Design for Biodiversity – Bio-blitzing with Amanda Weltman (Oceanwise)

Written by Zach Camozzi, Louise St Pierre
INDD200 Faculty zach Camozzi (2018-20) Charlotte Falk (2018-20), Sophie Guar (2020), and Amanda Huynh (2018)

The Design for Biodiversity project partnered with Amanda Weltman, a field researcher with Ocean Wise Coastal Ocean Research Institute and Howe Sound Research and Conservation. Amanda’s personal work includes diving Howe Sound to study and manage Rockfish habitat and populations.

In 2019, Amanda Weltman introduced Industrial Design 2nd year students to citizen science initiatives in the region, including her own Rockfish Abundance Surveys, Eagle Counts and Bio-blitzes. Amanda helped students understand how all organisms are vital to the interdependent balance and overall well-being of an ecosystem. She discussed how humans influence or attempt to control this balance. Citizen Science initiatives offer a tangible and searchable approach for students to springboard their own research. Students can easily find examples of conservation or remediation initiatives. They can also take part in citizen science activities that support biodiversity and ecology.

The Bio-Blitz (guided by Weltman, 2019) was a huge success in getting students out to the waterfront. Students were asked to choose a location and document all the biodiversity they could observe, or see, in that place. This is an intriguing starting point for designers interested in biodiversity because it prioritizes sight, something we bias in Western Modernity. However, relationships to biodiversity also occur through other senses: the smell of seaweed rotting; the sounds of gulls cawing; and the sensation of touching a small or large crab. These other sense impressions can lead to a stronger sense of connection. Our ability to observe with all senses increases with practice, so the Bio-Blitz was done in combination with Andrew Simon’s sensory observation prompts. These activities asked students to leave the classroom and focus on a local outdoor waterfront. Students used these activities in many different ways. Some socialized with peers, others meditated, and others reminisced about past experiences at the beach. This context started to influence their work. Students later reflected that while working outdoors there was less pressure from colleagues or the school, and they genuinely enjoyed the experience for a range of reasons. They discussed how the quality of this time felt different and allowed them to recharge before returning to the campus studio and shops to continue to work on assignments and other courses. Overall the impromptu Bio-Blitz was a unique and unexpected addition to the course. It played a valuable role in the progression of the students’ research.

“The first time we went to the beach for a bio-blitz and Andy’s reflection made a lasting impression on me. I sat on a log with my eyes closed, breathing in the sea salt, hearing the seagulls in the sky above, and feeling the winter cold air brush against my skin. I felt calm and at peace for the first time in a long time. Since then, I have gone down to the beach several times to revisit the experience of immersing myself in a meditative space.”

- INDD200 Anonymous reflection
“The first bio-blitz I did was deflating because I didn’t see as much life as I was expecting and was used to seeing in my childhood. Another time, a group of classmates went on a early morning hike before a work period. We all got to relax and connect with nature before addressing our project that was concerned with biodiversity. I felt very connected because I realized how easy it is to appreciate nature in our everyday lives and how it can influence the process of making.”

 - INDD200 Anonymous reflection
“The water didn’t look as clear as the waters from Deep Cove and Kitsilano Beach. Reflecting on my research and Amanda’s lecture, I think this bio-blitz reminded me of how the man-made and the natural world are intertwined. Instead of trying to separate them, what are ways that we can use this situation for the better? How can we coexist without exploitation? How can we get the community to coexist actively instead of passively?” 

 - Ara Rattan

Terms such as ecology, biodiversity, conservation, and remediation are not often discussed in design. They are usually considered the realm of the scientist. Amanda patiently guided the students to understand that while citizen science supplies data for scientific research, it also educates participants about local issues. Data can instill a sense of community through collective action, and “combat feelings of helplessness within the growing number of ecological disasters we are facing in our current climate crisis” (Yutaan K Lin
 and Ingrid D Van Zyl student process book).

Early in this project, students were shown the range of tools used in citizen science. This included pens, paper, pails, recording devices, cameras, apps, shovels, clothing, transportation and custom-made sampling devices. These tools have interesting congruence with the tools for repeated ritual that students were designing. As with tools for citizen science, the tools for repeated ritual were designed for immediate and local response, and could include improvisational approaches.

The Design for Biodiversity project asked students to question if a connection to a species is more important than counting and tracking them. Connection requires the building of a relationship, where conservation may not. Will we and do we conserve the things that we are not in a relationship with? Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) becomes important in this context, and students began to discuss “Citizen science for Social Innovation.” The DESIS lens opens the possibility of designed outcomes that include facilitating and augmenting activities, encouraging engagement or immersion, and community practices or rituals. While citizen science (and all of science) matters, the reason many biologists do this work in the first place is grounded in deep questions about an ethical and moral stance in relationship with nature; this is the focus of the Design for Biodiversity project. How can we help communities become engaged with, and supportive of, marine biodiversity along the local coastline? How can design support relationships with nature?

Amanda Weltman ( Photo Sourced: researchgate )

As faculty, we continually remind the students they are not scientists. This is another reason why we partner with Amanda Weltman: she represents science expertise in the project. She has been a partner in Design for Biodiversity since its conception in 2018 when we designed to support Rockfish habitat in the  Reefs, Rituals and Rockfish project. She continues to support the collaboration as an external expert who supplies information on current species at risk, habitat restoration, and conservation in Howe Sound. She also finds ways to show her appreciation and interest in the types of perspectives Emily Carr students take. She supported the Emily Carr visit to the Vancouver Aquarium, and offered feedback about the final projects with some of her colleagues including Donna Gibbs (2018/19) and Jeff Marlieve (in 2018).