Dive In! Are we hypocrites?

Entrance to Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean exhibition, Wardlaw Museum, Image courtesy of Aurelia Cloup, ©Aurelia Cloup

“Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean” at the Wardlaw Museum is an urgent call to action to stir citizen engagement on climate action. We provide audiences with actions that they can take in their daily lives to support environmental sustainability.

But museums need to take action to become more sustainable too.

Exhibitions have large carbon footprints. Museums across the globe stage major blockbuster exhibitions that showcase highlight artefacts on loan from other museums. Loans are packed up (in custom-made wooden crates and non-recyclable materials like bubble wrap) and shipped across counties, countries or entire continents in specialist climate-controlled vans or air freight. On arrival at an exhibition venue, loans are met by a courier from the lending institution who usually travels two round trips to oversee the installation of objects in an exhibition and its journey home.

The production of exhibitions is no less resource intensive. Single-use graphics, display plinths and bespoke acrylic mounts for artefacts are produced for exhibitions, and then disposed of after the exhibition closes.

But Dive In! is an exhibition; so aren’t the Museums of the University of St Andrews just hypocrites, for producing an exhibition that tells everyone else to be sustainable?

For us, it is important to practise what we preach. Sustainability was at the core of our thinking when we developed Dive In! We worked closely with the exhibition designers, Aurelia Cloup and James Poppa, to build sustainability into our design choices and also question and unlearn some of our usual exhibition processes:

Graphics installed in the Dive In! Protecting Our Oceans exhibition which are printed on paper instead of vinyl Photo courtesy of Aurelia Cloup, ©Aurelia Cloup

‘There is a lot that needs and can be done to address sustainability in Museums, but critically you can’t aim to stir engagement on climate action without questioning the design choices that need to be made to deliver an exhibition like Dive in! There is never one magic green answer to the various parameters involved but I think that honesty and transparency are key to inspire any behaviour change and that recognising potential for improvement is as important as celebrating successes. For Dive in! we’ve questioned every design choice we’ve made through the lens of long-term reusability for future exhibitions and recyclability where single use was the only option.’ Aurelia Cloup, Exhibition Designer

‘By working closely with the client team from the outset, we were able to understand why the exhibition’s material choices and printing methods needed to be considered. Through our work, we believe we have helped create an exhibition that provides thoughtful and engaging interpretation, and where its recyclability or reusability are as important as its accessibility.’ James Poppa, Graphic Designer

Guided by Aurelia and James’ research into sustainable products, we sourced recyclable graphic materials, such as paper wall coverings instead of vinyl (plastic = landfill). We also avoided commissioning any custom-made acrylic display stands for artefacts, which we knew would never be used again. Display furniture has been designed for use in future exhibitions.

To minimise the carbon footprint of Dive In! we selected exhibits from the University’s own collections, rather than relying on loans that needed to be transported long distances. Any artefacts that we have borrowed have been sourced from local museums.

Dive In! has helped us to become more environmentally aware in our museum practice. Looking ahead, our learning from the project will help us develop more sustainable exhibitions in the future.

Claire Robinson, Collections and Exhibitions Curator

Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean is a partnership with the Scottish Oceans Institute and the People Ocean Planet initiative from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland. It has been generously funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and Museums Galleries Scotland.

Dive In!: Why Behavioural Change?

You’ve probably met people who say why should I change?”, “I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference” or “why should I change when others don’t?”Maybe you have thought it yourself.

It’s true that we need governments and corporations to step up to the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss. But it’s also true that the decisions of most governments and corporations are driven by the expectations, demands and choices made by citizens. As others have said: Lifestyle change and system change are two sides of the same coin.

voices and choices of everyday people therefore give direction and momentum to the bigger system changes. And those system changes enable more and faster lifestyle change.

What’s more, just as there are potentially calamitous tipping points in the climate and ecosystems, there are also tipping points for behaviour change. We’ve seen human behaviours around consumption and waste of resources tip into widespread bad habits. What we need to do now is to tip it back the other way, so that an accumulation of good behaviours amongst citizens and organisations become good habits, and that those start to be seen and accepted as socially normal. This is where we can take the leap from behaviour change to social and cultural change that can really accelerate positive outcomes for people and planet.

Sociologists tell us about the importance of ‘social norms’ and ‘social identity’ and their role in shaping our behaviours and actions as individuals. What’s really exciting about this is that we don’t actually need to convince everybody to change for the better: we just need to convince enough people to make personal changes and to make those changes visible or known to their friends, family and colleagues, and our tendency to copy those around us will do the rest.

