Leading themed discussions on Twitter

October 8, 2015 by jenn

In August 2015 I was part of a group of seabirders that led themed discussions on Twitter as part of the lead up to the 2nd World Seabird Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.


When I tell most people that I led a discussion on Twitter, even those colleagues that are in their late 20’s to late 30’s, many look at me slightly confused. Some are on Twitter and immediately understand what an interactive space it can be, but most are either on Twitter but haven’t really figured out how to use it professionally yet, or have signed up, but haven’t contributed anything yet. And, there are some that still claim that Twitter is not for them.

Some tips for leading a successful Twitter discussion:

  1. Visuals are great, but prep them before hand. Graphics and images are great tools for communicating ideas. This is also true on Twitter. When you are leading a discussion you want to think about what images you are likely to use. Just like you prepare a slideshow before a talk, prepare all the images you want to use in one accessible place. Because large images can’t be uploaded to Twitter, prepping images may also mean scaling down there size. Do this all before hand so that you can easily flow from tweet to tweet, with pictures without having to stop and fumble over where numerous folders and files. The picture below I knew I would want to talk about so I made sure that it was ready and easy to post. It shows a cigarette butt (the top most piece) that Alex Bond (@thelabandfield) found in a project that we worked on together examining plastics in seabirds from Sable Island (you can see the paper here). cigarette
  2. Prepare your main speaking points. Again, just like giving a traditional presentation, prepare your speaking points. Think about the main topics that you think you should cover. Just like a talk, start off very broad to give those with limited experience in the topic the ability to understand the basics before you jump right into them. I also posted a summary of the session and some questions that people wanting to learn more could access. This helped me form my speaking points (you can see them here).
  3. Be flexible. Above I say organize, here I say be flexible, some may be thinking, well which is it. I like to go by a strategy I learned in teacher’s college; over planning is better than under planning. Plan enough speaking points, activities and questions that you can fill the entire time (plus about 15% in case time goes faster then you think) without any one else jumping in with questions. This makes sure that you won’t be left hanging with nothing to talk about. But likely, there will be questions. And if they are on topic and it is what people are interested, go with them. Getting messages through to people is easier when you are addressing concerns that they have brought up. Sticking to a script and not recognizing or responding to direct questions is one way to get an audience to check out as it displays that you either think it is not important to talk about, or you don’t care about other peoples concerns.

So, what are the benefits you may be asking, well here are just a few:

  1. It’s interactive. For those who are new to Twitter, it may seem like you are just putting ideas out, and not really getting any interaction, but a discussion that is organized and publicized can attract all kinds of people. You can pose questions that people respond to. Others may just jump in and share examples. Others may post pictures. For example, one person posted this visualization of plastic garbage islands in the oceans during the talk which was a great talking point. nasa
  2. You can increase and widen your audience. By tagging discussions you can draw in new followers. I talked about seabirds and plastics in the session that I lead, but tagged in as many tweets as I could remember to do the word #plastic. This means that when people search the word ‘plastic’ in Twitter all those tweets may come up. Additionally, you can also increase those following you. During and after the themed discussion I lead my followers increased by about 30 people. This may not seem like a lot, but it is 30 more people that my tweets are going out to, and then might also retweet those as well.
  3. You often learn something new. All kinds of people on are Twitter, and lots of people follow a real menagerie of accounts (I know I do!). Because of the nature of Twitter, you can’t possibly follow everything that is related to your work, and see every post that is related. But in these discussion sessions often people retweet things that are related. For example, I have thought about an app that would allow us to track plastic-seabird interactions and talked about this on Twitter in the discussion. Then someone else pointed out this post, which I had not seen, but is a great tool for people to track ocean debris.padi
  4. The discussion often keeps on going long after the allotted hour time limit. The themed discussion that I did was an hour long, but many of the tweets got retweeted for hours afterwards, and some even days and up to a week later. This meant that the messages were still swirling around the Twittersphere, long after I had actively stopped tweeting. Now this can be said about a number of communication mediums, but one of the great things about Twitter, is that people can still ask you questions about the topic carrying the discussion even further.

There are more benefits to undertaking this type of communication work, but in order for this communication strategy to be most effective, I won’t drone on. So, if you are experienced in Twitter, or new, I highly recommend leading a discussion like this one. You may find it cumbersome at first, but if you try it out you may find that it is another powerful tool in your communication toolbox. For more on the themed discussion session you can see my summary of the discussion here, and the storify version of the discussion that I led here.

Marine birds and plastics themed Twitter session, summary and storified!

September 12, 2015 by jenn

On August 22nd, 2015 I was privileged to host a themed #Seabirdersaturday discussion on Twitter.  The discussion focused mostly around the work that is currently being done, some trends being found, and what are some areas of research that are lacking. Those who took part were great, and the hour flew by!

