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Veteran Science Educator Leads Birch Aquarium Into The Future

October 21, 2015 1:10 p.m.

Veteran Science Educator Leads Birch Aquarium Into The Future

GUEST:

Harry Helling, executive director, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Related Story: Veteran Science Educator Leads Birch Aquarium Into The Future

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition, IM Maureen Cavanaugh. The thousand students in each year learn about the wonders of the Southern California Ocean has a new executive director. Harry Helen from Dana point now heads the Birch aquarium at Scripps. He is known as an educator and a colleges, and and outreach innovator. He is here to tell us about his plans for San Diego's famous aquarium., Harry.
Thank you, Maureen. I am delighted to be here.
I hear that you are quite used to Birch aquarium.
I would say more than visited back in the days US any back I worked there 30 years ago kind of things, and I was one of the assistant curators.
There you go. It was a different building then, right?
It was a different building down the hill. It was an already accepted icon for the community and I'm delighted to come back all the stores later for new and improved aquarium.
Give us an idea, if you would, is not -- a snapshot of what the Birch aquarium has to offer..
I would say that the Birch aquarium is one of those community assets that have been there for a long long time. The way that I see it is that, it is not just the Birch Aquarium, it is the connection to all of the Scripps institution of oceanography, and all of USD. It is the window in the world of investigation for the oceans. Member in the Scripps is a world renowned oceanographic center, and the center is really designed to give you that window into how we create new knowledge about the ocean and how we learn about the sea floors, and how we understand about underwater volcanoes, earthquakes, and links to atmosphere. Those are very complex topics. Our job at the Birch is to make them interesting and fun and digestible for different audiences. This is sort of the educational arm of the outreach arm of the Scripps institution route this oceanography and letting the public know how these resources sign are finding out what they're finding out.
Absolutely. Again, it is the way in which we can [ Indiscernible ] is the bridge between all of these complex sciences. There are many types of bridges. There are bridges to the people that make always these and clause, there are bridges to students in classrooms who have these very tough new science standards. There are bridges for people coming in visiting from a strange place you may not know about the ocean.
These days, as we do with the first impacts of climate change, what is happening to marine mammals in mammals. We hear about it all the time about feline speech themselves, incredible growth of algae that we see off the coast. Are the stories being incorporated into exhibits and explained at the Birch Aquarium?
Absolutely. As part of our job at the Birch, and even more so, the reason I came here, is to showcase how research and the investigative work that is going on at that center is relevant to all of us that live our daily lives. It becomes relative in many things that we often see. The things that we see RC Lyons, and algae blooms, some changes of rare species that may be seen. Those sorts of anomalies by all means give us opportunities to begin to explain things as they begin -- as they occur in systems. That is part of our goal is to try to showcase. If you pick about where we are going and where the University is going, it is all about improving our understanding and protection of the planet. We are on the tip of that spear so to speak, for what is a big world-famous University. How do you best
Have used the Birch expanding its world as an ambassador to promote environmental awareness?
Certainly, my third day on the job that might be a question that I'm fearful of answering in its entirety. Hoping to come back after I've had time to work with our staff and truly understand where we could be going. I think, that is more the question. I think that we are redefining some things. The world has become more complex. Some of these questions that are looking into is much more serious. I think what we are going to look at is better engaging the community. I think that you will see us working well outside of the parameter of Birch itself. That you will see is really looking at innovation. You will see is looking at different types of audiences that we can engage. I think we will pull out all the stops. We cannot use the traditional sorts of things that science and informal science youth centers use like programs and services, but I think that we might be looking at other types of approaches that include art, and music, and maybe thinking about this in a little bit different way, so that we can engage a broader audience.
I am speaking with Harry [ Indiscernible ]. He is the new director for the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. When people pick of San Diego's premier coastal environmental, educational institutions that are linked to the ocean, they will think of Birch Aquarium, and they will think of the world. They are two different places, I know I'm a bit they are partnered up. Now, the world is quite controversial and many sectors. To have any joint projects between the world?
We are still creating as a unit and are thinking more carefully about how we can move forward and to our partners are. I am not aware of any partnership that exists now between Sea World and Birch, there are none.
Do you think that you will be exploring whether they will take a stand in support or against by the way that Sea World operates its mammal shows?
I think that it is unlikely that the Birch aquarium will take a formal stand on that topic, mainly because we don't have marine mammals. Our center is really focused on perhaps informing policy and the best decisions for our civic communities. Whatever our decisions of the community, they are informed by research and science. To the extent that we have the science to back up our ability to take a position on something, I think that you will see more of that coming from the University. They have created a space and have stayed away from not. Think the world is moving into a place where everybody is meeting policy informed by science. May be a broader answer to your question is, I think that that is the direction it will go, and at the moment, I do not see science on that topic occurring at Scripps. May be speaking out of place, but I think that they will take a position on that.
On the broader topic that you just brought up, the idea of now thinking about, not science and scientists and researchers in some ivory tower, but rather actually using a research to guide public policy. Do you see Birch being a part of that?
Absolutely. That is the future of all informal science centers. In fact, all conservation centers are working in that space in answering the question. There's a lot of research that goes on there, but much of that research could be more useful if you can figure out a way to translate that and work with the people that make laws and policies, and change practices. That is an art form, and I think that is a new world, and I hope we get into it.
I hope to have you back as you progress, not just here under third day to tell us more about your plans. I've been speaking with Harry [ Indiscernible ] the director of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Harry, thank you so much.