The Drew Crew is coming up on our one-month mark of being here in Fiji, and this month has been so jam-packed with experiences that it’s hard to even begin putting things into words. I’ve been keeping a running list in my field notes of all the things that I absolutely do not want to forget, but looking back on that list (which includes such items as “jungle chickens” and “moth in the oven”) I realize it will do nothing to help me recall the exact hues of vivid pink sunsets that I hope have been seared into my brain, but may actually fade over time (“Were they really THAT colorful? Nah, there’s no way…”), and the faces of Masi, Mere, Christiana, Heidi, Tukai, and the many more warm, selfless, wonderful people who welcomed us into their homes, told us their stories, and fed us endless meals of fish, coconut milk, fresh fruits and homemade bread. This list I made includes the names of various village cats and dogs we came to know over the week, but does not capture the politeness with which they tiptoed across the threshold of our little lab house to lick our hands and sniff at our equipment. Also on the list is “not showering”, which…is self-explanatory, and elicits memories of crispy beach hair and smelly fish hands, as well as the shock on Mere’s face when she found out :) But who needs to shower when you’re in the ocean every day for hours on end!? Spearfishing over patch reefs, sand flats, steep coral walls – at times it was difficult to drag ourselves out of the water even when we were exhausted and shivering. Except I guess there were a few hours of being on land as well, pulling out gills and brushing scales off our clothes and labeling fish and then laying them in beds of toxic chemicals to harden and be sent back to New York. (We did shower eventually.)
Also on that list is the morning where our fisherman friend Tukai happened to mention he had caught fifteen mullet a few hours earlier, and upon seeing our immediate interest, lead us around the village to the homes of ALL the people he had sold his mullet to so we could take gill samples from them. We thanked everyone profusely, they thanked us profusely in return, and many insisted that we take some bananas and papayas in addition to their fish gills, which didn’t really make sense but then it also kind of did, in an amazing, overly-hospitable, Fijian sort of way.
Then there was the night (our last night in the village actually) where we sat cross-legged on the floor and did the tatau. The tatau is a closing ceremony where we present our hosts with a bundle of kava and apologize for all the things we don’t even know to be sorry about, because we’re visitors and probably messed some things up, and they say “we totally forgive you” (which is a GREAT practice and should really be incorporated into every awkward social setting in the US). And as we were all sitting there in our garlands of fresh flowers listening to Masi forgive us, a MASSIVE moth – a small bird, really – flew into the room. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I have a major phobia of moths (and yes I know how silly that is). I thought I held my cool pretty well, but was amazed when Lily reached out, caught the thing in her hand like a ninja, handed it to Mere, who then went into the kitchen, threw the moth in the oven and slammed the door! Hence, “moth in the oven” on my list. This simple act is amazing to me not only because it proves Mere is a badass woman who can manhandle huge, bird-like insects, but also because it is one of the many examples of the kindness and thoughtfulness that our hosts constantly displayed. Mere knew how much I hated moths, and she also knew that the thing would almost certainly come back if she simply threw it outside, so she locked it away in the oven for the entire night so I wouldn’t have to worry. She gently released it the next morning.
While a story about an incarcerated moth may not capture the entirety of our hosts’ amazingness (another person may have chosen a more elegant anecdote to demonstrate this concept), we really do owe SO much to these people. Without the help of our companions in Nagigi we could not have gotten even half of the work we had set out to do this week done – and not just because they housed us and made sure we didn’t starve, but because they also put us in contact with fishermen and fisherwomen, people who truly know these reefs. This is one of the main reasons we strive to come back year after year (Josh has been working here for almost a decade now), and we spend as much time as possible talking to the village, getting to know them, and translating our science into useful and accessible knowledge. One of our lab’s central tenets is to avoid parachute science at all costs – which, at its most extreme, is when scientists “parachute” in to some community for a short but intensive amount of time, get a ton of amazing data, and then bail with minimal (if any) follow up with the community or people who helped them. I think this mindset – recognizing the importance of integrating scientific endeavors within the context of communities they rely on in – is especially important for students like us to be exposed to, and immersed in, as we train for future careers in conservation work around the world.
