New frontiers in Biodiversity communication: BioFresh launches a ‘Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities’

The tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya this year underlined the magnitude of the biodiversity conservation challenge. Crucial to the legitimacy of the strategies action plans agreed at the Conference will be the support of an eclectic range of public constituencies.

Biodiversity conservation is at an interesting juncture. The efficacy of dooms-day messages for changing public behaviours is increasingly questioned. There are concerns that concepts such as extinction, endangerment, threat and crisis are a turn off for many people. In response, conservation communicators are experimenting with vision-based communication techniques to re-invigorate and extend public interest in nature.
The BioFresh ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is one example of this new thinking The Cabinet’s developers, Paul Jepson and Rob St John at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment, are exploring the potential of new technologies such as blogs, social media and smart phones to re-imagine and reinvigorate old ways of engaging nature that appeal to the general public. Also known as Wunderkammer (literally, ‘wonder-room’), Cabinets of Curiosities were popular in Renaissance Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries and reflected both a thirst for intellectual stimulus and the investigative spirit prompted by an increasingly expanding known world.  The premise of this communication tool is that curiosity and investigative spirit are alive and well and stimulated by the exciting capacity of the web for virtual exploration of knowledge, ideas and places.

The ‘Cabinet’ is an online collection of curious and unusual freshwater flora, fauna and phenomenon with links to where each species can be seen in the wild, in captivity, or as a specimen in botanical gardens, museums, zoos, etc.  This offers exciting opportunities to raise awareness of the importance of freshwater systems, whilst showcasing the displays held by institutions involved in freshwater biodiversity conservation efforts. Visitors to the Cabinet can suggest, rate, comment on the curiosities featured and suggest their own.
Dr Paul Jepson, Leader of the BioFresh Communication and Dissemination work-package comments “Engaging people in the wonder of nature is a vital first step for conservation.  Whilst it is appropriate for scientists and conservationists to want to tell people about threats and losses to biodiversity, it risks adding to a background sense of gloom. We need to balance the message that ‘biodiversity is declining and it’ll cost us’ with more aspiration messages such as ‘Hey, isn’t nature amazing. Surely it is something we’d all want to cherish and protect.’”
Rob St John, Lead developer of the Cabinet explains that “the underlying ethos of the Cabinet concept is one of drawing individual conclusions and emotional responses to nature. The freedom and ease of use provided by digital technologies only enhances this openness and freedom of knowledge”.

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