I know I’m meant to be writing about what I’ve been up to since Mauritius, especially because I helped get the stories of other past New Noah alumni up for this Next Adventures series. But I haven’t written my own yet. Somehow, the scale of the problem (conservation is so so difficult! and overwhelming!) makes me feel like I can never do enough. In any case, today marks three years since I got home from Mauritius, so I can’t put it off any longer. It feels like a drop in the bucket of what our planet really needs….but “it’s honest work” – Laura
When I got the call that I was going to Mauritius, it felt like a turning point. I knew when the phone rang that I was going to end up with a career in wildlife conservation. I knew once I had that experience, I wouldn’t have trouble finding positions that were the right fit. A lot of people wondered why I would give up my permanent job to go live thousands of kilometres away. At times, I wondered that too. But I had an amazing time in Mauritius (proof at 7 6 5 4 3 2 1), learned so much, and I guess I proved myself right eventually. I applied, interviewed, and then started working at my new job from Mauritius, taking two new conservation areas in northern Newfoundland through the formalization process via distance, rebuilding our GIS in QGIS (incredibly timely we’d just done conservation QGIS training), and giving a talk in Labrador, all before I got back to Canada.
In my current job (creating and supporting conservation areas for migratory birds, mostly), I get to be involved in a huge variety of projects. Sometimes I am deep into the technical side of things, mapping valuable wildlife habitat that we might conserve, or analyzing species declines and recovery actions. Some days I’m office bound, writing conservation plans and reports. Other times, I’m on the ground trying to help connect people to species they may not know about yet, or slogging through swamps looking for wildlife. And sometimes, I’m trying to figure out the political systems that help us put conservation areas on the ground or enact policy that protects wildlife (aka a “biocrat”. Like a bureaucrat, but for the birds?). So, some days blazers, some days boots. I find this mixture pretty thrilling, which is why I’ve been at it for more than three years even though I wasn’t sure if it would end up being my ‘forever job’. (Does anyone really have a forever job these days?).
The geographical location also helps make my work exciting. First of all, there are very few places in North America where you can still create 5000 acre (2100 hectare) conservation areas. Out on the eastern edge of Canada, the province I’m working in has kept a fair bit of frontier spirit and charming ruggedness. We still have vast wilderness spaces, although many people here might not always agree with that term, as these places are sometimes well known to the outdoorspeople on the ground. Indeed, there is a rich history and current culture of berry picking, hunting, fishing, and being outdoors here, which I’ve also enjoyed. The connections between these activities and conservation are a huge area of growth for me, as I’m learning more every day about how people who depend on wild resources view environmental action.
Which brings me to my second point about the geography of my work. Like any adventurous young person, I love to travel. Getting to the woods and towns and coastlines of this part of Canada, looking for wildlife and conservation data, negotiating conservation agreements, and getting paid for it, fulfills me in a way that I know working in the same office every day could not. There is a dynamism in seeing more country, understanding more places, and meeting people from all walks of life who work with our program. Sometimes these are very popular natural areas, but sometimes they are hidden gems, or difficult to access spots. And the wildlife doesn’t disappoint. Otters, moose, caribou, angry beavers, insects, tiny toads, freezing frogs, plants that eat insects, and of course, thousands of birds – eagles and owls and ducks and woodpeckers and warblers and and and.
In any case, it’s clear that my experience and education in Mauritius was the springboard for so much of my professional work now. Every course module and field placement that I completed has some link to what I’m doing now. This is especially true at our brand new shorebird project that I helped get funded, and where I’m the scientific and technical lead (wooo that sounds fancy). I’m pretty excited about these types of projects, because they put me where I always wanted to be – saving wildlife first and foremost, but within conserved landscapes. Species & spaces.
And, not to forget the plants of course, thanks to everything I learned with the teams on Ile Ronde and Ile aux Aigrettes (and at NPCS!), I get to put my plant restoration experience to work on some restoration projects here too.
I wrote a lot about the different experiences in Mauritius before (yep, 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) but three years later I surprisingly find myself drawing inspiration and understanding from something I never expected. I got injured in Mauritius (read: fell headfirst into a moat during a late-night pizza run with friends, cracking a couple ribs and hurting my ankle and shoulder in the process – always bring your head lamp, people….) and I couldn’t do much for a little while. This left me pretty disappointed to be missing out on a lot of fun and field work. Luckily our program director had collected an amazing library for us, full of books on everything – avian invasions and wildlife disease ecology and group dynamics and and and. So I just read and read. Back here at home, I don’t have the time to dig into several books in a row. There is a lot to be said for leaving myself alone with a collection of all the best conservation resources, and this somewhat sad little time ended up serving as some serious professional renewal.
The other thing that Mauritius gave me is an incredible network – or really, just great friends. I love hearing about their projects in Mauritius and all over the world (I think we’re working in more than 10 countries now?) and getting random photos and questions about their work, especially when we get the chance to work on things together. Being in that international context in Mauritius, and learning from all these amazing people from so many different places really helped me broaden my understanding of how conservation looks beyond Canada and the US.
Outside of my regular job, I’ve continued volunteering with a variety of conservation projects. The difference is that now, I’m much more likely to take on leadership roles. The experiences with WPC and MWF helped me see myself as someone who could actually make change happen. I volunteer as the President at Nature NL, where we get the chance to run some fascinating projects and get people outdoors. Outdoor recreation, and adventure, are an important pathway to caring about conservation, especially in the Canadian context. Nature NL is a registered charity and conservation group, and we work on campaigns and engage with governments and industry to enact change, yes, but supporting all of that is hundreds of interested people who learn with us. We show people how to identify whales on coastal hikes and make their own seaweed salt and see the spring migration as it brings thousands of songbirds through our natural spaces. We build both naturalist knowledge, and strong, real-world connections.
I also do a lot of mentoring, both through my university alumni platforms and in person. I like helping other biologists (and future biologists) navigate the work world – everything from how to pick a major, where to find jobs, and how they might go about a career change. These kinds of things can be so opaque that any time I can help others figure it out, I’m there.
And lastly, I work or volunteer with a variety of other interesting projects, like instructing at Becoming an Outdoorswoman and Becoming an Outdoor Teen programs, Girls with Guns, bird identification workshops, taxidermy, banding, puffin and petrel rescue, and ecotourism initiatives.
There’s a lot more to be done. I still wish I could incorporate everything I learned in Mauritius into my projects – it would be exciting to work on more direct species recovery projects here. But hey, maybe I’ll be the person to get that started. Who knows what the next few years will bring. Hopefully more science, more conservation, more adventures, and of course, more cute baby animals.