If we go back to the title of this blog… you’ll notice that we actually asked, ‘why behavioural change’, rather than ‘why behaviour change’?

At the level of individuals and households, a tangible behaviour change is indeed the goal. But we need to recognise that getting to that point is a transitional journey. Most people need quite a lot of lead-in before making the leap to deliberate and positive behaviour change. As such, we think about behavioural change as including developing awareness

and understanding, to shifting values and attitudes, adopting good intentions and finding the agency (ability) to make changes… before an actual behaviour change happens.

This way of thinking about behavioural change aligns well with the concept of ‘ocean literacy’, which recognises multiple dimensions that include these psychological precursors to behaviour change. There is a big drive on for improving Ocean Literacy at the moment, as part of the UN Ocean Decade (2021-30). To this end, we recently surveyed Fife residents to understand their awareness, attitudes and actions towards the ocean environment, including climate-related behaviours. We will publish results soon on the People Ocean Planet website: A Fife-Eye View.

Behavioural change is a massive and complex area of work. Unfortunately, its commercial (mis)use has contributed to driving over-consumption of resources and all the collateral damage that can cause. But we can turn the tide and use similar methods to achieve positive outcomes for people and planet – if human behaviour can create a problem, then it can also fix it. Dive In! is a public exhibition taking up this challenge. It aims to motivate individuals with knowledge, asking people to make and socialise their positive changes, and to ease those changes with some readily accessible tools and information to help us turn good intentions in to action.

Dr Chris Leakey, Coordinator of the People Ocean Planet initiative at MASTS.


Twitter: @OceanBehaviours

Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean is a partnership with the Scottish Oceans Institute and the People Ocean Planet initiative from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland. It has been generously funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and Museums Galleries Scotland.

Dive-In – Why the ocean?

Fish, Mackerel, Sea, Seafood, Healthy, Fresh, Raw

The importance of the ocean cannot be understated, but it is often underestimated.

Seafood is an obvious benefit we gain: not only a nutritious source of protein, but also the basis of jobs and income for many coastal communities. At the global scale, small-scale fisheries are hugely important for the economic stability of many coastal districts. Also, seafood is often (but not always) a source of animal protein with a relatively low impact on the climate. Preferably from a local source, small pelagic fish (e.g. sprats, mackerel, herring) and farmed shellfish (e.g. mussels) can even have a lower carbon footprint than many plant-based protein options. But… all these benefits are undermined if we don’t make sustainable seafood choices, which means making sure we choose fishing and fish-farming practices that don’t damage the environment or catch so many fish that the wild stocks can’t recover naturally.

Run, Beach, Ocean, People, Fitness, Happy, Sea, Running

We all love a day at the beach. Those of us who venture on to, in to and under the water’s surface swear by the restorative, thrilling and life-affirming feelings this brings. The physical health benefits of walking, running, swimming or kayaking on or near the sea need no explanation, but research has also now shown the fantastic mental health benefits of this kind of connection with nature. What’s more, the better the health of our marine environment… with clean water and abundant wildlife… the better it is for us too.

Wind Power, Offshore, Coast, Wind Turbines, Windräder

The ocean environment has been providing energy for our homes and vehicles for a long time. Although we are now all too familiar with its climate consequences, North Sea oil and gas has been fundamental to our daily lives. Now, as we accelerate our transition to low-carbon energy systems, the ocean environment is again proving its worth. Offshore windfarms are going to be a significant part of our energy future; tidal energy potential is starting to reveal itself; and although slower to develop, wave energy remains an exciting possible source of clean and renewable energy.

Cold Front, Warm Front, Hurricane, Felix, Wirbesturm

The physics and chemistry of the ocean function on a massive scale. What happens in distant waters, in the Arctic and in the middle of the Atlantic, has very real consequences for our experience of climate and weather in Scotland, the UK and Europe. The many ways in which a rapidly changing climate effects water temperature, salinity and currents, for example, triggers a complex sequence of knock-on effects that we experience as unpredictable and unseasonal weather systems, and as changes to the creatures appearing near our shores. The ocean is, in many ways, Planet Earth’s climate-control system… and that system is on the verge of breakdown. To give the ocean its best chance of regaining control, we need to do everything we can to keep the ocean healthy and functioning in the way nature intended. In other words, the more we can reduce other pressures on the ocean environment, the easier it will be for it to get on with regaining control of our climate and weather systems.

