Science and the Media and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Co-Host Program on Marine Invaders

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Blog Posts | Comments Off on Science and the Media and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Co-Host Program on Marine Invaders

With Scientists, Chefs, and Canoes, Journalists Explore Marine Invaders


By Louise Lief

Over 30 journalists and journalism school faculty paddled in canoes, learned new audience engagement strategies, chatted with chefs and seafood distributors and tasted gourmet cooking as part of a novel pilot program to give journalists in all fields enjoyable and productive access to the sciences while learning new journalism skills.


“Right Fish, Wrong Place: Invaders in the Coastal Zone,” a September 6, 2014 collaboration of the Science and the Media initiative and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), explored the world of marine invaders – creatures from other ports and regions that arrive in local waters and wreak environmental and economic damage.

Journalists canoe with scientists

Journalists canoe with scientists


The multifaceted program enabled journalists to experience the world of SERC’s scientists firsthand, as well as explore market and consumer solutions to environmental problems. Journalists also learned about crowdsourcing and citizen science projects that scientists and experts from the Smithsonian, a vast collection of museums and research centers visited by over 30 million people each year, are using to engage the public in their work and build an audience. These same strategies may also benefit news organizations.


The September 6 pilot program was the second to test a new professional development model for non-science journalists. The model combines science content and a journalism craft component. The first, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in June, explored marine creatures that glow and underwater photography.


Journalists and journalism school faculty that took part in the program came from a wide array of regional, national, and international organizations that included: The Associated Press, Bay Weekly (Annapolis), Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Capital Gazette (Annapolis), CBS ’60 Minutes’, Congressional Quarterly, CTV News (Canada), Moment Magazine, PBS Newshour, The Atlantic, The Canadian Press, The Christian Science Monitor, The Toronto Globe and Mail, USA Today, WMAR-TV ABC2 News (Baltimore), WYPR (Baltimore), American University School of Communications, and George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, and independent


SERC, located on a 2500-acre nature preserve on the Rhode river near the Chesapeake Bay, studies the dynamics of coastal regions throughout the world and works with communities and fisheries.


Dr. Gregory Ruiz, head of SERC’s Marine Invasions Research Lab, one of the word’s largest labs studying marine invasive species, had journalists inspect live crabs for invasive barnacles that, like the creatures in the movie Alien, take over their bodies and force their hosts to breed their young. His lab operates a joint program with the U.S. Coastguard that monitors all commercial shipping arriving in U.S. ports–over 100,000 ships per year–to detect invaders.


Matthew Ogburn, a SERC scientist who studies fish behavior and the invasive blue catfish that now dominates several rivers in the area, led the canoe trip. In the middle of the Rhode river, he demonstrated the use of advanced sonar and acoustic tracking devices implanted in live fish to discover the behavior of various aquatic life. The techniques he demonstrated were similar to those used to search for the Malaysian airliner that disappeared in March 2014.


At the audience engagement craft session, Robert Costello, national outreach program manager at the National Museum of Natural History and William McShea, a research ecologist at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, discussed crowdsourcing and citizen science projects that have successfully engaged the public.


Costello and McShea’s eMammalproject, which recruits volunteers to set camera traps on public lands in collaboration with local partners, has documented the impact of hunting and hiking on animal populations in national parks in six states and along the Appalachian Trail. A much larger future program involving thousands of volunteers will document the movements of carnivores in 20 American cities.

Chef Jeff Buben

Chef Jeff Buben serves blue catfish several ways

Lunch provided opportunities for the journalists to explore – and taste – market and consumer solutions to the invaders. Jeffrey Buben, executive chef and owner of Washington D.C.’s Vidalia Restaurant and a James Beard award winner, prepared a meal featuring different preparations of blue catfish. Tim Sughrue, vice president of Congressional Seafood, a regional seafood distributor that supplies over 400 restaurants and Whole Foods Markets in the mid-Atlantic, provided the fish. In the past year, Sughrue said, the market for Chesapeake Bay “wild caught” blue catfish has grown from next to nothing to millions of pounds a year, and is still expanding.


Both Sughrue and Buben described the workings of seafood markets, state regulations and voluntary certifications that can help or hurt the introduction of new commercial species like the blue catfish, and the challenges involved in developing a consumer following for new types of seafood. Don Cosden, inland fisheries chief for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, answered questions about state fisheries policies, and a representative from Whole Foods answered questions about the chain’s seafood buying policies and color-coded certification program.


For more information about this program, contact Louise Lief at