Thursday, September 13, 2007

Syllabus for My First Course in Marine Conservation with Dr. Ben Halpern, Blue Horizons, Summer 2007

It's kind of ironic. I am 26 years old. Technically I am "1" year old (considering that female species don't mature till age 25 and male species don't mature till age 50). Okay, so my dad is 11 years old, I believe. My sister is -1. My mother is by far the oldest. Perhaps around 25 years of age. But okay, given my existence of 26 earth revolutions around the sun, you would think that I would have taken some form of official "conservation" course. But the truth of the matter is I hadn't, until Ben Halpern's course this summer. Overall it was a great course. It made me think about things I want to think about, like invention and implementation of creative "adaptive management" bureaucracies for effectively solving management problems. But unfortunately, we received few lectures on such things, and the beginning of the class focused more on the typical "depress me" with doom-and-gloom components of "the world is going to hxll," and more particularly our oceans.... Ben is very to the point and gets to the meat of issues. He made us bring in ocean news articles, and we had brief discussions on such issues in the beginning of class. Not only that, Ben made us write a news article off of a scientific article, in which Paul Dayton of Scripps was one of the co-authors! Paul Dayton is one of my all-time heroes, and his lecture at UCLA in 2004 "The Loss of Nature and the Nature of Loss" was one of the "last straws" that made me go on leave of absence to write my philosophy of ecology book, Question Reality. I wanted to interview Paul Dayton for the science article, but there was not enough time. Plus the paper was actually 3 or 4 years old. "Old news," basically. I am thankful Ben made us write the paper, though I wished he had a formal lecture on how to go about systematically writing a science journal article, something he did not do. I know that many people in the class did not even know how to write a scientific article, let alone translate a scientific article in lay terms for the public. I think several students in the class were in great disadvantage. In addition, I added a level of critique in my journal article, mainly because of my one year of writing critiques of scientific papers for the UCLA Ecology and Evolution Department. The second big project Ben had us to do was a presentation on a hot topic in conservation... how scientific findings are being specifically applied to a suite of conservation and management issues. This allowed me to pull out some old demons in my two year mental rabbit hole: I revisited my experience at a conference in Tijuana addressing the threats of rapid development along the coast of Baja California, primarily from Ensenada to the United States border. I wished I could have done a better job in my presentation, though several people thought that what I did in class was quite thorough.

Though many people thought this conservation class would be review for me, it ended up not being so. It was close to "right where I left off" in terms of my own personal knowledge regimes of what I know and what I don't know of the world.

The marine conservation class on its own was very good, but in the context of the budding Blue Horizons Film Program, the class was a bit inappropriate. The primary goal of Blue Horizons is to create a film on a regional environmental issue, and it would be more important to transform Ben's class into a more guest-lecture seminar, inviting local representatives from several agencies to give talks about the issues they work with. In addition, local field trips should have been arranged such that we could become visually oriented to such regional issues. I honestly thought the course was going to be a spitting image of Dr. Miriam Polne-Fuller's epic, life-changing Shoreline Preservation Course that I took as an undergrad TWICE (yep, it's THAT good). If the course were structured as above, and students would have had direct access to the people and places that would be potentially filmed, I bet most of the students would have started their projects a LOT earlier... than instead of cramming within the last couple of weeks. I admit I crammed in terms of editing the film, but I started my project rather early, and racked up 25 hours of film by the time the course was close to being over!

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