This post is the 11th in an ongoing guest series on my blog featuring science bloggers who recently got their start in the science blogosphere. This series of posts I've been inviting from new science bloggers, or anyone who started blogging about science in the last year or so, is helping to paint a picture of how science bloggers get their start today.
Next up in the "New to Science Blogging" series is Melissa Cristina Marquez, founder of the Sarasota Fins, a marine science education program designed in effort to educate younger generations to become shark advocates. The site's "Shark Blog" went up in June 2014 and has had about an average of 13,000 views per month, according to Melissa.
Melissa holds a bachelor's degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Wellington, New Zealand. She spends her time traveling and diving with sharks, doing research and going around to classrooms to teach kids about the marine world. Her main objective is to show kids that the ocean, and what happens to it, affects everyone - no matter where they are. By educating students of all ages (from K-12) on marine ecosystems, she hopes to inspire them to pursue science as a career.
This week’s shark has been on my “list” of sharks forever (I was half tempted to skip all the other sharks and put this one as my number one.) Oxynotus bruniensis, or the prickly dogfish as you may know it, is probably one of the cutest little things ever. I mean, even more than hedgehogs or porcupines. These are like the underwater version of those. - The Prickly One, The Shark Blog, by Melissa C. Marquez
Me: What motivated you to start blogging about science? Why did you start a blog, vs. using only other newer forms of social media like Twitter?
Melissa: I have always had an extreme fascination for misunderstood predators, and sharks are the most misunderstood predator of them all. Despite the importance of sharks in the ecosystem, their numbers are drastically dropping due to many preventable things - bycatch, habitat degradation, tourism, sports fishing, shark finning, etc. Yet, many people aren’t even aware of most of these besides shark finning, which is in the conservation spotlight! I wanted to reach out to children before they truly started internalizing the dramatized media headlines usually targeting sharks as “mindless, ruthless killers.”
I thought that teachers, no matter where they were located, should integrate shark education and conservation into their curriculum. Thus, Sarasota Fins was created! This program reaches out to local schools (via personal visits) and national/international institutions (via Skype Classroom) to provide easy access materials to use in their classrooms. I didn’t want to stop just at the classroom, however, so I created a “Shark Blog” to highlight different issues facing sharks and to feature a new species every week. This way, I could convey more information (not just being restricted to 140 characters) to my audience and be able to track traffic.
Me: How did you navigate deciding where to blog and how to blog about science? Did you have an idea of what the blog would be before you started? Can you describe that and perhaps where it came from?
Melissa: I had already been using weebly.com for my online CV (resume) and really liked the array of themes to choose from and allowance of a broad set of tools for a free price. Weebly allowed me to sync up my Facebook and Twitter accounts for easier scheduled publishing, as well: a big plus!
My style is pretty informal; this way, I reach out to those children who have access to the internet but also any interested older youth/adults. I make jokes, there are completely off-target tangents, funny pictures, and the language is easy to understand. I do use scientific terms (such as “intrauterine cannibalism” or “oophagy”) but explain them so readers of any age can comprehend and enjoy. There are plenty of cut-and-dry shark, skate and ray biographies… but with humor sprinkled throughout. That’s what keeps people coming back.
Me: How do you feel your blog is evolving now, if at all?
Melissa: I started Sarasota Fins coming out of my third year of undergraduate studies and figured it would stay local (Sarasota, FL), hence the name. But, it grew. Suddenly, I had readers from across the nation, and that grew to an international reader base. It's still weird to type that. I’ve grown the shark, skate and ray profiles from regional to worldwide, to adjust accordingly. I don’t always know the animal next on my list that I’m writing about- it’s a learning experience for myself and my readers, which I appreciate.
Me: How you are finding your niche in the science blogosphere? Have other science bloggers influenced you or your blog direction, and if so how?
Melissa: I don’t think I have a “niche” just yet, because I’m new to the game. I do know what I’d like it to be, though! Sarasota Fins strives to be an educational go-to for any and all shark news and materials. Our Shark Blog is the framework of that overall goal. I know there are similar organizations (Gills Club, Sharks4Kids, etc.) and in no way do I want to take away from what they do, but I think the more “warriors” we have in this fight for proper shark conservation and protection, the better the outcome for the animal.
I always get super duper anxious before our big launches (like our upcoming Kindle E-book series and “Shark Store” - surprise!!). It's a big deal putting a big piece of your heart out there. And the more intentional and focused I get on the posts and products Sarasota Fins produces... the more my heart is invested. More and more I see Sarasota Fins growing into a big, wholehearted, non-fancy program. And I'm honored to be a part of it. There are many scientists who have cheered me on, been a part of this ‘community,’ and I cannot thank them enough. The journey continues!
Me: Please describe any other experiences you have had in starting a science blog, or being a new science blogger online and finding your "place," that you feel have been relevant to the direction or content of your blog now.
Melissa: Once you start a blog and it takes off, it can be overwhelming! Life is currently moving seven thousand miles an hour right now, and I’m not sure it has any plans on slowing down anytime soon. However, I’m so excited about each and every new opportunity and ounce of growth. We have enormous things ahead of us in the next few months!
I found that being white-hot passionate about what you’re writing about is the only way to start off, as you have to pursue what lights your heart on fire. Otherwise, why begin a blog about it? Oh sure, the first few posts may get one or two “likes” on Facebook (probably from your parents and friends you beg to read your stuff), but keep your chin up! The power of social media marketing is astounding! Another tip? Quality, not quantity, is what’s important.
The science world, at least in my experience, has been very welcoming and supportive. You just be “you” and you’ll have a really amazing following. I’ve been keeping that in mind and, thus far, the adventure has been incredible.
More posts in the "New to Science Blogging" series: