Guns, Gadgets and Games. Science outreach in Greenland

Chris Yesson

It was with some trepidation that I went to Greenland for the Polar Fish Trade Fair. What were a bunch of conservation biologists doing at the country’s biggest trade event? We were there to talk about the impact that trawl fishing is having on the seabed and we were positioned opposite the biggest fishing company in Greenland, alongside stands selling the latest trawling technology and a prize draw to win a hunting rifle!
My colleagues Kirsty, Mona and Steve had come along too and we set up our stall to show off our deep-sea specimens, cameras, videos and images of life on the seabed in Greenland.

IoZ researchers at the Polar Fish Trade Fair
IoZ researchers at the Polar Fish Trade Fair

We thought we’d follow on from the success of the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and give out stickers to people coming to our stand. We printed one sticker with a picture of deep-sea life and another with a picture of our research vessel. We were interested to see which would be more popular with an audience of the general public, particularly those who would show up to a fishing trade fair. I thought it might be a hard sell to get fishers interested in inedible invertebrates from the deep, dark, cold seabed, but that was not the case.
Most of our audience had a direct interest in the fishing industry, and it was surprising how many people recognised the picture of our research vessel Paamiut, and even how many had worked on board.
It was amazing how receptive people were to finding out about the wildlife of Greenland. One of the most common responses when we showed our videos was “Is this really all in Greenland?” I think the most popular video was of this deep sea shark, swimming in front of our camera.

although I like to think that this coral garden was also an eye opener for many.

I like to think we showed off the beauty of some benthic invertebrates by showing a collection of specimens set in resin. Many people asked if we were selling these specimens as they thought they would make good jewellery! This sparked a debate over whether it would be ethical to sell benthic invertebrate bycatch (otherwise destined for an unceremonial burial at sea) as jewellery, and potentially create an incentive to have more bycatch.
There were a surprising number of children at the event. Our VR headset was a hit with the kids, giving us a chance to show them this 360 video of our work in Greenland.

Another hit was our fishing game. We have been developing a fishing game designed to show the impact of trawling on benthic habitats in an accessible and entertaining way. One girl put us all to shame, racking up a 1000 point score (I can barely make it to 3 figures).

Children playing Greenland fishing game
Children playing Greenland fishing game

Mona capped off our success by being interviewed by local television. It turned out to be a great week talking with around 400 locals who were really engaged with finding out about the life on their doorstep that they had never seen before.

… and the results of the sticker count… 188 of the trawl vessel and 292 of wildlife on the seabed. Not a scientific assessment of our impact, but I hope it means we convinced some people there was more to marine wildlife in Greenland than what can be caught, sold or eaten.

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