Tuesday 1 December, 2020

Women in science: Under the sea with marine scientist, Anjani Ganase

Apart from a mermaid’s tail, marine scientist Dr Anjani Ganase and ‘The Little Mermaid’s Ariel have much in common – they spend much of their time in water and have a love for the ocean and its creatures.

However, while Ariel dreams of prince charming, Dr Ganase’s dreams are on a grander scale – discovering and preserving the mysteries of the ocean.

Dr Ganase, a coral reef ecologist who runs online blog Wild Tobago, shared her views on the protected Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon in December 2018 after plans were announced to create a resort there, which went viral online.

Dr Ganase told Loop News her love for marine science began at a young age:

“It's cliché but I got into marine science because I grew up on this island. I spent my childhood swimming and snorkelling down the islands with my grandfather. I had to learn to swim and also played water polo, so I was always connected to water.”

Guided by her university professor, she decided to focus on coral reefs, which was the subject of her PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia.

About her stirring environmental article on the Bon Accord Lagoon, she said scientists also have a duty to speak the truth and share their knowledge.

“I think it is the responsibility for scientists and other experts in the field to actively communicate knowledge related to ecologically sensitive, yet important, ecosystems.”

“I also think environmental education should be done all the time and targeting all ages, so when events, such as the plans to build the Sandals Resort in a Marine Protected Area arises, the understanding of why this is wrong is already understood.”

Despite our dependence on the ocean, Dr Ganase said many don’t see the real value of these natural resources.

“Many people are ignorant about the value of our the marine environments in their backyard, and I'm trying to change this by communicating science (through research, article and school and camp visits) so that we can be more conscious of how our activities may impact our marine ecosystems.”

(Photo: Dr Ganase and fellow researchers.)

The climate change conundrum

The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a global public health emergency, however, the issue of climate change remains.

Weather agencies have recorded sea surface temperatures up to 26 degrees Celsius this year, and warm ocean activity means more storms and more hurricanes.

Marine species such as coral reefs and trees such as mangroves are critical factors in protecting islands from destructive wave action, and yet their habitats are being affected.

“We need to put strategies in place to safeguard ourselves and our natural environments from the impacts of climate change, this will also buffer the impacts of local disturbance.”

“Activities includes regulation to limit land clearing activities, as well as coastal and marine habitat destruction.”

“Supporting research for coral restoration, management of marine and land-based sources of pollution, regulation of fisheries, especially of parrotfish that are crucial for maintaining a healthy reef.”

“Our natural land and marine ecosystems are crucial assets for our survival, as everything we need comes from these natural spaces.”

Dr Ganase said an action plan is needed:

“We need to assess and mitigate the threat of climate change to our remote and coastal communities, who would be more vulnerable to sea-level rise, extreme storm event and economic loss from impacts to neighbouring ecology - coral reefs and fisheries. We also need to move away from oil and gas and invest in clean energy at a quicker rate, while we can still afford to. It will also allow us to keep relevant in the international economy, as the world is rapidly moving into the direction of alternative, renewable energy and green alternatives.”

(Photo courtesy Dr Anjani Ganase)

Bake and not-shark

The Trinidadian pastime of bake shark has a dark side: not many know the disastrous effects of overfishing this predator species.

In fact, fishermen continue to haul in some endangered species such as hammerhead sharks. 

Dr Ganase said this culture must change.

“I don't think we should eat anything that is endangered, it's simply not sustainable. Sharks are important for coral reefs because they are top predators and can keep the populations of other fish and invertebrate species in check, this in turn maintains the health of the coral reef community, preventing the overgrowth or bloom of one population or another. We all know that cultures eventually need to be updated and changed, this is one example.”

 

Preservation of coral reefs

Coral reefs are the nurseries of the ocean – the destruction of reefs can severely impact the world's food supply

Dr Ganase is currently working on to revamp the coral reef monitoring programme using more updated field and analysis methods to try to understand what is driving coral reef health in Tobago.

She hopes to be able to share this information with the communities that depend on these reefs through useful reef report cards and online platforms.

 She is also a member of SpeSeas, a local NGO focused on communicating marine science.

“The project that I'm currently working on is the Maritime Ocean Collection. I'm building an underwater streetview collection of Tobago's coral reefs for people to be able to virtually dive these reefs. We're currently at the stage of building the website to access images and videos on Tobago's coral reefs. For more information: https://speseas.org/the-maritime-ocean-collection.”

 

More women in marine science

As for being a woman in the field of marine science, Dr Ganase said that she has never been made to feel different than men during her research, and said that the number of women in the field of marine science is growing.

“I have been very lucky to be in a field where I have been exposed to little to no sexism and have had an equal opportunity as my male colleagues.”

“When I started studying marine biology 14 years ago, the majority of the senior scientists then were predominantly male, but I'm happy to say that within my career I no longer see such male dominance, as more females are taking on the leadership roles.”

“So my advice for women is that this marine conservation is very progressive and you will not be held back because of your gender. I think it’s because ecologists don't have time to waste thinking about gender biases, as there is too much at stake with regard to the well-being of coral reefs and other marine environments. We need all hands on board!”

For more information on Wild Tobago, visit: http://wildtobago.blogspot.com/

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