27 April 2020

Science Communication During Social Distancing

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Kanesa Duncan Searphin

Screen capture of Zoom interview with Anne Rosa, Marine Educator, Hanauma Bay Education Program. Image by Voice of the Sea.

I began to write this blog to share the ways that our Voice of the Sea TV series has covered coastal and ocean science topics. I wanted to focus on the importance of platforms like television in reaching key segments of the population; Nielsen’s 2019 report showed that TV remains the most used media platform in the U.S., and our local series reaches critical segments of local community, with a following of 25,000 viewers per week on TV. I drafted text to share the process we have used to coordinate and collect footage from researchers in remote locations, and how we were working with scientists engaged in EXPORTS, the large NASA and NSF collaborative project to understand and predict carbon flux in the ocean.

And then the virus SARS-COV-2 put a stop to much of work life as we know it. The three coordinated EXPORTS cruises to the Atlantic (out of the U.S., Britain, and Spain) were cancelled. Lab supplies from the ships are being rerouted to support medical professionals, and stay-at-home orders mean we cannot even film local episodes. But science is still happening; in fact, science is happening rapidly, and there are many unintended experiments going on in the environment beyond our homes. Moreover, our audience is arguably more captive than ever; Nielsen recently released a report demonstrating the uptick in online and TV watching since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. In response, we are promoting YouTube watch parties and live-chats with featured experts, and we are continuing to make all of our episodes freely available and downloadable online (voiceofthesea.org). We have also been asked by the Hawai‘i Department of Education to provide discussion questions and share activities that align with our upcoming TV episodes—because many families in our region do not have reliable access to high speed internet.

Like many nightly TV shows and news agencies, we have also revamped our creative process to make episodes remotely. We are using Zoom to record interviews as well as cell phones to get second angles of the scientists we are talking to. The second angle allows us to edit the interview down to our 24:30 final piece that we deliver to our TV station partners (for our half-hour time slot). In my home “studio,” I am using my cell phone to record a second angle, and I also have a third angle that I am recording with a cannon 5D Mark IV. In addition, I am recording my audio with a professional microphone and separate recorder. For the final edit, we will need to rely heavily on researchers’ images, video, and media to make the episode come alive. In some cases, the scientists have media already in hand, but in other cases, the science lab and field work is considered essential—or even an important component of the collective COVID-19 pandemic response, and we can use new images and video collected by researchers on the front lines. Other tips for recording and publishing remote interviews include:

  • Restart computers before the interview session.
  • Set all video settings to HD.
  • Use the touch-up setting to soften faces.
  • Set the record settings to HD (1280×720).
  • In Zoom, end the meeting for all participants after the recording is finished, or Zoom will only save a smaller version.
  • Optimize audio for 3rd party editing (which saves each person’s audio separately).
  • Have each person set up a second camera angle with their phone, in landscape orientation, and set to the highest settings available (most smart phones will record in 4k).

    Hanauma Bay, the site of more than 3,000 visitors each day, is temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and researchers conducting carrying capacity studies are interested to see the positive effects that rest will have on the bay. Image by Anne Rosa.

We are excited about sharing these new-format episodes because they provide (1) a positive outlet for researchers and educators, (2) a novel chance to see into the homes and lives of scientists, further informing the public about the realities of scientific research, (3) an opportunity to shed light on how this radical change in human stay-at-home behavior is affecting our natural world, (4) a model for showcasing people and places that we could not afford to cover previously due to the expense of travel.

The episode we are working on right now is about the Hanauma Bay marine protected area and visitor education program, located on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. The bay used to have over 10,000 visitors a day, but education and enforcement enacted in 1990, reduced that number to 3,000—3,500 visitors each day. Despite the reduction in traffic, the constant onslaught of snorkelers continues to take a toll on the environment. The bay normally rests one day per week (Tuesdays, when it is closed to the public), and researchers have been doing studies to determine the current carrying capacity. COVID-19 prompted public officials to close the bay to the public on March 16th, 2020, and it will be closed at least until the end of April. This is an opportune time to learn about the bay and how it might change during this period of prolonged rest. We are excited to be able to share this story and also to provide an outlet for the educators and scientists who normally work at the bay.

-Kanesa Duncan Searphin is a professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and director of the Hawai‘i Sea Grant Center for Marine Science Education in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).