As a child I was often playing in the field near my house in Ottawa, working in my little backyard garden, or delighting in my pet goldfish. But I was also reading all the books and magazines I could get my hands on – and with plenty of exposure to fascinating tales of conservation from all over the world, I was pretty certain I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. As a teenager, Outward Bound and Outdoor Education courses reinforced my love for the great outdoors and fostered an appreciation for healthy ecosystems full of native wildlife.
After completing my BScH in Biology at Queen’s University, I took a field course on the ecology of amphibians and reptiles. Finding skinks for the first time, watching black rat snakes, learning about the world’s reptiles and amphibians – I knew I wanted more of this! My honours thesis project was working to clarify genetic diversity in a colourful species of toad from Argentina. I also got to take an amazing field course in northeast Argentina, and these projects gave me my first taste of trying to work on a conservation project in another language.
I completed a MSc in Biology at McMaster University that I adored for its applied, real-world feel – figuring out the toxic effects of Hamilton Harbour on birds. I loved integrating genetics, toxicology, and ecology, which I like to think of as working from the smallest scales to the largest to fully understand a species’ environment. Determined to be able to speak another language for future conservation projects, I then moved to a community north of Québec city where I enjoyed being immersed in both French and the boreal forest for the first time.
Working on various field and lab projects over the years, I’ve grown insect viruses, tracked warblers, analyzed contaminants in cormorants, compared duck DNA, raised hundreds of juvenile snapping turtles, examined wild frogs for deformities, and surveyed for freshwater mussels in urban rivers. I’ve wrangled razorbills, rescued and banded puffins, built duck boxes, and of course dressed up as a whale for an ocean conservation campaign. I’ve loved gaining experience with a range of taxa and figuring out how we can address conservation concerns for these groups.
Recently, I have been working as a manager at a science and nature centre in Newfoundland, shaping programs that help kids and adults discover the nature around them while learning the processes and joy of science. I am very grateful to have been chosen by Wildlife Preservation Canada for this unique award and excited to take on new challenges in conservation. I hope that the program will help me grow as a biologist and prepare me to take on effective environmental projects no matter where I am. As a huge fan of science communication, I’ll be sharing my work in Mauritius on Twitter @LaurasWildLife – follow along to join me in this adventure and hopefully see some of my successes from the field!