My primary objective of this student-sponsored project was to facilitate engagement with the Oregon coast and Lewis & Clark students. I wanted to share the coast as something worth understanding as important for conservation. Over time this goal evolved into opening a dialogue beyond of what the coast meant to the individual participant, and my focus switched on exploring the validity of distance engagement. Simply put: can those who do not live in by a certain ecosystem exert any sort of valid input on how it is managed?
The Environmental Scholarship component of this project moves beyond just factual information, and dives into the process as well as outcome.
Distance engagement has often been critiqued as interfering with a community whose lifestyles someone at a distance could not understand. This is particularly relevant when it is distance organizations exerting sociopolitical control over a region. However, there is another argument that distance activism can co-exist with local activists, with the inclusion and guidance of said local communities.
Prior to the specific engagement activities, I researched various ways that distance engagement exists in this particular location. The Oregon Shores Coastal Coalition, for example, appeals to local and distant supporters as they work to preserve the coastline through a program called CoastWatch (OSCC 2017). The idea is to connect as many people as possible with the coastline, as there is a belief that if people are willing to travel to the coasts or donate money that it does not matter where they come from. This being said, the staff of the OSCC are typically based along the coast and only ask for help furthering pre-established resilience techniques.
Post-engagement activities I researched the ways that the Internet has provided a global context for distance activism: the exchange of information across different locations has obviously never been simpler. This leads to a greater question: if knowledge has been gained from an expert in a different location, how can we apply it to another space without overstepping community socioeconomic boundaries? Social media allows activists to post at any time and from any location, contributing perhaps to both sharing relevant information as well as unnecessary "fake news." The former offers expertise from global coastal organizations and researchers, whereas the latter allows for any individual regardless of background to contribute. Although there is significance in this by way of acknowledging opinions of concerned citizens, it also allows for inaccurate information to be purveyed (Riberio 1996).
Implications & Further Study
This project revealed that for many, the ocean is revered by visitors and community members alike as its need for conservation. From interviewing Lewis & Clark students and coastal residents, it seems that activism in this case is valid; however, direct policy can only be made by local political officials.
The participants' opinions coincided with this assessment, emphasizing that they would be more likely to participate in pre-organized conservation work rather than begin their own. Coastal conservation groups host beach clean-ups with educational components, etc. and participants said they would act based on proposed invitations from coastal communities.
I would consider this project mostly successful. Participants said they would travel to the coast for more coastal conservation work and feel like communicating with coastal residents was helpful. However, there were not very many Lewis & Clark students were able to attend the initial engagement event due to travel restrictions. If I was to change the project, I would have worked with the school to arrange a van transportation that could fit more participants. When we got to the areas in the coast, there were very few in the nature reserves that we were photographing and the interaction with coastal residents came by way of entering the local shops which was an additional surprise. The opinions of participants and coastal residents collating with the research is primarily why I feel confident in the qualitative project outcome.