I want to thank Sjurdur Hammer (@sjurdur) for bringing the tweets all together using Storify so that people can view the discussions in one place. If you missed the discussion, or even if you were a part of the discussion, you can view all the tweets here (https://storify.com/sjurdur/seabirdersaturday-plastic-pollution).

I also want to thank all those that tweeted in with their own examples of plastics seabird interactions. Gannets seem to be particularly prone to plastic entanglement in their nests. RSPB Ramsey Island shared this, and we also talked about this in Canadian gannets in our plastic review in Canadian Seabirds (Provencher et al. 2015; get it here).

RSPB tweet

We also talked about ingested plastics being found in pellets. Andy Denton (@Choccybear85) shared some plastics he had found in a boxie pellet. I think that monitoring plastics in pellets can lead to some great research questions, and can be used for a number of species where carcasses are rare. 

Boxie pellet

We also discussed that many inland birds and gulls are particularly underutilized currently as sentinels of plastics. Gulls colonies are easy to access, often large in size, and distributed widely across many landscapes. This makes them excellent sentinels for assessing and tracking plastic pollution in the environment.

We ended the discussion about where plastic-seabird interaction research needs to go next. In many ways we have done the easy work at showing that seabirds do have negative interactions with plastics, so in most cases what is needed is to target species that are sentinels and explore what the effects are of plastics, and in my opinion, what are the cumulative effects of plastics with other environmental stressors. Plastics may not be the one thing that really negatively impacts a bird, but it may be one of the many small straws that we are piling on their backs.

Concluding remarks from the session:

1 and 23thanks



Marine debris and seabirds: #seabirdersaturday themed discussion on August 22

July 1, 2015 by jenn

#SeabirderSaturday has started themed sessions this summer with each week seeing a new topic being discussed in detail. With each new topic comes a new chair that will help guide and lead discussions. On Saturday August 22nd, 2015 I am excited about leading the group discussions on Marine debris and seabirds.
shetland plastic

We will be covering all litter interactions seabirds may have including ingestion, entanglement and nest incorporation. The aim of the session is to facilitate discussions,  share resources, project ideas, encourage collaborations and potentially identify research topics and partnerships. This is also a primer for our ‘Impacts of Marine Debris‘ session coming up at the 2nd World Seabird Conference in Cape Town in October.

Northern Gannet Funk Is  2  2011 plastic debris B Montevecchi

Themed #SeabirderSaturday session abstract:

As global travellers seabirds are considered important sentinel species of the world’s oceans. While seabirds are primarily in search of food, increasingly marine birds are also ingesting, getting tangled and incorporating into their nests plastics and other marine debris. Although man-made marine debris has likely been entering the oceans for centuries, plastic, the largest component of marine litter, was initially invented in the early 1900s. By 1988, 30 million tons of plastic was produced annually, with this amount increasing almost 10 fold over since that time. Interactions between seabirds and marine plastic were first reported in the 1960s, with reports increasing since this time.

Although reports of litter ingestion was first reported in the 1960s, efforts to standardize, track and monitor the marine debris ingestion by seabirds was pioneered in the North Sea by the ‘Save the North Sea’ group in the early 1990s. While some data series on marine debris ingestion date back to the 1980s, most regions began this phenomenon in the early 2000s. Although initial concerns with marine debris ingestion centered around the physical impacts of ingested debris more recently studies have shown that plastics may also be a vehicle for chemicals, including environmental contaminants shown to have deleterious effects on wildlife. Less work has been done on entanglement and nest incorporation but both have been shown to have negative impacts on seabirds. UNEP has listed marine plastics as an emerging global environmental challenge. Given that seabirds have been shown to be an important group for both environmental monitoring and assessing the impacts of plastics debris on wildlife, seabird research can play a critical role in helping to address and understand this global environmental problem.

Some discussion topics:

  1. What are the best practices for monitoring and assessing debris ingestion in seabirds worldwide given the variety of: a) seabird foraging strategies, and thus ingestion rates; b) retention of debris; c)methods of bird collections available; and d)method of assessing plastic interactions?
  2. What effects are ghost nets having on seabird populations globally?
  3. How do we best assess the impacts of debris on seabirds, both physically and chemically?
  4. What is the fate of ‘bio’plastics in the environment and the digestive system of seabirds? Does it break down?
  5. What long terms studies are available for debris interactions, and what do they tell us?
  6. What are the emerging questions about plastics that seabird researchers should focus on?
  7. How do we take information collected to better make population level assessments?
  8. What geographical areas are lacking in data and coordinated efforts that should be focused on?
  9. How do we incorporate plastics at sea data into spatial modelling of seabird threats?
  10. Are regional assessments or summaries of plastic interactions useful to science? To policy makers?
  11. What form should marine litter data be presented in to be the most useful to policy makers?

