I have been fortunate to present at dozens of conferences, many international in scope and theme. But this was the first conference I had a realistic opportunity to present at that was hosted at an international destination – Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. I was excited! I was also worried if I could really afford to go. After all, graduate student budgets aren’t exactly known for being plush. Thanks to the wonderful SSI program travel grant, I WAS able to go!
This weeklong conference, the annual meeting of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS), is held in various locations throughout western North America. This was the first time it had been held in Mexico, the newest member of the WDAFS. And what a meeting it was! The location – Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico – was noteable in its own right. But the truly international scope of the meeting, the large presence of international experts and Mexican university students and professionals, and the international theme – Rethinking Fisheries Sustainability: the future of fisheries science – was truly remarkable and helped the meeting to become a resounding success.
At the meeting, I presented research some colleagues and I have been working on recently on potential uses by resource managers and policymakers of data mined from social media. My interest was in whether valuable ecosystem observations could be gleaned from social media; in this case, Twitter. The short answer is ABSOLUTELY! Not only is Twitter a rich source of spontaneous observations of the natural world (e.g., species sightings) but also an excellent source of data pertaining to human-wildlife interactions; everything from the disgruntled recreational fisherman complaining about not enough fish in ‘his river’ to runners commenting on how remarkable it is to see coyotes interact in city parks or along trails.
Given the theme of the meeting – Rethinking Fisheries Sustainability, I was not surprised to find a whole host of wonderful sustainability-themed talks and special sessions to attend. And, in a way, my talk fit well with the sustainability theme (and the SSI mission). Not only is Twitter a rich source of ecosystem observations, mining data from social media is also quite cost-effective relative to labor-intensive field sampling techniques. I am not suggesting replacing field-based methodology, simply that harvesting ecosystem data that is widely and freely available online can be a cost-effective supplement to existing data. In fact, social media may even provide an early indication of ‘trouble areas’ which might allow resource managers to direct effort and resources to areas that need it the most (e.g., species invasions, problem human-wildlife interaction hotspots, disease outbreaks, etc.).
– Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey
CATEGORIES: Student Sustainability Initiative