And this mentality is exactly why we took a dry day on Wednesday, so Josh could meet with Nagigi’s chief to discuss the implementation of a tambu area (a temporary, traditionally-managed protected area) on the village’s adjacent reef. The meeting was very successful, and it looks like there may be a tambu put in place before the year is out. This is a major step towards the protection of Nagigi’s marine resources, and it’s really amazing that our team is in a position to be able to provide information that the village can use in making these decisions (for a more direct example of what I’m talking about, check out this publication that resulted from last year’s interviews and biodiversity surveys in Nagigi).
So, sitting here on the ferry as we travel to our next field site on the island of Taveuni, I am happy to be looking back on an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding week. While our team did face many challenges (e.g. lack of overlap between days with boat and days with tanks – there was lotttttts of walking across tidal flats wearing about 50 lbs of dive gear), we were able to collect over 100 more samples than last year and add even more species to the list of biodiversity present in Nagigi. I have also almost entirely changed the complement of species I’m targeting for my thesis, which was stressful and still is a little scary but also has been an incredibly useful learning experience in troubleshooting. And, most importantly, we have strengthened the ties between Columbia University and the community of Nagigi, and there are plans for further protection of their marine resources in the works. I’m looking forward to our next four weeks of fieldwork in new and exciting places, but I hope that by some miracle of funding and timing I’ll be able to return to this wonderful village of Nagigi next summer and personally report the findings of my Master’s thesis to those who helped make it possible.
First week and a half in Fiji down and man, did it go fast! We landed in Nadi last Monday morning, the wheels hitting the tarmac just as the sun was rising over the jagged peaks of the main island of Viti Levu. The second we walked off the plane we were hit by that familiar wall of humidity, thick warm air perfumed with the smell of tropical vegetation and wet dirt. This is my third summer here in Fiji, and it still amazes me how such simple smells can so readily bring back vivid memories of past fieldwork experiences – driving in open-backed trucks, walking barefoot through the clean, grassy village of Naigigi, sitting on various concrete floors in my salty wetsuit, processing fish.
We haven’t gotten to any of these activities yet though, because in addition to crossing items off our lengthy to-do list here in Suva (securing permits, tracking down formalin & ethanol, buying random field items etc), we’ve been meeting with various colleagues and new friends in the NGO community, practicing sampling techniques in our little hotel’s backyard (which you can read about here!), and Josh and I have been teaching a class on marine conservation at the University of the South Pacific to a mix of international and local students, which is funded by the US Embassy here in Suva.
This Fiji W.I.S.E. class in particular has been incredibly rewarding for me. It’s the first time I’ve been closely involved with putting together curriculum and field trips, and with all the time I’ve spent organizing and preparing for what felt like every last detail, I am elated every time I hear a student say how much they appreciate a lecture or how perfectly the class fits their interests or career plans. Which actually happens quite often, because we have an incredibly plugged-in and intelligent group of students – a mix of USP researchers and NGO workers from Germany, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Fiji! They are an amazing group of people to discuss South Pacific marine conservation issues with, and we’ve been learning a ton from them just as they are learning from us. We've been doing all sorts of fun field trips and labs (like dissecting surgeonfish to sample their intestinal gut flora, measuring the pH of the ocean at various points off USP's jetty and beaches, and snorkeling in a local MPA to check out examples of reef symbiosis), and tomorrow the class culminates in a river-to-reef sampling trip, taking pH and salinity measurements every few kilometers as well as checking out how the fish fauna changes across that ecosystem gradient. I'll be sad for the course to end because it's been such a great immersive experience, but we hope this can become an annual endeavor that will continue to strengthen the ties between USP and Columbia University over the years.
After this class, we’ll have the weekend to decompress and then we will be preparing for the field in earnest. We also will be attending the Society for Conservation Biology’s Oceania Section meeting next week from Wednesday to Friday (which we prepared a symposium for! Check out this Nature Jobs article featuring interviews with Josh & I about the process!). I’m looking forward to doing more detailed blog posts in the future about the fish market here in Suva, the funny cultural idiosyncrasies we notice on the daily, and about the upcoming conference and fieldwork. For now, this blasé “summing up” blog post will have to do! Too many 7am – 6pm days to be sitting down for blog writing at the end of the day :) And I’m working on a GoPro video as we speak, so there’s that to look forward to as well!
