How The Future Of Shark Conservation Lies In The Nexus Of Science And Art

Traditionally, art and science have been treated as two separate disciplines. The varying hues of color that dotted an canvas of an artist was thought to have no place near the black-and-white lettering of scientific publications. However, the PangeaSeed Foundation has been rethinking that approach, drawing attention to the value of bridging the two disciplines to inspire discovery and innovation through their “Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans” program.

The inspiration behind this marriage was not scientific literature or a paintbrush … it was the loss of life, explained Tré Packard, Founder and Executive Director of the PangeaSeed Foundation: “After uncovering Asia’s largest shark finning operation, I felt compelled to share this but as a foreigner in a foreign country, finding an effective communication tool was key. So, growing up in a family of artists and as a lifelong admirer and collector of art, I reached out to some of my personal creative heroes to host an art exhibition that shined a light on the plight of sharks in Japan and across the globe. ”

Packard was convinced that public, accessible, and grassroot, murals cut through the “noise” of our every day lives, allowing both locals and tourists to come across the grand art pieces and really contemplate the simple, powerful statements that are tied to them. “With it being open source and democratic, public art transforms the built environment and our daily interactions with it.” The slogan of the PangeaSeed Foundation, “Bringing the ocean into the streets around the globe, one mural at a time,” has allowed the non-profit to bring attention to the global plight of our oceans through ARTivism. By harnessing this medium, the organization has reconnected and educated communities, both coastal and landlocked, to the ecosystem that covers the majority of our planet. Of the animals that have been painted, sharks are one of the more popular.

As predators, sharks play an important role in maintaining the functionality of marine ecosystems. However, their biological characteristics, slow growth, late maturity, and low fecundity make them vulnerable to the numerous threats they face from human activities such as overfishing, pollution, climate change, habitat loss and degradation. These threats have resulted in approximately 37% of the world’s shark and ray species being classified as at risk (ie, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered).

By taking scientific literature surrounding sharks and translating it into murals and smaller art pieces, the PangeaSeed Foundation hopes to spark action in the ‘host community.’ “For every host community, the murals we create are a gift to the people and represent a starting point for tangible local action,” says Packard. “We’ve seen this translate into increased municipal environmental commitments to coastal advocacy in Mexico and New Zealand, the adoption of an ARTivist mindset by local creative communities with the expansion of purpose-driven public art, and murals being leveraged in the passing of legislation bills. For example, the ban on cigarette butts in public spaces in California! […] This is the legacy of our efforts and precisely why we do what we do. ”

The numerous shark murals created through the foundation have highlighted everything from the mere presence of the predators to unconvering what’s beneath their scales and the threats they face such as overfishing and plastic pollution. Along with sharks, there are murals with sad-looking people fruitlessly fishing on islands made of trash, whales made up of plastic, polar bears on a diminishing iceberg, and full ecosystems drowning in our filth.

“To us, science is inspiring and thought-provoking and should stand on its own, but the unfortunate reality is that many researchers are not the most charismatic communicators. While their work and findings are vital, data and jargon don’t touch most people’s hearts. On the other hand, art can evoke emotions and instill curiosity about science in audiences that may not be interested, ”Packard continued. “We believe that through art, we can make scientific information more accessible and digestible, acting as a conduit for complex ideas. Even if an image doesn’t capture the totality of a study or concept, art can contribute to a broader public understanding of scientific findings and how they affect our own lives. ”

This month, the murals will convert into yet another medium – literature. In honor of 10 years of “ARTivism,” the PangeaSeed Foundation has released a limited edition book features over 100 artists spanning from murals and original artworks to underwater photography captured by founder TréPackard while in the field for PangeaSeed projects around the world. With its release right around Earth Day, the “Sea Change: A Decade of ARTivism for Oceans” book is incredibly timely, amplifying the existing voices, and reaching new ones along the way to give the ocean a creative voice. The book will be available for purchase at shop.pangeaseed.org.

“We are at a critical moment in history where the crisis of our environment must be heard. We believe artists and muralists have the unique power to make public environmental statements that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers, endure the test of time, and inspire us to make a change, ”Packard concludes.

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