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Environmental Interpretation: The Voice for Nature

The world we know today has experienced rapid development and advancement of technology, as well as ever-changing environment, which has caused changes to the way of life of society compared to the past. This new “modern” way of life has made us more isolated from the real world, and nature has become a foreign concept to some. As Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child in the Woods” said, “without this connection to nature, people lose interest in protecting it and fail to see how connected nature is to our lives.” This observation should not be taken lightly as humans and nature were never meant to be separated. Our fate is intertwined, and for our survival as well as for the sake of our future generations, we must return to truly living in harmony with the natural world.

At trying times like this, the concept of environmental interpretation plays a very important role to help bridge the gap between humans and nature. The basic idea of environmental interpretation can be found in conservation which serves as a tool to help humans understand nature. Interpretation helps enrich people's experiences and provides better understanding of the environment around them. It has no boundaries as to its scope of coverage; an interpretation program can include any information about plants, wildlife and natural processes taking place which interesting details can be presented to humans in many forms, be it verbal and non-verbal.

Environmental interpretation basically involves a communication process of simplifying technical language into terms and ideas that the general audience can readily understand. The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) defines interpretation as a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the inherent meanings in the resource.

Interpretation can be in the form of personal interpretive products such as guided tours, interactive games, and demonstrations; or it can also be in the form of non-personal interpretive products such as interpretive panels, exhibits, printed materials and many more. Nevertheless, all these need to be done in a stimulating and meaningful way so as it can be interesting enough to sustain the audience’s focus on the subject matter of presentation.

Interpreters or persons who conducted the interpretation program, often convey conservation messages through fun and entertaining approaches. This is to attract the audience’s attention while at the same time trying to connect them with a greater sense of natural wonder. The aim here is not just to transfer information or fact but rather to pique their curiosity and spark their interest to know more about the nature.

From a management perspective, interpretation serves as a way by which the site managers or service providers reach out to the public. Through interpretative programs, the audience will have the chance to directly connect with nature through firsthand experiences. This is because interpretation encourages the audience to participate in the experience by taking an active role during each program. To further enhance the audience’s experience, they can use their senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Involving them directly, either by having them ask questions, expressing concerns, and observations of their own, or by giving them something specific or tangible to connect with their personal experiences, is essential to effective interpretation. The provocative, stimulating, and entertaining experiences they go through, will in turn help spark their interest in the resource and further increase their desire to learn more.

For instance, the site managers can increase the audience's appreciation and understanding of a particular plant by revealing its ‘secrets,’ such as its uniqueness or fragile conditions, or its relationship within the ecosystem. This will help to convey the idea that that particular plant is special and requires protection. The said plant, which was previously only to be known by its name, is now become meaningful to the audience. With this new perspective of the plant, the audience can have a better understanding and appreciation that will influence their attitudes and behaviour towards the wise and sustainable use of natural resources, conservation and respect for the natural environment. As the Malay proverb goes, "tak kenal maka tak cinta.”

All in all, the goal of interpretation is also in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 15 that seek to protect, restore and promote a sustainable environment while combating biodiversity loss and the depletion of our natural resources. This is because, environmental interpretation, if done well, not only provides an entertaining and engaging experience to the audience but will also serve as a very important management tool to convey conservation messages and nurture a positive attitude towards environmental stewardship. As what had been mentioned by the father of interpretation, Freeman Tilden, “Through interpretation, understanding. Through understanding, appreciation. Through appreciation, protection.” An informed, caring and environmentally conscious society will act more responsibly and with greater consideration for the environment, ensuring a better and more promising future for present and future generations.

Date of Input: 08/02/2023 | Updated: 08/02/2023 | masridien


Universiti Putra Malaysia
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Selangor Darul Ehsan