Sea Spotlight: Sarah Roberts on the power of creativity in conservation

A lot of the work we do here at Love The Oceans is based upon the collection of rigorous scientific data. However, alongside our data driven research, we are committed to finding creative solutions to conservation issues. From vibrant educational murals to eco-bricking, we are well aware that combining art and science is essential for uniting people towards the same planet-saving mission. Creativity consolidates concepts taught in the classroom, and there is no-one more aware of this than the awesome children’s author and naturalist, Sarah Roberts!

Image credit: @sarahsrealjob on instagram

Sarah Roberts, author of the highly acclaimed children’s book ‘Somebody Swallowed Stanley’ (our favourite kids’ book ever!) is a shining example of someone who strikes the balance between science and creativity. Inspired by her own experiences witnessing the devastating impact of plastic pollution on marine life, ‘Somebody Swallowed Stanley’ tells the tale of no ordinary jellyfish.

Loved by audiences young and old, the book has inspired countless schools across the UK to add plastic education to their curricula since its original publication in 2014. After Tom Hardy’s (!) recent appearance on CBeebies bedtime stories to bring Stanley’s story to life, LTO caught up with Sarah to talk about the inspiration behind the book!

Where did the inspiration for ‘Somebody Swallowed Stanley’ come from?

I had the inspiration from the book in two parts really. Firstly, from my job working at the Bimini Biological Field Station out on a tiny remote island in the Bahamas and seeing the plastic that would wash up on the beaches after storms. And secondly, after researching the topic further back in the UK and learning more about just how many species were affected, I set up my own outreach workshops for schools in 2013. The topic wasn’t really being touched on in schools then; balloon releases were still common and the way schools approached the topic of recycling was seen by most kids (me included) as quite boring. Having trained as an Education Officer at a local zoo, during my university days, I knew how stories could be a great vehicle to engage children subliminally.

Image credit: @sarahsrealjob on instagram

Do you think there is a place for creativity in conservation?

Yes, I think most scientists are problem solvers and storytellers at heart anyway. Conservation work is often all about finding answers to a problem so that you can add to a story and spread it further, so there is a very natural role for creatives in the world of conservation.

Personally, I think the way the UK and many countries break up the curriculum ‘subject by subject’, is totally unnatural to be honest. To me it makes much more sense to teach Science, English, maths, geography, history, art etc in unison whilst focusing on a topic, rather than separately. In life you can’t approach any current topic without considering it from all angles and the same goes for communication too.

Image credit: scholasticfilmsuk on Youtube

When did you first realise you could combine your two loves of science and creative media?

I went to quite a ‘hippy-esque’ primary school in a little village and cofounded a wildlife club at the age of 10. Myself and friends used to get experts in to talk to us about butterflies, birds, bats and worked with a local prison to get hedgehog boxes and rewild our playground too.

We were also youth journalists who wrote about our endeavours to our local paper. I’m not sure that I ever saw storytelling and science as separate. It never really occurred to me that science and creativity don’t go hand in hand, they’re all branches of the same tree, aren’t they?

Why do you think Stanley’s character has resonated with so many people?

Stanley is told from the bag’s perspective. At the end of the day, the plastic bag didn’t put himself out there in the ocean and if he were alive, I doubt he’d appreciate being swallowed and spat back out so much either. People end up feeling sorry for the bag and wanting to help it. It’s a bit of a penny drop moment for adults and funny entertainment for kids. My goal is always to find a way of approaching topics from an original perspective, to inject a bit of relatedness and humour into an otherwise daunting situation. I hope that came across with Stanley.

Image credit: @sarahsrealjob on instagram

When you found out that Tom Hardy would be reading your book, how did you feel?!

Yeah I’m ready for retirement now haha. It’s been pretty surreal! I’m not sure how to top that?! I just feel really grateful that there are now so many people who have got behind him and helped spread Stanley’s message this far! I always believed he could be useful given a chance, but I never thought he’d be used to this extent!

What advice would you say to anyone looking to make a positive difference in conservation through their writing or scientific research?

It’s not been the easiest journey to this point. Stanley had his fair share of knockbacks since I wrote him in 2013, everything from failed a Crowdfunder, rejections from publishers, buyers at retail chains claiming the story was ‘too scary for kids’ and all whilst I was getting knock back after knock back from schools as I tried to deliver my workshops.

I nearly gave up at least 10 times in the first few years, so seeing him in the world now doing so well has really taught me about the value of perseverance. You really can achieve anything as long as you don’t give up.

Image credit: @sarahsrealjob on instagram

If you missed it, listen to Tom Hardy reading out ‘Somebody Swallowed Stanley’ on BBC iPlayer for a limited time here! Or buy the book here now!

Written by Lily Holbrook

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