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Research, renderings and rainforest

Image of three panels in broad lanscapeOn the west coast of British Columbia, the vast and ancient Great Bear Rainforest meets the cold-water seas that teem with seabirds, sea lions and humpback whales. Wild rivers, rich with salmon, weave from the sea through the rainforest floor and bring life to thousands of plant and animal species including the grizzlies, black bears and rare white Spirit bears for which the region is named.

WWF-Canada tells the story of the Great Bear Region in British Columbia through visuals and interactive media created by University of Toronto graduate, Kate Campbell.

The Great Bear Interactive ‘Canada’s Great Bear: One Place Three Stories‘ on WWF-Canada’s website educates visitors about Canada’s Great Bear ecosystem and engages them in exploring the links between the old growth forest on land; the wild rivers where the salmon swim, spawn and die; and the sea. The Great Bear Interactive explains why each component needs to be protected to maintain a complex cycle of life.

“There’s only so much you can convey using scientific literature about what it means to sit on a boat next to a whale and watch it feed,” said WWF-Canada Freshwater Conservationist, James Casey. “One Place, Three Stories” offers anyone around the world the opportunity to interact with and experience the Great Bear Region, said Casey.

Campbell, a 2012 graduate of the Master of Science in Biomedical Communications program, collaborated with Casey and WWF-Canada Communications Specialist Jo Anne Walton on the project. Campbell drafted preliminary sketches, designed the navigation, created the user interface design and the final illustrations. Campbell wrote all the scripting—the interaction—the javascript, HTML and CSS. WWF-Canada provided the scientific writing, a summary of the work that WWF-Canada, and researchers they supported, have been doing there for the last 10 years, said Casey.

“Results from my master’s research project showed that visuals and interactivity improve learning outcomes,” said Campbell. This project challenged the collaborators to not only attract visitors to the site but to keep them there. “We used interactivity not only to improve learning outcomes but also to engage the visitors to explore the content,” said Campbell.

Campbell presented the ecosystems as three panels in a broad landscape to show each ecosystem’s place in the landscape. She composed the visuals of the three ecosystems—land, river and sea—with overlapping elements to show the connections between them. She placed icons into each section’s image. Viewers actively and physically engage by clicking the icons. The icons reveal detailed visuals and text, video, and one icon on the Sea image even reveals audio of the “barks and grunts of the Stellar sea lion”.

Before enrolling in the graduate program in Biomedical Communications, Campbell, who also holds a B.Sc. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from U of T, worked as a field biologist in British Columbia where she studied and conducted field experiments with juvenile salmonids. This work informed the first section, ‘Salmon are born in the forest.’ “I felt it was important to illustrate the fact that not only do salmon provide nutrients to the trees but the trees provide shelter and food for the salmon as well,” said Campbell.

Campbell performed radar counts of the Marbled Murrelets that fly into and out of neighbouring valleys when she worked in the field near Bute Inlet at the southern border of the Great Bear Region. This research informed the third section, ‘Fish feed land and sea’.

WWF-Canada hopes to increase awareness of these intertwined ecosystems through the Great Bear Interactive. “We would like people to become more aware of the risks posed to the Great Bear,” said Casey. “More though, I think, we wanted people to learn about how complex and rich the area was.”

Now, Campbell is busy working on projects for the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Association of Ontario Midwives, and she teaches vector graphics once a week at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

With her interests in nature and the environment, in education and environmental awareness, and human/nature interactions, Campbell feels the Great Bear Interactive was an amazing fit. “I feel quite fortunate to have that be one of my first projects out of the Biomedical Communications Program.”

by Maeve Doyle

First published in UTM News June 12, 2013:
http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/main-news/research-renderings-and-rainforest

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