Much love to everyone at home and all of my amazing SciFund backers, you guys are the reason I’m actually here and I can’t thank you enough!! (And check your mailboxes over the next few weeks, hehe)
Iridescent fish of all colors school around the branching corals as I swim among them, suspended in liquid turquoise. Although the tip of my spear glints beckoningly ahead of me, I am distracted from the task at hand – collecting samples for a biodiversity survey of Nagigi, Fiji – by a pair of beautiful butterflyfish, mates for life, dancing through the current. I try to swim closer, propelling myself through the current with just a slight motion of my fins, but they dart away, making a strange, shrieking sound, over and over again… Oh wait. That’s my alarm clock. Damn it.
In my waking life, Fiji is now thousands of miles away. Rolling out of bed in my tiny New York apartment, it’s hard to believe that only six months ago I was immersed in tropical fieldwork. Memories of village life are at times immediately accessible, almost tangible, but often they feel incredibly distant. I try to hold on to my dream of that blissfully warm water, but it slips away as my current situation makes itself sharply known. My apartment is freezing.
I’m a first-year Master’s student in Columbia University’s Conservation Biology program, studying marine conservation as it applies to coral reefs. Whenever people here ask me what I do, they’re always taken aback by my reply – “You study marine science here?” – and invariably make some comment about NYC’s lack of marine biological opportunities, or the filth of the Hudson river. But what they don’t realize (besides the fact that Manhattan is literally an island, surrounded by water, come on people) is that New York City is full of amazing opportunities for my particular brand of scientific research – using genetic information to learn about and protect the planet’s biodiversity. The American Museum of Natural History, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Columbia University itself all provide me with the resources, support, and infrastructure I need to process and analyze the data I collect from the field each summer, which I then use to figure out how marine reserves can be designed to protect fishery-targeted reef fish in Fiji. The museum in particular is a treasure-trove of scientific opportunity (see my blog post on the importance of museum collections), with frozen tissue banks, massive vertebrate and invertebrate collections (they have a giant squid!!), and incredible research groups that address fascinating questions ranging from the taxonomy of malaria parasites to the population dynamics of big cats.
Walking to Columbia’s campus each morning, I often think about the strange juxtaposition of scenery my life has taken on these days – summers spent diving in azure tropical waters, winters spent walking under frozen, crystallized trees that sparkle in the sunlight. To many, these winters spent in New York might be seen as a necessary evil, the place you have to go back to in order to maintain some sort of cosmic balance after spending so much time in paradise. But I see it as an incredible gift, giving me the ability to experience the best of both worlds while seamlessly pursuing my goal of making a positive change for our ocean’s future.
I don't doubt that the cold and the snow will begin to weigh on me eventually (knock on wood), but for now, it’s hard not to pinch myself as I walk through my winter wonderland, to make sure this all isn’t just a dream.
Check out this video put together by Helen Scales, our brilliant science communicator while on expedition in Fiji this summer. This video addresses what happens AFTER diving in the sublime Fijian sea all morning - processing our fish samples! Which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, second only to the diving itself.
Check out this video our amazing science communicator, Helen Scales (www.helenscales.com), put together of our first dive in Fiji! I'm the diver in all black (helpful!), and interviewed at the end are - from left to right - me, Maddy and Amy. Enjoy!
