Northern Michigan University associate professor Jessica Thompson and undergraduate student Jose Aburto from Cicero, Ill., won the Top Paper in Environmental Communication Award at the National Communication Association Conference in Las Vegas. They were recognized for their research titled, Ecosystem-What? Public Understanding and Trust in Conservation Science and Ecosystem Services. Aburto also gave a formal presentation highlighting the results of the paper on Nov. 19. He is a participant in the McNair Scholars Program and is pursuing a public relations major and sustainability minor. Thompson teaches courses in public relations and communication studies.
The research addressed in their paper was part of a larger project funded by the NOAA-NERRS Science Collaborative partnership with the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Fairhope, Ala. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created and charged with administering a large portion of the $13.7 billion in penalties for ecosystem restoration research and implementation programs. Conservation organizations along the coast quickly drafted proposals for a piece of the funding. In December 2014, the State of Alabama submitted five proposed restoration projects with an estimated total cost of $54.2 million.
Many of the projects use the language of ecosystem science, restoration and services to promote efforts to restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region. As this phraseology becomes more pervasive in the region, Thompson and Aburto replicated a national Nature Conservancy survey on a regional scale. They investigated what the public knows and believes about one of the key concepts—ecosystem services—and identified who they trust to inform them about ecosystem services. This study confirmed previous evidence that the public trusts scientists, but they don’t understand the language of science.
For more information on the paper, contact Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.