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AAAS Pacific Division President Describes Global Impact of Local Museum Project
The new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
[Photograph by Tim Griffith, © California Academy of Sciences]
WAIMEA, Hawaii—Recovery from the Bay Area's last major earthquake has been costly and time-consuming for a venerable San Francisco science museum, but the destruction has created an opportunity for bold, creative renewal, AAAS Pacific Division President Terry Gosliner said at the division's annual meeting.
In a speech that ended his presidential term, Gosliner said that an ambitious coral reef project at the California Academy of Sciences is emblematic of the museum's new facilities and new mission. Not only is it a showcase for the incredible beauty and diversity of nature, but it also is an exhibit about sustainability and stewardship. And it has allowed the museum to build new relationships with communities in the Philippines and with Filipino-Americans in California.
That approach, he suggested, may serve as a model for how 20th century science museums can reorient themselves for a new millennium, using informal education to become embassies of science and technology that engage increasingly diverse communities.
"Museums have a notion of being collections of dead things," he said. "We wanted to alter that perception... We wanted to focus on reality rather than virtual reality."
Gosliner, senior curator of invertebrate zoology at the Academy, delivered his address on Wednesday 18 June to scientists, students and others gathered for the 89th annual meeting of the AAAS Pacific Division. The meeting—featuring 16 symposia, six contributed paper sessions, two poster sessions and an array of field trips—attracted 330 registrants to the Hawaii Preparatory Academy in the rolling hills of Waimea on Hawaii's Big Island.
The presentations and workshops covered subjects across an array of fields: the neuroscience of native Hawaiians and Alaskans; hidden health and social crises among Asian American women; the potential for expanded U.S.-Asian science cooperation; and methods of improving science education. Many of the presentations focused on the protection and conservation of native flora and fauna in Hawaii and the Pacific Basin.
Gosliner is one of the world's leading malacologists, and he has specialized in the evolutionary history of gastropod mollusks, particularly nudibranchs and other sea slugs. He has been leading the effort to assemble a Philippine Coral Reef exhibit in a 210,000-gallon tank at the California Academy of Sciences before its scheduled re-opening on 27 September.
"This has probably been the most rewarding thing I've done in my 26-year career at the Academy," he told the audience.
The Academy was founded in 1853, and earthquakes have been a critical influence in its history. After the historic 1906 quake destroyed its building, a stately new museum was built in Golden Gate Park. Over the years, it grew to include 12 buildings, but the 1989 Loma Prieta quake caused extensive damage to the complex.
The damage, combined with steadily declining attendance, required the museum's leaders and staff to "really rethink what the institution is about and how it was going to present itself to a large and diverse audience," Gosliner said. One outcome, he added, was to make "sustainability... fundamental to everything we do."
In 2005, construction began on a new museum under the direction of master architect Renzo Piano of Italy. The building's undulating, 2.5-acre "green" roof will feature nearly 2 million native California plants, and will help the museum achieve dramatic energy savings. It already has generated critical acclaim from architects and environmentalists.
Most of the old buildings have been razed; the new structure does, however, include two walls from the old African Hall that date to the 1930s. The new museum will feature "living exhibits" on Africa; U.S. swamps; California's rocky coastal ecosystems; rainforests; diversity and adaptation; and Philippine coral reefs.
Gosliner said the five years have been spent obtaining coral sustainably, without harming the Philippine reefs. The process has helped develop aquaculture techniques that in the future can be used in the commercial coral trade. When it's done, he said, it will provide a stunning view of symbiosis, coloration and mimicry.
But the process also has enabled the Academy to embark on an outreach program with "far-ranging" local and international importance, Gosliner told the audience.
The Academy's coral reef project also has brought staff from the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to the Bay Area for training. Some of those staffers have since risen to senior management positions.
Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and Pusod Inc., a conservation group based in the Philippines, stand before a model of the Academy's new building. From left to right: Mary Lou Salcedo, Pusod board member; Meg Burke, the Academy's director of education; Terry Gosliner, senior curator; Ipat Luna, Pusod board member; and Malou Babilonia, Pusod board member.
[Photograph by Sanny Leviste]
Gosliner also has worked closely with Pusod Inc., a non-profit organization based in Lipa City, south of Manila, with the mission of protecting and enhancing the ecosystems of the Philippines and showing their significance to the world. The partnership has helped to reinforce crucial grassroots conservation efforts in Philippine coastal communities, he said.
"The fact that the Philippines have some of the greatest reefs in the world is a source of national pride," he explained. But many of the coastal communities rely on fishing, and the reef-protection efforts have in some cases required fishing bans. That has provoked sometimes intense local conflict, including threats and occasional violence. At the same time, he added, many communities are now realizing that making short-term sacrifices to have sustainable fisheries produces substantial long-term benefits, and they see their community leaders as environmental heroes.
Related diplomatic efforts have been underway in San Francisco and nearby communities that are home to tens of thousands of Filipino-Americans.
"One of the things that came to light early on was that Filipino-Americans do not have a cultural tradition of going to museums," Gosliner said.
Pusod and the California Academy of Science organized a focus group of Bay Area Filipino-Americans, and that evolved into a group called Reaching out through Environmental Education to Filipinos, or REEF. Gosliner called the organization "a great proselytizer" for the Academy's reef project.
"This began as a research project to study Philippine biodiversity," Gosliner said, "but what's evident now is that it has expanded into a project with impact as an international conservation effort and a way to build community involvement as well as a new population of museum-goers. Building on national and community pride is a great way to spawn interest in informal science education and advance scientific interest."
With the close of the AAAS Pacific Division meeting on 20 June, Gosliner's term as president ended. He was replaced by Anne A. Sturz, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor in the Department of Marine Science and Environmental Studies at the University of San Diego.
The Division's 2009 Annual Meeting will be in San Francisco, where many of the programs will be held at the California Academy of Sciences.
The AAAS Pacific Division includes more than 30,000 AAAS members from California, Hawaii, Idaho, Western Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and all other countries bordering or lying within the Pacific Basin, with the exception of mainland Mexico south to Panama.
The four regional divisions of AAAS—Pacific, Southwestern and Rocky Mountain, Arctic, and Caribbean—serve as regional networks for scientists, organizing meetings on regional issues and promoting publications from scientists active within the division. The Pacific is the oldest AAAS regional division, with a charter dating to 1914, followed by the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division (1920), the Arctic Division (1951), and the Caribbean Division (1985).
All AAAS members in good standing, and who reside within the specified boundaries of a regional division, are automatically included as members of that regional division.
11 July 2008