Three weeks post-Fiji, and MAN I am itching to get to New York! I move out there on August 12th, and now that my flight is booked, my apartment is ready and waiting, and orientation dates are set, these next 2 weeks are going to move like molasses - nothing going on between now and then besides my 24th birthday and lots of boyfriend/family time (SO horrible ;) ). In addition to a ridiculous amount of basking in the sun and reading fabulous books, I’ve been spending a lot my time reading up on more literature concerning my future Master’s thesis project. I am super lucky to have a pretty firm idea of what I’m going to do before technically starting my program, and our recent Fiji expedition gave me the chance to collect and process my FIRST SAMPLES (*gasp*). Holding those beautiful specimens in my hands before subjecting them to the rigors of processing (ripping gills out, injecting tags through tails, dunking in poison, then jamming into packed barrels - poor guys) made me want to whisper a little prayer of gratitude to their souls residing in watery fish heaven. No, not want to, I actually did thank them - the poor Australian missionaries at our hostel would have been given yet another reason to avoid our smelly, fishy group if they had seen me whispering fervently over those little dead bodies of coral groupers and black snappers. ANywayyy, as a result of all my reading and thinking I wanted to take a moment to do a post about my proposed project and what I’m hoping to accomplish in the next two years as a Columbia grad student.
First thing’s first, a few words about population connectivity! Yayyy, learning! Population connectivity basically refers to the inter-relatedness of different populations of a species over a certain spatial scale. Hmm, even more basic - the idea that this Nemo population over here is genetically related to, and therefore probably came from or vice versa, that Nemo population over there. Connectivity is usually measured through genetic methods because of the inconvenient little fact that most marine animal babies have a pelagic larval phase, or a period of time right after fertilization where they are infinitesimally small (aka hard to track) and float around in the ocean currents until they are ready to settle back into a reef or kelp forest or rocky tide pool or wherever they like to live. Because larval dispersal is basically the black box of marine science at the moment, one of the best ways we can determine who goes where after they’re born is by looking at genetic similarities between populations.
Why the heck is population connectivity important, you wonder? Psh, besides the awesomeness of baby fish and crabs and even barnacles managing to find their way back to some semblance of a normal life after drifting through a vast obstacle course of currents and predators etc - it’s important to marine conservation biology in a lot of ways. If you know the population dynamics of a target species, you can figure out how to best protect them from things like overfishing and habitat degradation. Setting aside marine protected areas (MPAs) is one of the most popular methods of protection, as they can fully protect nursery and spawning grounds and have been shown to increase fish biomass and reproductive output, providing a nice little spill-over effect into adjacent unprotected waters. But you can’t just go around arbitrarily telling fishermen not to fish in certain places, so understanding population dynamics helps inform the process of setting these MPAs up. Hence population connectivity studies like mine! By determining where and how different populations are connected, you can determine which areas of the ocean would be most important to protect. Populations that are genetically distinct from all others are super important to protect on the basis of preserving biodiversity, and populations that act as a larval source for other populations are important to protect on the basis of “reef seeding” (one population can help “re-seed” others in case of environmental crises, like oil spills or a huge storm). Marine management planners use such data to set up the most effective marine reserve networks, and island countries like Fiji are very interested in protecting their marine resources.
Here's a GREAT animated video my advisor, Dr. Josh Drew, did to illustrate this concept:
Sooo, MY thesis project will attempt to uncover the connectivity patterns of 3-4 species of fishery-targeted reef species in Fiji (BAM! That sentence right there is actually all you need to know about my project, BUT, because I am super stoked and on a roll, I will continue to foist this long-winded explanation upon you unfortunate readers). Next summer, I will pack myself up and head back to Fiji to collect many, MANY more fish samples from all over the islands. I will only collect species that are important to local Fijian fisheries, such as groupers, snappers, goatfish (potentially), etc. I’ll visit as many geographically distinct locations around the country as possible to get a good snapshot of widespread genetic distribution. Then I’ll come back to New York and process the genetic samples at the American Museum of Natural History, where all my whole fish samples will also be catalogued and stored for the use of future generations of researchers. And THEN, after lots and lots of statistical analysis and writing and re-writing, I will put together a huge connectivity map of economically important Fijian reef fish.
Ahhhh, the crowd goes wild!! Fijian marine management planners will rejoice nationwide!! Marine reserves will be established and fish will be plentiful everywhere!!
Hahhh, okay well…maybe it won’t go down like that. But in my heart that is def.in.ite.ly. how it will go down. So that’s that. Thanks for listening, kids!
