I love storytelling. As a conservation scientist, I care of course a lot about nature and particularly about bats. However, not everybody might care about bats as much as I do. Hence, how can I bring my message across effectively? This is something I reflect on a lot. Hence, since I heard for the first time about using storytelling in conservation, I was fascinated about the idea that using narratives and visuals might reach a broader audience more effectively than just telling scientific facts alone.
One very famous story that came to my mind when I thought about writing this part about storytelling was the starfish story. Most probably, you have heard about it. However, it might not hurt of being reminded of it every once in a while. Particularly if you work in conservation. Further, it also shows nicely how a story can be used to transfer an important message.
‘Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, ‘Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?`
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up unto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themseleves,’ the youth replied. ‘When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.’ The old man replied. ‘But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.’
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as fas as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, ‘It made a difference to that one!’
adapted from the ‘Star Thrower’ by Loren Eisely (1907-1977) by P. Straube.
sources AND Research about storytelling in conservation
There are already great examples of using storytelling for conservation such as Lost & Found, which is a project that aims to bring to life inspirational stories about the rediscovery of animals and plants or the Wolfkodex by Jana Malin.
Using the story arc or storyboarding can be one way to create a story. Further, there is also research underpinning the positive role of storytelling in conservation: Fernández‐Llamazares, Á., & Cabeza, M. (2018). Rediscovering the potential of indigenous storytelling for conservation practice. Conservation Letters, 11(3), e12398 or Jacobs, M. H., & Harms, M. (2014). Influence of interpretation on conservation intentions of whale tourists. Tourism Management, 42, 123-131.