The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded annually to the best article by an early career researcher in People and Nature. For full information on the prize’s history, please visit the BES website.

Winner of the Rachel Carson Prize 2021 – Laura Kaikkonen

‘We may not know much about the deep sea, but do we care about mining it?’
Laura Kaikkonen and Ingrid van Putten (People and Nature, 3:4 pp 843-860)

In this study, Laura and her co-author examine to what extent people care about the impacts of human activities in remote locations. Drawing comparisons to Antarctica and the Moon to tease apart the role of emotions and knowledge in connecting individuals with remote environments, the results demonstrate that, despite widespread minimal knowledge of the deep sea, people do care about mining activities harming such biodiverse hotspots. These findings refute the common idea that, with the deep sea portrayed as unknown and terrifying, it does not require human concern. They also shine a light on the growing demand for natural resources, the increase in invasive human activities in the deep sea, and the broader debate around biodiversity literacy.

Laura grew up in southern Finland and her love for the sea led her to first study oceanography, then marine biology. She fondly describes her award-winning paper as ‘a labour of love’, and exploring the concepts of effect, values, and the symbolic meanings associated with nature as ‘incredibly rewarding’. She particularly enjoyed discovering recent research on the ‘blue humanities’, studying the relationship between people and the oceans.

“This research allowed me to reflect on my own relationship with the ocean and why I care so deeply about the sea,” Laura said. “It also made me think about my position as a researcher with a very limited knowledge of the way people in different cultures relate to the ocean, and how much we still have to learn about it. I was happy to see that most respondents of our study found the deep sea exciting and important”.

Her work on ‘We may not know much about the deep sea, but do we care about mining it?’ inspired her to explore further how the way individuals think about the environment affects their perception of the severity of different environmental risks. She currently works as a researcher for the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission and the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative, studying the potential conflicts that may arise as a result of human activities taking place in the deep sea and potentially causing damage to deep sea ecosystems.

Find the winning paper, as well as the shortlisted papers for the 2021 Rachel Carson Prize, in this virtual issue.