Annnd we’re back! We arrived in Suva yesterday after a week of sample collection in Nagigi (pronounced Nai-ni-ni) on the northern island of Vanua Levu. And man, what a week…I’m at a loss for words when I try to articulate what we’ve experienced. Coming to mind right now are the vibrant colors of the reef fish - brilliant oranges, silvery greens, pale yellows, deep reds, fading slowly from the limp fishes’ tissues as they wait patiently in their plates for us to process them. The cerulean blue of Nagigi’s lagoon, impossibly clear as the prow of our tiny boat cleaves a path through liquid color. The weightlessness of diving, being suspended in space with the tip of my spear glinting five feet ahead and the mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator punctuating the depths. Life in the village was elegant in its simplicity, everything revolving around those few hours spent underwater and the golden afternoons processing samples. The villagers were among some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met, especially our hosts Nancy and Nyo. These wonderful people cooked our every meal, insisting we eat more than our fill, and made sure we were comfortable and well-kept throughout our time spent in the village.
More importantly, our research endeavors were extremely successful. By the end of the trip we had collected over 100 different species of reef fish, and had observed over a dozen endangered species that we can’t collect but can record as present. The biodiversity on Nagigi’s reefs was astonishing, while apparently not even being up to its full potential. We collected dozens of surgeonfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish, a handful of groupers, jacks and mullets (which are more commonly fished by the villagers), two lionfish and a handful of extremely small gobis, blennies, and cardinalfish. I’m definitely missing a lot of fish families there, but that’s what I can remember without looking at my field notebook. :) And, like most field expeditions, we did experience a few hiccoughs in the plans - delayed ferries, boat problems, having to take time off because of terrible weather, etc. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fieldwork, and not just on this expedition, is to always expect the unexpected. It sounds really cliche but it is truly crucial to have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. For instance, one of the days we were supposed to collect a lot of data we woke up to torrents of rain hammering on our little tin roof, and when we saw the current absolutely RIPPING in the lagoon, all chance of diving that day went out the door. So we had to improvise, sending a few of us into the nearby town to run some necessary errands we had been putting off, and the others staying behind to do interviews with Helen. It ended up being a productive day despite not getting our expected work done, and that day was chalked up as a success. Thankfully the weather wasn’t always like that and we did get to dive in some absolutely fantastic waters (eee!), and collect all the fish and sediment samples we needed.
Sitting here in Suva, heading back to the US in three days, I realize how much I’m going to miss this place over the next year. BUT, I’m also bolstered by the possibility of returning next summer for my thesis research (!), and am so looking forward to what my graduate school experience holds in store - it has certainly started off on the right foot. :)
Video interviews done by the amazing Dr. Helen Scales, www.helenscales.com
Stumbling upon a praying mantis in the street, we fall to our knees - cameras up, voices low, immediately ensnared. It starts moving towards Amy’s arm, which is outstretched in hopes of a species to species greeting, and soon she has the insect close to her face, cooing encouraging noises. I keep my distance, perfectly content with getting a close-up of its alien-like eyes through the lens of my camera. We hear a car approaching and reluctantly get out of the street, urging Sir Manty out of harm’s way. This is such a field biologist moment.
Life here has settled into a comfortable routine. Breakfast around 7am at the Hot Bread Kitchen amusingly located on Butt Street or the coffee shop on Loftus, reading the paper and discussing our day’s plans in between bites of coconut buns and fruit rolls. The beginnings of our days are usually filled with field preparations, yesterday involving permitting (always, always checking on the permits), tracking down ethanol and formalin, maps, and liquid nitrogen. Today involving more permitting, tying up loose ends from yesterday’s errands (the formalin quest has taken us on a wild goose chase around various University of South Pacific campuses), and playing with underwater cameras and GoPro rigs. Lunches are taken at the food court just down the hill from our hotel, filled with amazing Indian food and sushi, and afternoon activities usually involve either doing interviews with Helen in scenic places or the tedious but extremely necessary prep work like filling hundreds of microtubules with ethanols and sharpening pencils. Evenings usually consist of more amazing food, lots of laughter and story telling, a bit of down time and then early to bed to prepare for another jam-packed day ahead.
