Collecting hope for marine protected areas – Elin Kelsey

22 November 2013 | Fact sheet

A researcher, educator and award winning author with deep experience in marine protected areas, Elin Kelsey is a collector of hope. Currently leading a multi-year collaborative project called Circumnavigating Hope, she conducts research into the emotional responses of children, environmental educators and conservation scientists to the culture of "hopelessness" that permeates environmental issues. The project, which is a collaboration of the Zoological Society of London, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, draws on an array of disciplines and creative approaches to shift the dominant environmental narrative beyond doom and gloom.

“I can chart my life through my involvement with marine protected area initiatives,” says Kelsey. “I first dipped my toe into this arena when I worked with a community-driven initiative to get a tiny area off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia established as Canada’s first no-take reserve in the 1980s. In the 1990s, I worked as a research fellow with the Nuffield Foundation to assemble a strategic document on the impact of the EU on the establishment of marine protected areas.”

In 2009, Elin wrote the science brief that Pew Global Legacy used to convince then US president George W. Bush to establish the world’s largest marine reserve along the Marianas Trench – the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, with an area of 95,216 square miles (246,049 km2). Throughout her career, she has worked with aquariums to engage visitors in marine issues. Most recently, she conducted a three-year empowerment evaluation of 40 aquariums across the US and beyond which are committed to communicating climate change and the oceans.

“I think my most important contribution is that I believe passionately in the power of stories to shape our world,” says Elin. “The brief I wrote for President Bush had the narrative of a story of possibility. Throughout my work with zoos, aquariums, NGOs and foundations, I’ve helped institutionalize conversation-based approaches to marine conservation that encourage people to share not only their perspectives, but their feelings about oceans and ocean issues. It is through conversations that we hear our own stories and collectively shape what we believe the world should be like.”

Elin also authored Not Your Typical Book About the Environment, a hopeful book about the environment for children which won the International Green Earth Book Award and has been translated into several languages. She is currently expanding her work through social media. “Social networking sites are mediums for story-sharing, and incredible vehicles for change,” states Elin. “I am constantly searching for and am eager to work with others who are using this arena to build a collective, global story about hope and solutions-based conservation successes in the ocean.”

The Circumnavigating Hope project will soon be hosting a workshop with a leading London design firm to strategize how to create a social networking platform for sharing hope and solutions-based marine conservation successes. “ I am inspired by the plethora of marine protected areas being designated all over the world, stories of which were shared at the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC 3) in Marseille, France this past October,” says Elin. “For these protected areas to work we need, as Andrew Knight of Imperial College expressed in a recent issue of Conservation Letters, to shift the effort of conservation science toward research outputs that are positively framed solutions rather than a quantitative catalogue of on-going crisis. We need to nurture a protected areas culture of hope.” Elin currently runs Elin Kelsey & Company in Monterey, California, US and is a Research Fellow for the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU, Munich, Germany.