Williams-Mystic Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert to Lead Community Workshop for Earth Educators

“The act of coming together could result in a lot of smaller projects that add up to something big. Sometimes when we talk about something being at a national scale, what we’re talking about is a bunch of little things that share a vision.”

At Williams-Mystic, students from a wide range of majors come together to discuss some of today’s most pressing environmental challenges — and to explore, as they go through the semester together, how we can address these challenges. Underlying this approach is the belief that, simply by bringing these students together as part of a close-knit community centered on a single topic, new ideas and approaches can emerge that might never occur otherwise. 

A similar philosophy undergirds The Earth Education for Sustainable Societies Community Workshop, a project led by Lisa Gilbert, Associate Professor of Geosciences and Marine Science at Williams-Mystic, in collaboration with Cathy Manduca (Carleton College), Rachel Teasedale (California State University, Chico), Felicia Davis (Clark Atlanta University), Margie Turin (Columbia University) and others. 

“I see it as a way to, on a national scale, get a lot of different people with different perspectives sharing together about the future of the planet, and the role education has” in that future, Gilbert said of the workshop. 

Held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota on October 14 to 16, the workshop will welcome educators from a wide variety of institutions: museums, school districts, outreach organizations, colleges, and more. It will be funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation totaling nearly $100,000. Gilbert is the Principal Investigator (PI) on the grant, with Manduca as her co-PI. The workshop will be free to participants, and lodging, meals, and select travel costs will be covered as well. 

With funding secured, Gilbert and her collaborators are now exploring how to reach a wide variety of educators in advance of the August 5 deadline for applying for the workshop. As part of this effort, Gilbert and her collaborators on the project will hold a town hall during the 2019 Earth Educators Rendezvous, a gathering co-hosted by Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee on July 15–19, 2019. The town hall will take place on Wednesday, July 17 at 5:30–6:30 pm. 

The goals of the workshop itself, Gilbert said, are intentionally open-ended. Bring educators together who might not otherwise have met, she believes, and ideas will result that might have been impossible to predict in advance. 

“People live in silos and don’t have many opportunities to come together around the shared goal of equipping students to build a more sustainable future”, Gilbert said. Small-scale partnerships around sustainability education are already happening, but “what would that network look like if we could set it up?”

It’s an approach that comes from Gilbert’s own experiences, both as a geosciences educator and at Williams-Mystic. 

As Gilbert worked on projects seeking to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue geosciences, for instance, it became clear to her that such efforts also had to begin earlier than college; these projects had to involve educators working with students throughout their lives, and had to think broadly about how to make students aware of the many forms that careers in sustainability can take.

At the same time, Gilbert herself experienced the power of coming together with a variety of sustainability educators by attending the Earth Educators Rendezvous, a gathering open to a wide range of educators. The Rendezvous began in 2015 as an outgrowth of InTeGrate, another NSF-funded project led by Manduca, along with a large leadership team including Gilbert, that provides tools to sustainability educators. The idea for the community workshop, in turn, arose at the Earth Educators Rendezvous, as attendees discussed how to build on the success of InTeGrate. 

“Through my involvement in that project, I started working with more K-12 teachers,” Gilbert said. “InTeGrate has been very successful and that model could be reimagined at a bigger scale.”

Indeed, Gilbert sees Williams-Mystic as a good example of a model that could be applied elsewhere — particularly the model of situating an experiential higher education program at a sprawling, world-class museum. 

“In the past week, I’ve had meetings in Education, in Exhibits, and at the Sailing Center about different ways in which science is important to a museum. That sort of connection between higher education and the public interface with how we think about the ocean is a really cool model for things that need to be happening at a bigger scale.”

For Gilbert, scaling isn’t necessarily about taking a program that works well at a local, community level and expanding it to a single program with a national reach. Rather, scaling means providing the opportunity for educators to come together, coordinate with one another, and share successful approaches. 

“The act of coming together,” as she put it, “could result in a lot of smaller projects that add up to something big. Sometimes when we talk about something being at a national scale, what we’re talking about is a bunch of little things that share a vision.”

At the end of the day, for Gilbert, the most exciting aspects of the workshop are also those that are the hardest to predict in advance.

“I’m trying to not have a specific idea for how this will go,” she reflected. “It’s a very process-centered outcome of new relationships developing between people and new and unexpected ideas that we can then turn into something coming out of it. I don’t know what those ideas are, I don’t know what those little or large communities are going to look like. What I’m hoping for is inspiration and connectedness, and that those two things together are going to bring out a bunch of new, actionable ideas.”


The Earth Education for Sustainable Societies Community Workshop will be held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota on October 14–16, 2019. It is open to anyone with interests in sustainability education. There is no registration fee and lodging, meals, and some travel costs are covered. Applications for the workshop are accepted July 1 through August 5, 2019. For more information and to apply, visit https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/workshops/sust_societies/overview.html

The Town Hall related to the community workshop will take place at 5:30–6:30 pm on Wednesday, July 17 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Town Hall is part of the 2019 Earth Educators Rendezvous; more information can be found at https://serc.carleton.edu/earth_rendezvous/2019/program/itg_townhall.html

Galápagos Islands Have More Than 10 Times More Alien Marine Species Than Once Thought

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Until recently, scientists knew of about five marine species that had been introduced to the Galápagos Islands from elsewhere.

A new study, authored by Williams-Mystic Director Emeritus James T. Carlton and collaborators from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the Charles Darwin Research Center, reveals that there are more than ten times that many nonnative marine species on the islands. The authors also say that there may be many more nonnative marine species yet to be discovered.

All told, the project documents a staggering 53 species of introduced marine animals in the Galápagos.

“This is the greatest reported increase in the recognition of alien species for any tropical marine region in the world,” Carlton said. 

The majority of the introduced species are sea squirts, marine worms and moss animals (bryozoans). Some of the most concerning discoveries include the bryozoan Amathia verticillata — known for fouling pipes and fishing gear and killing seagrasses — and the date mussel Leiosolenus aristatus, which researchers have already seen boring into Galápagos corals.

Many of the species the study identified are newly discovered. Seventeen of the 53 species identified, though, were previously thought to be native to the islands.

“This increase in alien species is a stunning discovery, especially since only a small fraction of the Galápagos Islands was examined in this initial study,” said Greg Ruiz, a co-author and marine biologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The islands are already among the world’s largest marine protected areas, with some of the world’s most stringent biosecurity programs. Yet the study’s authors observed that most, if not all, of the introduced species likely arrived aboard ships coming from tropical areas around the world.

Carlton and his coauthors also believe that many of these species may have arrived recently. The built environment, they argue, could have played a significant role. Though vessels have been arriving in the Galápagos since the sixteenth century, it wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that the islands had extensive shoreline structures. These structures, such as wharves, docks, pilings, and buoys, may have provided an ideal environment for arriving organisms to colonize.

“This discovery resets how we think about what’s natural in the ocean around the Galápagos, and what the impacts may be on these high-value conservation areas,” Carlton said. For a protected area like the Galápagos — places long valued as “windows into [a] former world” — this news is especially troubling. 

Much work, the authors observed, remains to be done in the Galápagos. The group gathered data from a range of field sites, beginning in 2015, but nearly all of these field surveys were restricted to one kind of habitat (harbor biofouling).

Their work also has implications for marine protected areas and other important conservation areas worldwide.

“Our study demonstrates,” the authors concluded, “that tropical marine invasions deserve significant attention, not only in a biogeographical, historical, and ecological context, but also from a management perspective.”

In other words: When it comes to conservation, interdisciplinary collaboration is more important than ever.


The study, “Assessing marine bioinvasions in the Galápagos Islands: implications for conservation biology and marine protected areas,” can be accessed online here: http://www.aquaticinvasions.net/2019/AI_2019-G_Carlton_etal.pdf

In addition to Carlton, coauthors of the paper included Inti Keith, of the Charles Darwin Research Station, Gregory Ruiz, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.