Digital Media and Nature Conservation

Technology and nature are often portrayed as opposing forces. We are told to “log off” and go outside. The manner in which digital and other medias can extend a love of wildlife and the outdoors to those not raised with it is often overlooked outside of an academic context but there are ways in which the technology of the day is improving our relationship with nature.

Much of the attention is given to how big digital and media projects can aid natural conservation. In his book Media, Ecology and Conservation, John Blewitt discusses Planet Earth as the pivotal example of big budget documentaries that expose the dramatic and cinematic elements of the natural world. There has been much criticism of documentaries like this with anthropomorphising narratives and high-drama styles. David Attenborough has generally defended his productions on the grounds that people will not fight for what they do not know or have not seen.Planet Earth II had a similar effect, using new filming techniques and drone technology to get fresh insight into the lives of wild and remote creatures.

Monterrey Bay Aquarium is an example of a research and public facility with captive species, many of them rescue animals, that uses social media to great effect. The Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram of the aquarium have gained tens of thousands of followers featuring live-streams of tanks and of the bay outside the aquarium´s wildlife which include sea otters, seals and migratory whales.

However due credit should be given to small-scale local focus efforts that use the digital to connect people to what exists beyond the screen around them.

In Ireland for example the National Biodiversity Data Centre has over 5 thousand followers on Twitter and a high engagement rate from those followers. This is due to its role in recording citizen science and wildlife sightings.

In a different way the Irish Seal Sanctuary, which rescues beached and injured seals across the island and runs a rescue centre has successfully used endearing photography to garner a following.

These projects will never gain huge international audiences but they do help connect people to the nature of their immediate surroundings. What they know and what they value they can fight for.

We are a part of nature and our technology is a part of us. Rather then fight the tide, there are effective ways to ride it.

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