Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Friday, 12 October 2018

A lovely evening #scicomm event at the Royal Geographical Society, marking Galapagos Day

Thanks to a post published to psci-com (a mailing list I run for people involved in public engagement with science / science communication) I went along to an absolutely brilliant event last night (Wed 10 Oct 2018) at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington. It was organised by the Galapagos Conservation Trust and the talks were audio recorded (whether they'll be made publicly available I don't know).

Other than Charles Darwin's visit and 'rather big tortoises' it had never occurred to me quite how clueless I was about the Galapagos Islands (didn't really know where* they were, didn't know people lived there but about 25,000 do) so this was a useful crash course in getting a sense of the place and what's being done to protect it. I'm a big fan of the Shipfinder app (see also, FlightRadar24 for aircraft) which lets you 'see' where marine vessels are at any given time - they're using something similar to monitor ships visiting the coastal areas and using the data (velocity, direction) along with videocameras to predict possible activity. Jorge Carrion's team at the Galapagos National Park have used this method to catch a few dodgy ships undertaking illegal fishing. His talk was live-translated from Spanish to English, which was quite a remarkable thing to witness.

(In the picture above Jorge is on the left and the translator is relaying his talk into the lectern mic)

Ellie Mackay pointed out that the ratio of 'time taken for something to be used' to the 'time it take to break down' highlights that single-use plastic cups are incredibly inefficient (I think she said that cotton can break down in a couple of months whereas plastic is still around decades later). Sadly the ocean seems to be pretty full of plastic and polystyrene and with every tide it's tipping some of this onto the beaches around the world, including those of the Galapagos. She's been using drones to take aerial shots of beaches (much more efficient than trudging many kilometres of beach). The photos can then be analysed by humans (Zooniverse citizen science) and machine-learning magic to spot what's plastic and what isn't. We saw a nice little video of the 'pilot study' of a drone in action collecting images.

I also learned that despite being a couple of hundred kilos Giant Tortoises are surprisingly migratory throughout the year making their way from the lowlands to the higher volcanic bits (if the volcano's likely to erupt the tortoises might get airlifted out to safety!) for a change of seasonal food. Migration activity is an indicator of health and GPS trackers are letting Diego Ellis-Soto and colleagues use the International Space Station (in particular the Icarus antenna attached to it earlier this year) to monitor them remotely. Apparently the antenna "can receive data from more than 15 million transmitters worldwide, anywhere on Earth" so it's probably kept quite busy!

Ellie had a rather brilliant suggestion in response to a question about what can tourists do to help which was that perhaps a plastic 'exit visa' could be implemented - when you want to leave the islands you have to 'pay' with a kilogram of collected plastic waste from the beaches!

*having no sense of direction I don't really know where anything is ;)

Dr Jorge Carrion, Director of the Galapagos National Park
Ellie Mackay, Mission Director of The Plastic Tide
Diego Ellis Soto, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, who works with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme (GTMEP)

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