Using TED Talks to Assess Human Impacts on the Marine Environment

Students from “Advanced Topics in Biology of Marine Life” give a series of solution-oriented presentations introducing audience members to a variety of case-study analyses on the artificial impact to the world’s marine ecosystems.

On October 26, students from Assistant Professor of Biology Kristen Whalen’s course: “Advanced Topics in Biology of Marine Life” gave five-minute, “TED Talk-style” presentations to the Haverford community. These talks, held in the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, focused on a variety of topics across the spectrum of marine biology. Tasked with making their presentations accessible all community members, regardless of scientific background, students gained valuable experience in communicating material which can occasionally be nuanced, dense, and technical. Whalen encouraged her students to take a solution-oriented approach to human-induced impacts on the marine environment, ensuring that student’s TED Talks incorporated both “what we’ve done and what we can do about it in the future.”

From ocean acidification and the expanding decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans to the rise of hypoxic “dead zones” instigated by industry-level factory farming, the presentations made visible the largely interdisciplinary nature of marine biology. Various additional fields of chemistry, ecology, international relations, and economics were discussed in talks which presented the problems with and solutions found in modern policies on ocean conservation. Throughout the presentations were the underlying themes of sustainability and the power of “knowing where your food comes from.”

“We have a great opportunity here at Haverford, [where] students who are learning this material should not only understand it from a scientific level, but also be able to communicate it to the general audience,” Whalen said.

Whalen created this class because she wants her students not just to understand the science behind quantifying the impacts of humans on the ocean, but is also committed to helping them develop tools to educate the public and devise real-world solutions. “All too often scientists don’t leave their laboratory and tell the public why they need to pay attention,” she said. “They assume their work speaks for itself and are content to allow others to interpret their science for a broader audience”.

I thought giving this kind of presentation was a really fun way to wrap up our quarter,” said Grayton Downing ’18 about the presentation she and her partner gave on sustainable seafood and the dangers of overfishing. “We spent a lot of time talking about what strategies are best to communicate scientific knowledge to the layperson in order to increase awareness, especially for issues that pertain to the environment and the ocean. I thought using a TED Talk format allowed everyone’s individual creativity to show through… and hearing everyone speak was a really powerful way to summarize all of our conversations this quarter.”

Photos by Wanyi Yang ’20.