While this time in Suva has been ridiculously enjoyable (the Drew Crew’s ab muscles have significantly strengthened from all the laughs), we are all intensely focused on the prize ahead - our week in the village of Nagnini, diving daily to collect samples, conducting interviews with fishermen and fisherwomen. This is what our expedition is all about, everything comes down to this week in Fiji’s “hidden paradise” (which we were delighted to hear the Suva locals calling it). We depart tonight at 7pm, after one last day of frantic errand running and equipment packing, boarding an overnight ferry that will land us on the northern island at 4am the next day. After arriving in Nagnini I will be effectively off the map, not using internet or phones both because it will be extremely difficult and also for the purpose of fully immersing myself in our work, enabling myself to be fully present for every aspect of the field.
Edit: We are now leaving tomorrow morning at 4am, arriving in Savusavu in the afternoon to head to the village. The ferry was delayed so we have scrambled to make it work and it looks like we won’t be too set back :) Ahhh the challenges of fieldwork! Adios everybody, talk to you again when we have 800+ fish added to our inventory!
Hello from Suva, Fiji! It’s so crazy to actually be here, after months of talking and planning and prepping. The entire Drew Crew (which we dubbed ourselves this morning for an 8k fun run) arrived in Suva in a state of near disbelief, stunned that we had actually reached our destination with every single bag and piece of equipment fully intact. We landed in Nadi (pronounced “nandi”), crammed all of our things into a flower print, velvet-covered minivan, piled onto the plastic-covered seats (think grandmother's house) and shot straight over to Suva, the capitol of Fiji, where we’ve been for the last 3 days. And from there it’s been an absolute whirlwind! Buying gear for the field, checking up on permits, giving talks, unpacking equipment, playing with cameras (two waterproof GoPros lent to us by some colleagues - woohoo!), and planning our week of sample collection. And in between all the important things we have been doing, there are the gems of cultural experience that inevitably occur when halfway across the globe. We stumbled across a music festival last night, where we got to watch a bunch of adorable children do adorable dances and listen to some great music by a few local Fijian bands. We have been eating amazing food as well, lots of Indian curries and coconut dishes, although we have yet to eat any traditional Fijian food here in the capitol. The fish market in Suva is amazing, so many colorful reef fish alongside large offshore species, and whenever we walk through it’s kind of like a collective ichthyology nerdgasm. There is a beautiful flower market as well, and a very interesting kava/tobacco market where we’ll be getting our kava roots to present to the village officials for our sevu sevu (kava ceremony). We’re heading to the village of Nagigi on the south coast of Vanua Levu (Suva and Nadi are on the island of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu is the island just to the north) on Wednesday, and staying there for about a week.
More updates and photos later, mothe everybody!!
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.
One year ago this month, I embarked on one of the coolest adventures I've been on thus far, heading to the middle of the Pacific ocean to help a friend with her research in Fiji. We went diving with bull sharks, ate traditional Fijian lovos, hiked to waterfalls and snorkeled in pristine turquoise waters. I learned SO much about marine protected areas and how they're managed, and Dani's work with three of the local villages opened my eyes to how closely the Fijian way of life is connected to the health of their reefs. Not only has this experience shaped a lot of my future career and life goals, but it also seems to have started the trend of AMAZINGNESS I've been enjoying for the last year - going to Fiji seriously rocked, and life hasn't stopped rocking ever since! :) So here are some favorite photos of mine to commemorate that game-changer of an adventure, and I hope you all have the chance sometime soon to embark on your own, be it 2,000 miles away or 20! Happy Monday everyone!
