 30 million accounts in its first year. As of December 2017 it has reached more than 80 million users and sparked a range of other optimism-based campaigns: #ConservationOptimism, #EarthOptimism, #ClimateOptimism, and more.

Elin obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology (Honours) from the University of Guelph and a Master of Arts in Science Learning in Informal Settings from the University of British Columbia. She completed her doctoral studies at King’s College London in 2001, where she pursued a multi-disciplinary research program in science communication and international environmental policy. She received support for her work through a King’s College London Alumni Association Research Scholarship (1998–2001) and from the Goodenough Trust (1998–2000). She has taught graduate-level courses in environmental communication and environmental education at the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Canada for twelve years.  Students in the program have nominated her for the Kelly Outstanding Teaching Award three times. Elin loves supervising graduate students and has worked with more than a dozen individuals who have completed their graduate degrees using a range of communications-based applied and action research methods.

Elin has served as a Principal Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute at James Cook University in Australia and has taught graduate level courses at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. For the 2013/14 academic year, she was based in Europe as a fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany, and as a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Lake Como, Italy.

Her consultancy, Elin Kelsey & Company, offers a range of communication services to nurture collaborative engagement with the environment and innovative ideas. The communications strategy she developed with the partner organizations of the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program, for example, resulted in the program receiving the first international Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award. Other clients include: Pew Ocean Legacy; MARINE: Monterey Area Research Institution’s Network for Education; The Monterey Bay Aquarium; the Tropical Ecology and Assessment Monitoring Network (TEAM); Stanford University; California State University, Monterey Bay; Sea Studios Foundation; the National Aquarium in Baltimore; the New England Aquarium; Pacific Grove Unified School District; the Kesho Trust; the Secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (the NAFTA Environmental Secretariat); the Canadian Biodiversity Convention Office of Environment Canada; the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE); Interpretation Canada, the Nature Trust of British Columbia; Mountain Equipment Co-op; and the Science Museum of London.

Prior to establishing her consultancy, Elin served as Manager and Chief of Science Education at the Canadian Museum of Nature; Director of Exhibits and Interpretation at the Vancouver Aquarium; and Manager of Interpretive Services at the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden and Prehistoric Park. Through these positions she was deeply engaged with communications in a range of applied and academic contexts.  She was also called upon to teach courses and workshops to individuals at all education levels ranging from kindergarten through undergraduate and graduate degrees.

In 2009, she founded and led the writing program at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay. She continues to return to Monterey to teach seasonal sessions in a range of writing genres. In January 2015 she launched a podcast series of interviews with writers emerging from this program.  In the fall of 2015 she will create and host a podcast series featuring internationally-acclaimed thought-leaders for the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. She also conducts writing and scholarly communications workshops in international settings for children and adults and has been awarded writer-in-residence posts at: Hedgebrook, Berton House, Conservation International, Crofton House and, Mesa Refuge.

Dr Kelsey serves on the alumni board of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany and as a member of the International Consultative Group of Experts on Biological Diversity Education and Public Awareness for the Convention on Biological Diversity.  She also sits on the Education and Communication Commission of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and is a fellow of LEAD International, an international sustainability leadership program. An avid international traveller, Dr Kelsey has led eco-tours to Africa, India, Indonesia, Micronesia, Malaysia and the Canadian Arctic. She facilitates learning experiences with groups of international high school students on expeditions to Antarctica through Students on Ice. She is a Canadian citizen.