File:Salt marshes - geograph.org.uk - 481600.jpg

As well as these important climate impacts playing out in distant waters, many coastal areas are also at the front line of climate change. Sea-level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding are a clear and present danger for many people who live in low-lying areas, with ‘climate-migration’ likely to become a phrase we all become familiar with as people try to unliveable conditions. But this problem would be far worse without the help of nature. Natural habitats, like sand dunes and salt marshes, reefs and kelp forests, do wonders to protect land, our homes and our infrastructure from worse outcomes. So protecting, restoring and allowing the recovery of many aspects of nature can help us adapt to the climate-driven changes that are already happening…

…and many of these very same habitats also often serve to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, helping with longer-term mitigation of climate change. This ‘Blue Carbon’ benefit from marine habitats is a current focus for many marine scientists, as they try to better understand which habitats are best for locking carbon away and how to protect them from damage. Saltmarsh, dunes, mussel and oyster beds, seagrass and the deep mud of Scotland’s sealochs are amongst those habitats that benefit us and the planet in this and many other ways.

Clearly the ocean is of paramount importance, for a healthy planet and for the well-being of humankind. It may feel distant and alien, but we cannot afford to overlook it. Our next blog will explore the multitude of ways in which our lives and choices have consequences for the ocean. Some of these will be no big revelation, but others are less obvious and may even surprise you.

 Dr Chris Leakey, Coordinator of People Ocean Planet, MASTS

Dive In! Why this exhibition?

Dive In Exhibition, Wardlaw Museum, University of St Andrews

Last week we opened Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean, a new exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum that takes you under the waves to find out what’s happening in the deepest, most inaccessible parts of our planet.

It’ll introduce you to some weird and wonderful creatures; seals, colourful fish, and others you’ve possibly never heard of. But it’ll also show you some of the problems our ocean faces, all of them caused by humans.

It’s a bit of a change from our last big exhibition, which presented the bright, somewhat surreal art of Philip Colbert. So why have we moved on to a much more serious subject?

The Wardlaw Museum embraces the values of its parent University, which has put social responsibility as one of the key pillars of its strategy. The University aims to make the world a better place through innovation, and at the Wardlaw Museum we want to do the same. One way we can do that is by working with researchers at St Andrews to tackle the big problems our planet faces.

Our ocean is under threat, but there are things we can do to help. Though a serious subject, therefore, the exhibition isn’t all doom and gloom. There are reasons to be optimistic about the future. We’re very open about telling you, the visitor, how to make changes in your life that will improve the health of the ocean, and because what happens in the ocean is closely connected to what happens on land, it’ll improve the world for all of us.

The solutions are tailored to your circumstances. Not sure where to start with living more sustainably? We’ve got some solutions for you; it might be recycling an electrical item to reduce the need for deep sea mining, or finding out about seafood labelling to help protect fish stocks. And if you’re pretty confident about sustainability, we’ve got some ideas for you too; maybe travelling overland instead of taking that plane, or eating a plant-based diet for three months to tackle climate change. And if you’re somewhere in between? Don’t worry, you’ll find ideas that work for you as well.

Here we come to another reason why Dive In! is very much part of what the Wardlaw Museum is about. We see the exhibition as an experiment, and the Wardlaw Museum as our laboratory.  Can we actually, really use an exhibition to encourage people to live more sustainably? We think so, but we’re going to be doing research to find out whether our visitors really do make changes that protect our ocean and the planet, and what we did that helped. For that reason, when you visit you may be asked a few questions or be invited to take part in an online survey a few weeks later.

Call to action poster from the Dive In exhibition, Wardlaw Museum, University of St Andrews

This will help us understand how we really can make a difference, and help other museums do the same. It’s all part of our goal to reimagine what a university museum can be and to innovate, like our parent University.

We’ll be diving deeper (pun intended) into these ideas on the blog over the next few weeks, with guest posts from some of those who’ve put the exhibition together. In the meantime, why not visit the exhibition, take part in one of our events or visit the Dive In! website to find out more.

Dive In! Protecting Our Ocean is a partnership with the Scottish Oceans Institute and the People Ocean Planet initiative from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland. It has been generously funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and Museums Galleries Scotland.

Matt Sheard, Head of Experience and Engagement