Defining the problem

Mosquitos at the University of Newcastle are a problem, especially in the summer months. Responses have focused on individual protection from being bitten and there has been no strategic response by the University until now. Callaghan campus is strongly linked in people’s minds to the mosquito but, unfortunately, most of these associations are negative.

Our big idea Re-brand the mosquito to NeWsquito providing an important intervention to species damage through climate change impacts and building a positive perception of the value of an eco-system living in harmony. The re-branded mosquito becomes a source of pride for our community. The rebranding campaign will focus on:

(i) the value of Callaghan campus as part of the Hunter Wetlands, a vibrant and important eco-system supporting thousands of insect bird, and animal species and plants; (ii) the importance of mosquitos as an essential part of the bio-diversity of the Wetland eco-system acting as a link in the food chains of fish, birds and reptiles and as pollinators for many plants; (iii) co-habitation with mosquitos where humans learn the value of the function of the mosquito population via a public health education campaign focusing on the simple steps that individuals can take to protect themselves from mosquito bites; and, (iv) promote as a model for others seeking to create harmonious multi-species communities.

Our proposed solution UON students will enter a competition to design a NeWsquito logo, which will become a symbol of the Callaghan campus. The roll out and promotion of a public health program about how to live in harmony with mosquitos which will focus on helping people to avoid getting bitten by use of insect repellents and wearing appropriate clothing. The NeWsquito design will become a brand used on a range of mosquito friendly merchandise which will include insect repellent, and mosquito proof clothing.

Core foundation of our research We take an interdisciplinary approach to non/human interactions, by integrating insights from the disciplines of Social Anthropology, Environmental Sociology, Public Health, Wetland Ecology and Management, Community Development and Social Marketing. We will explore community perceptions of the mosquito and people’s perceived risks associated with contact with mosquitos and then develop a health education campaign for the university to encourage people to take personal responsibility for mosquito protection. We will raise awareness by ‘re-branding’ the mosquito as an iconic symbol of the university.

End users/ paying customers Our primary end users are the staff and students of the University who find mosquitos troublesome. By protecting the mosquito as a species and preserving the bio-diversity of the wetlands there is a wide range of end users, both human and non-human, including birds, bats, fish, lizards and amphibians. The NeWsquito brand will open up a range of marketing opportunities for university merchandise, which will have appeal and application beyond the university community and create a revenue stream for the university.

Research literature level Top down solutions to mosquito problems include eradication and infertility programs and substantial modification of the environment, such as the drainage of swamps and wetlands (Benelli, et al., 2017). These approaches are expensive, environmentally damaging and morally questionable (Barad 2011, p. 127; Derby, Piersol and Blekinsop 2015, pp. 383-384). Mosquitos are important as pollinators and as food for many other species, and they have been shown to be essential in the preservation of vulnerable eco-systems, such as rainforests and mangrove swamps (Lea, 2014). Spark et al. note that top-down eradication measures reinforce to the public that mosquitos are beyond the responsibilities of the individual and the community (Spark et al., 1999).

In contrast, community led approaches to mosquito control are eco-friendly, cheap and sustainable. They engage people in understanding the value of eco-systems and the need for protection (Innocent, et al., 2014). More recent studies also highlight the advantages of combining “minimal habitat modification for wetland conservation and human health protection using interdisciplinary approaches involving multiple stakeholders” (Dale, 2012).

Due to the comparative rarity of mosquito borne disease in Australia, public health mosquito education has been minimal. Two important exceptions have been the dengue campaign in far north Queensland (Spark et al. 1994) and the ‘fight the bite’ campaign in WA. Both campaigns relied on simple, but highly effective individual behaviours of covering up, repelling and cleaning up.

Top three critical hypothesis (how you will test them, experimental plan, new technologies or tools to be developed)

I. Articulating the vital role of the mosquito in wetland eco-systems and developing shared knowledge of why changes in personal behaviour, immunisation against potential diseases, and the application of eco-friendly measures to sustainably control mosquito populations, are more effective than attempts to eradicate the species. II. A public campaign led by staff and students communicating the efficacy of changes in personal behaviour including clothing choice and use of repellents will lead to increased adoption of these practices across the campus. III. Developing a brand for the mosquito, as well as a range of UON merchandise that will be popular with the communities surrounding the Wetlands, will create strong community relations and a focus on environmental protection.

Steps to action these are:

i. Survey the university community about their perceptions and understanding of mosquitos creating a baseline of information for comparison and evaluation.
ii. Run a university wide competition open to both students and staff to develop the NeWsquito brand and logo. All designs will be exhibited, and the university community will vote for the best design. Provide students with WIL opportunities. iii. Engage with colleagues in public health, Wollotuka, biological sciences, design and engineering. iv. Run a series of public talks discussing the uniqueness of the mosquito and its value to the local wetland ecosystem. v. Develop a small range of NeWsquito branded merchandise, which will either be given away at events or sold. vi. Implement a university wide survey to explore people’s brand awareness and their recall of the key public health messages relating to effective prevention of mosquito bites.

How the funding will progress our hypothesis. How will work be performed (within the budget up to 5000), in what time period?

• Jan-April 2020: Prepare campus wide survey with colleagues from social anthropology, public health, Wollotuka and sociology. $2000 for RA to set up survey instrument and compile responses in report. • May-July 2020: Work with marketing, design and student union to run the logo competition including prizes for the best designs. Winner chosen by a panel of experts; a people’s choice award; best student logo; best staff logo. $1000 for catering for announcement of winners. • August-December 2020: Development of the NeWsquito brand and roll out of NeWsquito merchandise. $2000 for merchandise production in conjunction with design and engineering students. • January 2021: Evaluation of program via campus wide survey.

What essential outcomes will you generate during your testing period?

  1. A detailed understanding of community perceptions of the mosquito.
  2. Educational activities focused on re-imagining the mosquito.
  3. Develop the NeWsquito brand and test the community’s response to the range of NeWsquito merchandise.
  4. Promote campaign via co-authored articles in relevant peer reviewed journals and at local community events across the Hunter region

What you have done to date including challenges and wins We are an interdisciplinary team, bringing together experience from social anthropology, sociology, animal studies and public health. Together, we bring expertise and experience in solving complex public health problems and working with communities and conducting impact-focussed research. All members of the team have published extensively in their respective fields.

Why your idea is an unconventional or creative approach to the problem Embrace mosquitos as valuable members of our inter-species community through a re-imagination of shared community life. Emphasises of the contribution of students in every aspect of project implementation, providing them with a range of opportunities to showcase their talents, develop their skills and collaborate in an interdisciplinary way. ation


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