Exactly three weeks from today, I will be happily flying across vast amounts of ocean to reunite with the lovely islands of Fiji! My excitement is becoming less and less containable. This will be the inaugural field expedition of the Drew Lab, of the Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology Department at Columbia University. (Major sidenote in case you haven’t got the memo - this girl is officially going to grad school in the fall. Woohoo!) The last few years have opened my eyes to the truly multi-disciplinary character of marine conservation - you have to consider scientific, political AND economic aspects as well as involve multiple levels of stakeholders (from individual community members to big government departments) in order for a conservation plan to be successful. And it definitely doesn’t hurt to include some form of public outreach as well, it’s really crucial to get people thinking and excited about protecting and caring for the oceans. So, because my own experience has been primarily within the scientific realm, I’m really excited to learn about all the other aspects of marine conservation in my upcoming graduate career. Whiiiiich is why this trip to Fiji is so cool - we’ll be involving ourselves with almost EVERY facet of marine conservation within the three short weeks of the expedition! I’ll be able to rub up against people from fields I haven’t been traditionally exposed to, and witness with my own eyes what sorts of things have to go into the creation of successful ocean-saving strategies :) A little breakdown of what’ll be happening:
1) Scientific research - we’ll be working in a small Fijian village that wants to put a tabu (traditionally-managed protected area) in place on their reef, characterizing the baseline biodiversity of the site this summer so that the protected area’s success can be effectively measured in future surveys. This involves collecting fish samples while diving, using a combo of spear-fishing and nets, and then preserving our samples for shipment back to New York, where we’ll process them at the American Museum of Natural History. I’ll also be able to use the genetic data from these samples for my own master’s thesis, which I’ll talk more about in the future. But basically as these surveys continue over the years, we’ll be able to see how the tabu is affecting species diversity/distribution, particularly whether it protects smaller non-fishery targeted species as WELL as the big tasty species people target for fishing.
2) Collaboration - we’ll be meeting and communicating with representatives from Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the University of the South Pacific. My advisor, Dr. Josh Drew, will be conducting a few talks before we head out to the field site, which will be great to attend and will give me the opportunity to sit there and absorb material like a sponge. I’m also hopeful that I’ll be able to get some face-time with people from these organizations and learn more about Fiji-specific initiatives they have going, as well as asking them how they got started in their conservation careers.
3) Politics - we’ll be navigating the Fijian bureaucracy concerning permitting and other important government things I know NOTHING about. Yay, learning! I have no idea what to expect for this aspect of the trip, but am looking forward to seeing how it all works.
4) Outreach - we will be accompanied by a fantastic science communicator, Helen Scales, who will be documenting the expedition and spreading the word to the rest of the world, adding an important outreach aspect to our work. She’s armed with a PhD from Cambridge University, has experience working for the BBC, WWF, and other great organizations, and has lived in crazy cool places like Madagascar, the Phillipines, Borneo, and Senegal! I’m really looking forward to picking her brain about science communication, as it’s a field I’ve been particularly interested in for a while. You can check her website out here!
All in all, I am incredibly excited to be able to go back to Fiji and dive headfirst into the world of marine conservation! (Lame pun totally intended) I’ll be tweeting updates from the field during our expedition (*cough* follow me *cough*), and will be trying to blog a bit more before leaving, so stay tuned!
Now, off to teach high schoolers about the male and female reproductive systems…*sigh*. It never gets old.