Some personal reflections
On January 1st, 2021 I went for a walk with an old friend along Jericho beach in Vancouver. Starting out at the grey, wavy water, we set our New Year’s resolutions for the year to come. One of mine was to start doing some serious job/professional development brainstorming. I intend to complete my PhD in just over a year and I felt that it was a good time to begin planning my next steps.
Fast forward to April, I feel like I have already made medium steps toward crystallizing my career path, many thanks to the diverse array of topics and people I was exposed to during my Ocean Conservation course. Over the past four months, I have met bi-weekly over Zoom with around 25 other students to learn from marine conservation champions across the world, including Dr. Andrea Reid, Dr. Rashid Sumaila, Dr. Callum Roberts, Dr. Jean Harris, and Dr. Vera Agostini. The guest speakers introduced us to the many facets of marine conservation, such as ecological restoration, fisheries economics, strategic policy interventions, and community leadership.
Importantly, all of the speakers acknowledged that embarking on a conservation career is hard work and requires courage, perseverance, and humour. For every accomplishment and success story, there are many roadblocks and challenges. Here are a few tips and pieces of wisdom that I gleaned to prepare for this professional and personal path:
1) Practice constant reflexivity
There are a few core questions that I should ask myself on an ongoing basis:
What is my goal and how will I know when I have achieved it?
What is my moral compass and what are my core values that ground me?
Who or what is my audience that I intend to serve through this work? Whose opinions do I care about?
Who and what is being impacted by my work?
Reflecting on these core concepts can provide clarity when the world becomes murky and complex, as it so often does within the marine conservation realm.
I am fairly certain that I want to work as a bridge builder across the diverse groups who connect with the ocean. My vision is that by sharing knowledge, building relationships, and strengthening collaboration, we will make smarter decisions that effectively protect marine life while sustaining human access to the sea.
This bridge-building or facilitation role necessitates working in diverse teams with complex and likely conflicting values. When conflict occurs, or when I am in a position of building consensus, I need to understand what my core values are and whether I have a ‘line in the sand’ beyond which I do not bend. While I have not yet quite figured this out, it is on my mind a good deal.
Identifying the answers to the questions posed above is a messy and complicated process. It is not as simple as making a decision now and sticking to it faithfully throughout all endeavours and initiatives, and it goes without saying that the answers will change change over time as I evolve and respond to new experiences. Above all, it is important to be adaptive, to allow for flexibility and mistakes, and to take pride in understanding what I am trying to achieve, what I have accomplished, and what I am learning throughout the process.
2) Teams teams teams
Conservation is overwhelming. There are so many systemic problems and challenges associated with the ongoing depletion of marine life and degradation of ocean ecosystems. Often, I do not even know where to begin bringing about positive change: is it most effective to work on affecting individual behavioural change? Community mobilizing? Research and education? Top-down policy change? All of these things?
Of course, there is no one solution. Each problem requires a different approach and skill set, and while I identify as an interdisciplinarian, there is a limit to what one person can achieve. Which is why we work in teams – building upon strengths and sharing the workload.
Throughout this course, the analogy of marine conservation being an ‘onion world’ came up again and again. Concentric circles that radiate from the core depict the different layers or dimensions of conservation that interact with one another, from the species and ecosystem, to communities, nations and the world. One of the most comforting realizations upon being confronted with the biodiversity and climate crises, is that there are so many people out there focused on finding solutions at and within each layer of the conservation onion. Together, change is happening (although it is always slower than we want it to be!).
At this point in my life, I can identify that I enjoy working within the community to region layers. I am not focused enough to pick one specific creature or ecological community, and I do not think I would have the patience for international conservation work. Rather, I thrive and love working in a specific place where I can build relationships with community members, understand the regional ecology, and approach problems from a holistic yet spatially constrained perspective.
This is not necessarily a ‘forever’ path, but it is definitely what I feel most eager to pursue over the years to come.
3) Conservation is a strategic marathon: attend to your energy and think long term
In our lecture on multilateral agreements (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity etc), Sarah Fowler said something along the lines of ‘it takes about 20 years to start see and measure the outcomes of multilateral marine conservation policy’. Hmm… that is a very long time. While not every conservation action has that timeline, it was a good reminder that change is not instantaneous a lot of the time, and that it is important to have patience, perspective, and perseverance in working toward conservation outcomes.
That being said, it is also important to identify the quick wins or low hanging fruit that can catalyze community engagement and mobilize resources toward longer term conservation priorities. Becoming strategic with time, energy, and attention is a critical skill, regardless of the onion layer that you are working within.
Overall, I look forward to embodying these lessons over the years to come as I practice marine conservation.