Apps, Articles and the Flexibility of the Nicholas School of the Environment

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Johnston Lab, with the ‘publication’ of two products that have arisen from student projects in the Nicholas School’s Masters of Environmental Management Program. These two products (described in greater detail below) are at nearly opposite ends of the publication spectrum – one is a scientific study published in the Open Access Journal PLOS ONE, the other is a native iPad app designed to educate people about sustainable tourism. This range in projects and products reflects the amazing flexibility of the Nicholas School and the broad array of things that students can get involved with when they spend time here.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2012/01/Hunt-3-22-057.jpg[/photo] The first product is a scientific study that follows on the heels of a recent paper we published that examines the effects of climate change on harp seals in the North Atlantic. This new paper, co-authored for PLOS ONE by past Duke student CEM Brianne Soulen and current Duke PhD student Kristina Cammen, exams the roles that demography, sea ice cover and genetic fitness play in the rates at which harp seals strand on the East Coast of the U.S. In turns out that demographic factors (age, gender) in conjunction with sea ice appear to drive stranding rates, whereas genetic fitness does not appear to play a role.

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[photo size=’small’ align=’right’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2013/07/naiaguide.png[/photo] At the other end of the publication spectrum sits the Nai‘a Guide – an new iPad app developed by Duke grad Demi Fox that seeks to guide people towards sustainable dolphin-based tourism in Hawaii. There are problems in that industry right now, which is largely unregulated and exploits a vulnerable species – spinner dolphins – of great economic and cultural importance to Hawaiians. The Nai‘a Guide incorporates basic ecological knowledge about spinners, details on current spinner science and actionable information on how to properly interact with this species in the wild. A cool intersection of technology and sustainable consumer choices – and maybe a vision of how we can tap into the power of mobile devices for marine conservation purposes.

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I’m proud of my students. They are incredibly bright and dedicated people who are deeply interested in the constantly-moving intersection of social and environmental justice. They work hard and achieve great things during short timeframes and with limited resources. That’s part of what is special about the Nicholas School. To put it simply, I’m stoked about the range of things that my students do, and how working in the Nicholas School provides opportunities to do things that would seem alien to most people embedded in traditional biology/ecology academic units.

The final bit of good news – I’ve accepted a Professor of the Practice position here in the Nicholas School – starting August 1st – and I’m looking forward to more great work with my colleagues and to the exciting things that come along with this new appointment.

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