Key References to read:

Bond, A.L., Montevecchi, W.A., Guse, N., Regular, P.M., Garthe, S. & Rail, J.F. (2012) Prevalence and composition of fishing gear debris in the nests of northern gannets (Morus bassanus) are related to fishing effort. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64, 907-911.

Bond, A.L., Provencher, J.F., Elliot, R., Ryan, P.C., Rowe, S., Jones, I.L., Robertson, G. & Wilhelm, S. (2013) Ingestion of plastic marine debris by common and thick-billed murres in the Northwest Atlantic from 1985 to 2012. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 77, 192-195.

Cadee, G.C. (2002) Seabirds and floating plastic debris. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44, 1294-1295.

Good, T.P., June, J.A., Etnier, M.A. & Broadhurst, G. (2010) Derelict fishing nets in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits: patterns and threats to marine fauna. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60, 39-50.

Provencher, J.F., Bond, A.L. & Mallory, M.L. (2015) Marine birds and plastic debris in Canada: a national synthesis and a way forward. Environmental Reviews, 23, 1-13.

Ryan, P.G. (2008) Seabirds indicate changes in the composition of plastic litter in the Atlantic and south-western Indian Oceans. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 56, 1406-1409.

Ryan, P.G. (2015) A brief history of marine litter research. Marine Anthropogenic Litter (eds M. Bergmann, L. Gutow & M. Klages). Springer International, New York.

Ryan, P.G., Moore, C.J., van Franeker, J.A. & Moloney, C.L. (2009) Monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in the marine environment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 364, 1999-2012.

van Franeker, J.A., Blaize, C., Danielsen, J., Fairclough, K., Gollan, J., Guse, N., Hansen, P.L., Heubeck, M., Jensen, J.K., Le Guillou, G., Olsen, B., Olsen, K.O., Pedersen, J., Stienen, E.W.M. & Turner, D.M. (2011) Monitoring plastic ingestion by the northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis in the North Sea. Environmental Pollution, 159, 2609-2615.

Vegter, A.C., Barletta, M., Beck, C., Borrero, J., Burton, H., Campbell, M.L., Eriksen, M., Eriksson, C., Estrades, A., Gilardi, K., Hardesty, B.D., Ivar do Sul, J.A., Lavers, J.L., Lazar, B., Lebreton, L., Nichols, W.J., Ribic, C.A., Ryan, P.G., Schuyler, Q.A., Smith, S.D.A., Takada, H., Townsend, K.A., Wabnitz, C.C.C., Wilcox, C., Young, L. & Hamann, M. (2014) Global research priorities for the management and mitigation of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. Endangered Species Research, 25, 225-247.

Yamashita, R., Takada, H., Fukuwaka, M.A. & Watanuki, Y. (2011) Physical and chemical effects of ingested plastic debris on short-tailed shearwaters, Puffinus tenuirostris, in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62, 2845-2849.

For more information see #SeabirderSatruday on Twitter and the discussion board on the World Seabird Union page (http://seabirds.net/posts/).

*Gannet picture courtesy of W. Montevecchi.

Ocean Literacy Conference – Vancouver 2015

June 10, 2015 by jenn

I often find it difficult to separate my research efforts from my outreach efforts. Fortunately for me, working in the Arctic means I don’t have to. Doing science outreach is not only expected, but required from northern researchers. In fact it is mandated in many ways, and often getting the needed permits for your research requires you to state your outreach plans and efforts.

As a part of my teams research and outreach efforts since 2008 has been the annual workshop at the Nunavut Arctic College. It has morphed over time from focusing on marine birds, to wildlife and health, and now to an environmental contaminants workshop, all to keep it funded and alive. With eight years of the workshop under our belts I will be presenting some of our success and challenges with the workshop at the upcoming Ocean Literacy Conference happening in Vancouver on June 17, 2015.

Provencher NAC presentation

The workshop started under International Polar Year (2007-2008) as part of the marine bird research project lead by Tony Gaston and Bill Montevecchi. After IPY ended we went on to be funded by the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments which led us to put more emphasis on the links between the wildlife and human health components. Since 2014 we have been funded by the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP), and have again refocused, this time with the emphasis on the contaminants part of the work.

Importantly, with the support of NCP we have been able to involve other researchers in the program, making the workshop an annual platform for NCP researchers to engage with students interested in contaminants and likely to go on to positions that are both likely to lead to them being science ambassadors and decision makers in their communities. Last year we added caribou dissections to the workshop. A local hunter from Iqaluit joined us to talk about traditional ecological knowledge about hunting caribou and contaminants in the environment. This coming year we are including some seal dissections with Environment Canada’s Derek Muir.

Taking part in the conference I hope to share what we learned, and also learn from others what is working with their ocean outreach projects. This is especially true of the theme Ocean literacy. I hope that I can learn more the ocean literacy concept and framework, and bring to the workshop this coming year in Iqaluit.