It has been a tragically lengthy amount of time since I've posted, but not without good reason. I've been applying to graduate programs! :) Well, technically I haven't applied to a single school yet haha BUT I've been writing a ridiculous amount of essays for grant proposals! There are two huge pre-doctoral grants that I've applied to, one from NSF and one from NOAA, and they both involved long and torturous application processes. SO cross yo fingaaaas! I find out in May whether I'll be a funded grad student or not ;)
But one SUPER cool thing I wanted to share with you all has to do with the research I'm planning to conduct in the next few years. (Hopefully) we all know that our oceans are IMMENSELY important to the health of our planet, not only environmentally (providing climate stability, storing excess CO2, full of a ton of unique ecosystems and crazy cool critters), but also economically. Last year, CORAL REEFS ALONE were estimated to provide over US$ 30 billion in goods and services to world economies, through fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection (uhh, Hurricane Sandy, anyone?? We could definitely have used a nice litte coral reef off the Jersey shore to break up all that wave action...) So if coral reefs alone provide all that, what about the high seas, the Arctic circle, the mangrove forests, the deep ocean? That's a lottt of money coming into the global economy. Couple that with the massive importance of oceans to our planet's general health, and it's pretty obvious. We need to start taking care of our oceans better, and inspiring people everywhere to care! There are actually a ton of amazng NGO's and non-profits out there doing just that, reaching out and connecting science to the public to raise awareness for the plight of our oceans, it's extremely inspiring and uplifting. I try to take an optimistic approach to the whole climate change/end of the world projections, because I'd like to believe that we won't let our planet die without putting up a good fight!
SOO, as a major ocean advocate myself, I'm hoping to pursue a graduate degree in Marine Conservation. I will hopefully end up at Columbia University in the fall, where I'll be working with Dr. Josh Drew to investigate the phylogeography of certain coral reef fish. Ahh, big word! Basically it means I'll be checking out how genetically related fish from one area of the ocean are to fish from a different area. This actually has a whole slew of conservation applications, because it's really important to know how connected two populations are if you're going to try to make management decisions about a specific area. The idea is, whatever you do to one area could very well be affecting another area down the road, or even across the fricken ocean on a different island! So I'm looking to get into that crazy world of genetics and use my findings to help make effective, informed management decisions. I'm pretty excited!
Here's a little video by Dr. Drew introducing some local, traditional forms of management already in place in Fiji! (Fijians are pretty on top of it with preserving their reefs)
Have a great day everyone! More later!
Oh herrooo there, blogging world of WordPress! I feel like such a grown up moving my blogging hobby onto here, all my past blogs have existed via blogspot (lame), tumblr (uber lame), or mass emails sent to friends and family during my travels (what are we, in the Stone Age?). So I'm stoked to move my ramblings, travel accounts and occasional science factoids to a new and snazzy-looking home. I started blogging when I studied abroad in Australia in 2010 and absolutely loved it (both the blogging and Australia, duh), but when I came home my life just seemed so boring comparatively that it kind of took the fun out of blogging. It would have read like this: June 16, 2010 "Oh my gahhhhd today I swam with majestic sea turtles and got stung by a bluebottle jellyfish and then drank beers with pro surfers my life ROCKS!" June 20, 2010: "Today...I walked the dog. She pooped. I picked it up. Then I took a nap. Then...then....psh, nevermind" (aka Australia was the time of my life and it was slightly depressing coming home) ANYWAY, I haven't really gotten back into blogging since! Actually, I made an attempt when I was traveling to Fiji for 2 months - I had it all set up via tumblr and was stoked and ready to go, flew over there, gathered some good blogging material in my head for a few days or so, and then sat down to type furiously and gloriously about my experiences...but then the Fijian government blocked my website for reasons completely unknown to me (I seriously didn't tell anyone about those plans to topple the dictatorship). Sooo there went that. And now, here I am, sitting down for attempt #3 and actually getting pretty stoked about it, because I kind of want to be a writer. Kiiind of. I also kind of want to be a professional underwater explorer. And a successful painter living in San Francisco. Oh and also a science writer/marine biology professor. And maybe a model for mermaid costumes or something, you know how it goes, changes every day. But, in reality the marine biologist thing is kind of what I got going for me these days, it's what all the shit on my resume tells the world I do. BUT, I think the only cool thing about being an underemployed 20-something year old living with your parentals these days, is that you can afford to pursue other interests you've always wanted to explore. Like writing. And painting. And volunteering at science museums. :) So here's to that! Doing things just for the sake of doing them! And doing them well! Hellz yeah! (ew I promise no more z's instead of s's, my mom does that in texts - "Whatz up" "Seriously mom?! There is no difference between a z or an s on your T9 phone.") Okay wrapping up first post, now I'm going to fiddle with settings and colors and customizations, joy!