Developing the researcher side of the Key Conservation app

For her Capstone project, recent Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate Daria Sheik focused on how academic institutions, individual researchers and biological field stations could utilize the Key Conservation app. Over the past year she worked with us to develop features within the app that will make it easier for researchers to collaborate with fellow scientists and conservation organizations while also sharing their scientific knowledge with individuals from around the world. Learn about her background, experience developing the researcher side of the Key Conservation app and her next steps below!

My love for animals of any kind has been apparent since I was a small child, with or without my parent’s nudge. Growing up I rode horses and rescued (brought home) any animal I could find. My conservation journey really began in high school when I worked at the Embery Institute for Wildlife Conservation; we took exotic animals to events where we spoke to people about threats wildlife around the world are facing. These events made me realize how important communication was to helping preserve biodiversity. If people do not know what is happening around them, how are they supposed to help? My experiences led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz where I could learn not only the science behind environmentalism but also the policy, economics, and sociology.

Like many UCSC Banana Slugs, I became very passionate about environmental justice. Historically, vulnerable peoples have often been left out of environmental decision making and often end up being harmed by these decisions. My senior year, I participated in a field study on a small island in the Gulf of California researching Hawksbill turtles. While there we worked with fishermen who had moved from generations of hunting turtles to become fierce protectors of them. This transition was made possible because of their relationship with the scientists who came to study the turtles and realized that the fishermen had so much knowledge to share with them and in turn compensated them for their skills and knowledge. Not only were the fishermen involved in research but they also worked directly with scientists and policy makers to create marine protected areas that did not harm their livelihoods and benefited fish populations.

After leaving this trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much scientists and local communities around the world could benefit from working together. I knew that I wanted to create something that would allow these relationships to be made around the world, but I needed a place that would further my knowledge of the subject and connect me to people who were working in this field. When I heard about the interdisciplinary master’s of marine conservation and biodiversity at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I was sure it would be the perfect place to start this project. The scientists at Scripps work in all parts of the world directly with local communities to solve conservation and climate issues affecting them.

Whenever we would discuss what we wanted our capstone projects to be about I kept saying I wanted to create a network of researchers and local people, but I really had no clue at all what this would look like. Then I heard about Key Conservation and learned they were designing an app to connect conservation organizations and the public. I thought this was so important but still wanted a way for researchers to get involved. After speaking with Megan, I realized that their goals aligned directly with mine and with her help I started designing the researcher side of the Key Conservation application.

One of the biggest tasks in creating the researcher side was figuring out what features were most needed. I spent months going to lab meetings, making calls, and setting up meetings with scientists both at Scripps and other institutions. Megan also spoke with scientists at Oxford and what we realized is that there were a lot of common needs and wants from researchers. One of the most common requests from researchers was a way to see who was working on what topic and where. The science world not only needed help connecting with organizations and the public, but with each other as well. In line with my own interests, I wanted to make sure there was a way to share local knowledge. Researchers and conservation organizations can opt to allow outside researchers to contact them with questions about the area, who they should know, where to stay, and local customs. So, even if someone in the community does not have a phone to access the Key Conservation app, there is a way for others to connect them to visiting researchers.

Making science more accessible to people outside of the academic sphere was huge for researchers as well. I am working on designing style guides so that scientists can post about their research in interesting and understandable ways. They can update global supporters as they find more information and global supporters are able to use the skilled impact part of the app to get involved with research. In addition, we designed a way to make some research papers open source so that those who do not have subscriptions to expensive scientific journals are still able to read papers.

Design wise I was pretty lucky because the app already had a design, it was more figuring out how the researcher side would fit in. After going over all of the features we wanted to include it almost seemed like it could be multiple apps but we figured it out. I was able to learn how to use Adobe XD and Invision to create the app. Thanks to high school yearbook class and my personal interest in photography, the learning curve was not too steep. I definitely did not think this was what I would be learning to do when I came to Scripps but I actually really enjoyed the whole process, even when I spent an hour trying to get the spacing perfect on one circle.

I am very happy to say I have received the Edna Bailey Sussman Internship which allows me to be able to continue working with Key Conservation through the summer to find more ways to include researchers within the application! My experience doing my capstone with Key Conservation was more than I could have imagined; through Megan’s support I was able to create something I had been thinking of for years. I am so excited to be able to continue working on something I am so passionate about that has such a large capacity to help people and ecosystems around the world. My name, Daria Hana, means “Sea of Hope” in Farsi and I am excited to empower hope with Key Conservation!

Watch her 15-minute capstone presentation by following the link below. Her presentation starts at 7:31 if you want to skip forward through the other presentations.