SharkSmarts is a multi-platform outreach and education program that provides accurate and current information on elasmobranch biology and conservation via innovative, multimedia resources online and in-person based on the best available information provided by qualified experts.
I. Professional Development - Many fields require professionals to participate in ongoing learning, to expand their knowledge and skills to better their performance. Formal and informal educators and professionals in the marine-based industries such as scuba diving, have daily opportunities to teach the public about the oceans and the sharks that inhabit it. These professionals are not expected to maintain expert level knowledge on all topics so that is where the SharkSmarts Professional Development can help! The program trains professionals how to educate the public they encounter about the importance of sharks, changing misconceptions, and bolstering conservation engagement. By educating the educators and stakeholders, the outreach potential is exponential. Imagine if the staff and educators at the 100 nature centers, 16+ zoos and aquariums, ~170 state parks in Florida were trained in SharkSmarts and could communicate to the vast public updated and conservation-minded information about sharks and rays! Those in the marine industries are also stakeholders in the health of our oceans and should be armed with the best available information on sharks and their ecosystem. According to NOAA, 739,000 people went diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary between 2007 and 2008. If a deckhand, captain, instructor or dive master on each operation was trained in SharkSmarts, in one year they could educate almost a million people to appreciate sharks and the vital roles they play in healthy marine ecosystems, resulting in more support for conservation. These individuals are a readymade outreach army!
II. Public Outreach – For the general public, the content is delivered in an informal and
informative method. The public’s interest in sharks has increased and yet there are few resources that are accessible and reliable. In a culture of information overload, it can be difficult for those with no formal biological or conservation training to discern the correct information, even among the well-meaning. There is frustration within the conservation community regarding the proliferation of incorrect information about sharks and conservation policies, in particular. The goal of SharkSmarts is to be the source of correct information to promote public awareness and understanding of sharks, science and conservation, ultimately transforming them into true stewards of the sea.
I. Seminars–In-person, multimedia presentations offer personal engagement, individualized experiences, opportunities to answer on-the-spot questions and receive instant feedback. The presentations are carefully designed to give the participants all the current information in an entertaining way and can be customized for any audience for content and duration. Presentations are currently on-going, educating diverse audiences, general public and professionals, including those at the International Game Fishing Association, environmental groups (e.g. the Sierra Club), museums (e.g. Museum of Discovery and Science), science centers (e.g. South Florida Science Center), aquariums (e.g. the Florida Aquarium), schools (e.g. the MAST Academy), dive shops (e.g. Divers Direct) and dive clubs across Florida, and professional development seminars at the Environmental Learning Center.
II. Online – the online course provides content and assessments covering topics such as shark biology, taxonomy, behavior, sensory biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation. Online learning provides a level of education that is not available to many, exposing them to information at a lower cost than traditional academia, conveniently accessible worldwide where ever there is an internet connection, and flexibility in scheduling. Using the Articulate ® software, the course content and interactive media will be used to develop this powerful online learning tool. The participants will receive a certificate of completion.
III. Research Experiences – In-the-field opportunities to follow the scientists on their activities such as collecting biological and environmental data. Hands-on experiences have many benefits, including increased retention and comprehension and the opportunity to work with sharks in the field is no different. These experiences reinforce an intimate understanding of the work necessary behind important research projects and campaigns coupled with unforgettable experiences in the field with sharks. The Research Experiences are structured, informative, and fun adventures at partner field stations that are currently conducting shark research and conservation projects. The program’s main field station partners are the South African Shark Conservancy, based in Hermanus, South Africa, and the Bimini Shark Lab in the Bahamas.