How's Shelby the Turtle Today?

Animal-Tracking Maps and Environmental Communication

Matt Ziegler, Michael Quinlan, Zage Strassberg-Phillips, Manasi Shah, Lauren Vreeken, Chris Jones, Karen Goodfellow, Jes Lefcourt, RIchard Anderson, Kurtis Heimerl

Animal-tracking maps

© Wild Capuchin Foundation
© Polar Bears International
The "big but" for interactive data visualizations:

Disappointing engagement?

  • New York Times: 85-90% of users don't engage with interactive visualizations at all
  • Short visits: usually under 1-2 minutes
  • Expensive to make

How can wildlife tracking maps advance environmental communication goals?

  • This talk:
  • Environmental communication
  • Conservationist & user perspectives
  • Recommendations

Environmental communication

  • Large academic field
  • Goal: media for culture change
  • Current focus on collective action

Environmental Comms. Best Practices

  • Emotions: cultivate hope, avoid anxiety
  • Conversations towards collective action
  • Continuous awareness
  • Relationships with audience
  • Avoid controversy to broaden participation
  • Relatability: tell local stories, focus on people

Qualitative study

  1. User sessions
  2. Conservationist focus groups

Audience segments

General public

  • Big learning curve: interface + data interpretation
  • Hurdle for short attention spans

Existing dedicated audiences

  • Highly-motivated users can take advantages of interactive affordances: freely exploring, drilling down to details, testing own hypothesis
    They just love giraffe, they love reading anything we do... and they would love seeing something like this.

Data Interpretation

  • Participants struggled to find meaning in the GPS data
    Many noted the animals' vast travel distances...
    ...but not much else.

  • Contextual information was not well-integrated
    I guess what I got out of it, I think I could have also gotten out of a PowerPoint... I don't think that the actual geospatial component was integrated into the other component.


  • Conservationists want users to empathize with the maps's animals:
    ...just allowing people to get to know these sharks as as individuals. You know, relating to them as animals that have a tough life, that struggle. We have a lot of white sharks that have been hit by boats.... People don’t tend to think of these animals that way a lot of times.
  • But users felt more connected through the pictures and videos than the data

User takeaways

  • Learning: about both the animals and research
    I learned a lot about how tracking animals works... I saw that you get a ping when they come to the surface and data is transferred!?
  • Emotions: some claimed no emotional response, some happy to see the conservation work:
    It's nice to know with the WWF that they're doing a lot of work around the world... so that's a little bit of optimism.
  • Actions: most didn't know what actions to take; some wanted to learn more


Wildlife Tracking Maps and Environmental Communication

  • Data is not relatable — Integration with other media is key
  • Continuously engage dedicated audiences with updates
  • Attract casual audiences to other communication channels
  • Show off organization's work — Inspire optimism
  • Details & recommendations in paper