This week we chat to…Makenna Flynn from the Allen Coral Atlas. Living far from the ocean, Makenna demonstrates that marine conservation and research is not all about beaches and bikinis! There are many ways you can contribute to conservation, and connecting to people from around the world through social media can be a powerful tool. Thank you Makenna for your valuable insight!
Name: Makenna Flynn
Job Title: Digital Communications Intern
Organisation: Allen Coral Atlas
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I have always been drawn to sustainable development. I first developed my interest as a volunteer at a local refugee office in Phoenix. That kicked off a series of roles promoting sustainable development at the academic and government level.
Over time, my interest in environmental sustainability grew. Many of my friends and colleagues were focused on climate change. Through conversations, I started to find that many of the sustainable development issues I had focused on before were in some way related to environmental issues. That is when I started to look for more climate change and environmental focused roles.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
As someone new to conservation communication, I am focused on improving how I communicate highly technical content. With the Allen Coral Atlas, social media and other channels can serve as a bridge to reach more people who can utilize the Atlas tool to further support coral reef conservation. Some courses I have taken to support my understanding are; 1) Introduction to conservation from National Geographic, and 2) Introduction to molecular spectroscopy from the University of Manchester.
I am also really interested in improving my data analysis skills. Leveraging data is a huge way to target intended audiences with social media content.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I work for the Allen Coral Atlas through Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. This position was posted in the school newsletter, where I am currently working towards my Masters in Global Management with a focus on digital transformation.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
My favourite part of being a Digital Communications Intern is the people who I work alongside and have the opportunity to learn from everyday. The Allen Coral Atlas is made possible through spectroscopy and remote sensing experts, software engineers, marine biologists, program managers, communications specialists, and many more talented experts.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
The most rewarding part of digital communications is when I speak to people who find out about the Atlas through our social media page. I will receive messages from students or coral reef scientists sharing how they have started using the Atlas. That is always a huge moment to realize the content we create and share on our social media has connected this tool to people who are doing the work on the ground to protect our world’s coral reefs.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I will constantly be learning new things in this role from biology to spectroscopy and the role of AI in data collection. When I originally started, I thought that I was completely unprepared to communicate highly technical concepts to a scientific community. What I have learned along the way is that it is not about knowing the science, it is about asking the right questions and forming strong connections with the scientists and experts in the related field.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
An unexpected skill that I am developing through my Masters coursework is the importance of data analytics. With improved analytics and resources provided by social media channels, there’s a wealth of knowledge available to guide communicators in the right direction. Data tells the story of your content, from who your audience is to what is the best medium of telling it. My focus right now is to create a tableau dashboard that compiles info from all of the social media channels the Atlas uses and shows key performance indicators.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
My main advice would be to explore a variety of roles and that all support conservation. I thought when I first started at the Atlas that the role would require a background in conservation science or biology. But over time, I’ve worked alongside individuals from many different disciplines who all provide significant support to accomplishing the Atlas mission.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
My favorite marine creature is the Dugong. I had never heard of this adorable marine mammal nicknamed “sea cow” until putting together the recent Animals of the Reef Campaign on Allen Coral Atlas socials. After reading up, I found out that the Dugong is commonly linked to legends and lore of mermaid sightings. As someone who loved to learn about mythology, and had a growing interest in the ocean, the Dugong is the perfect combination of both.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Serving in a remote position, I haven’t been to the sea for my job. But I have gotten to journey to reefs all around the world through the media my team provides for social content. One of the videos I received that was unforgettable was a video of an Atlas diver swimming alongside a sea turtle. Even on screen, it was peaceful and awe inspiring to watch. One day I’ll have my scuba certification, and I cannot wait. But until then, it’s been a wonder to experience reefs everywhere through my team and their photos and videos.
Thank you Makenna, it is great to get some insight into other more land-based marine conservation roles!