UNCW Interdisciplinary Faculty-Student Team Wins “Ocean 180 Video Challenge”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

UNCW biology and marine biology professor Joe Pawlik and film studies student Boston Dang ’18 placed first in the “Ocean 180 Video Challenge,” a national competition designed to make marine sciences more accessible to the public. Coral Reef Rescue: Save the Parrotfishes! received the most votes among the middle school students who ranked the 10 finalists.

The challenge was to transform recently published ocean science research into in an engaging, 180-second video for general audiences.

“You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to take a scientific paper and condense it into a three-minute video,” said Pawlik, the Frank Hawkins Kenan Professor of Marine Biology, who was a finalist in a previous competition. He said working with Dang, who is minoring in business administration, made it possible to produce a high-quality video that explains, in clear terms, threats to Caribbean coral reefs, the effects of overfishing and the role of the parrotfishes in the reefs’ survival.

Their video was based on the scientific abstract “Indirect effects of overfishing on Caribbean reefs: sponges overgrow reef-building corals,” which Pawlik co-authored with professional colleagues. It examined the connection between overfishing and competition from sponges and seaweed, both of which parrotfishes eat. It found that sponges on reefs in overfished areas were three times more likely to kill corals than those areas where parrotfishes were plentiful.

After 10 finalists were selected, 21,000 middle school students were asked to vote on their three favorites.

He and Dang competed in the amateur category of the competition, sponsored by COSEE Florida and funded by the National Science Foundation. The mission of COSEE (Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence) is to encourage scientists and educators to work together to enhance the public’s “understanding, appreciation and stewardship” of the ocean and marine life.

First place earned a $4,000 prize, which Pawlik said will go to Dang.

"Film studies students are using their skills in many meaningful contexts, and we actively promote opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration," said Mariana Johnson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Film Studies. "It’s exciting to see a talented cinematographer like Boston working with a first-rate scholar like Dr. Pawlik."

Lauren Olinger, a UNCW Ph.D. student Pawlik supervises, was also a finalist in the competition for a video produced while she was a master’s degree student at the University of the Virgin Islands.

-- Tricia Vance