Photo by John Hayes

"Communicating Science through Extension" By Dr. Martin Main, November 13, 2017

Authors: Thomas Smith, Josh Ringer, Carrie De Jesus, and Alexis Cardas

Dr. Martin Main is the Associate Director for the Florida Sea Grant College Program as well as serving as the Associate Dean and Program Leader of Natural Resources for the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Dr. Main has been a professor in the department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation since 1996. He actively conducts research at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, where his research interests are focused on the evaluation of conservation easements, land management, and the behavioral ecology of Florida wildlife such as deer, panthers, and wading birds.

Extension positions assist in bridging the gap between the way scientists communicate with each other, and the disconnect that arises when scientists need to communicate with the general public. Similarly, scientific communication occurs through other avenues such as NGOs, journalism/media, nature centers/museums, and agencies, however, the mission of extension is to specifically bring education to the public as designated in the original land grant mission. Professors in extension develop statewide programs to address issues often linking research and extension efforts. These are implemented through partnerships between state, regional, and county extension agents.

The measure of success in extension is similar to other research positions that require program development, delivery, and evaluation, scholarly output, and external funding. However, unique to extension is the collaborative work with the community. The extension unit under Dr. Main has implemented collaborative programs such as the certificate for Sustainable Charter Captain to help sport fishing captains minimize ecological impact and increase business. Another success story happened in Cedar Key, where extension agents stepped in to retrain fishermen that were unable to fish due to the gill net ban, and this has led Cedar Key to be a top producer of clams in Florida.

The WEC extension specifically has programs linking research to different stakeholder groups, training professional audiences, conservation education for the public, organizing volunteer efforts, addressing regional and local problems, and responding to immediate needs. A hallmark of this is the Florida Master Naturalists Program (FMNP), which consists of a natural history program and conservation education for adults, was created by Dr. Main and is provided through many UF/IFAS extension offices as well as partner organizations in Florida. They typically issue about 1000 certificates of completion each year.

Programs such as the Cervidae Health Research Initiative (CHeRI) under the WEC extension umbrella link public needs such as disease prevention in deer farms to much broader disease research for wild herd populations. Training programs such as the Natural Areas Training Academy (NATA) provide professional development to natural resource managers who would not otherwise get continuing education. Conservation education is fostered through programs like the FMNP, which engages both professional and non-scientific audiences in rigorous classroom and field education. Citizen science is covered through programs such as the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch (FHCW) in which volunteers tag, monitor, and collect data which is then provided to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Local and regional problem solving is tackled through programs such as the Red Tide Stinks workshop in which commercial shell fishers were brought together with regulatory agency workers and scientists to address concerns and facilitate discussion on new approaches to tackling the impact of red tide on the industry. And finally, the WEC extension is tasked with responding to immediate needs that arise such as responding to Hurricane Irma and its effect on the Keys lobster fishery. The Sea Grant extension worked to locate the 150,000 displaced lobster traps using aerial GPS documentation. FWC also assisted by temporarily suspending a state regulation that makes it illegal to collect other fisherman's lobster traps, and this helped to coordinate the pickup of displaced traps throughout the Keys.

Dr. Main advocates for young scientists to consider appointments in extension or outreach due to the beneficial impacts it has on both public and scientific issues. Extension boils down to "education beyond the classroom", and this helps to promote a healthier world, contribute to environmental solutions, and increase professional satisfaction.

For more information please visit Extension at WEC: