By Elitza Germanov.
On a recent family visit to the Black Sea, the place where I first made a connection to the marine environment, I had the chance to reflect on my past few months of PhD life; the wide variety of activities that have kept me busy in Perth as I prepare for the upcoming field season. In sum it has been an exciting and challenging time. I am quickly learning that being a conservation scientist is a little bit like being a Jane of all Trades. Everyday I am faced with a new skill to learn and master.
These skills have included, but are not limited to: improving my critical thinking ability through scientific literature review; being capable of synthesizing intellectual contributions through scientific literature writing; learning new laboratory, field, and data analysis skills; dusting off the mental cobwebs in statistics and Indonesian classes; developing good budgeting skills; writing thorough applications for grants and permit boards; being media savvy and able to engage the public with my science. Phew! It is a good thing I have had help along the way from my fellow colleagues at MMF and Murdoch University.
The past few months have been a lot more reading and writing about the ocean and its majestic filter feeders, the manta rays and whale sharks, than actually observing them in the wild. However, being close Murdoch University has allowed me access to advice from laboratory experts for developing methodology, as well as new networking, collaboration and public awareness opportunities. Below are a few of my recent experiences and challenges.
Ellie getting acquainted with her inner writer and comfy chair.
As I discussed previously, plastics are known to concentrate toxins and through ingestion, large filter feeders may become contaminated. Mass spectrometry is an advanced laboratory science that is able to measure small quantities of chemicals in the tissues of living things. Although mass spectrometry methodology is well developed and previously tried with success to measure persistent organic pollutants (such as DDTs, PCBs and plastic associated toxins like phthalates) in the tissues of elasmobranch (sharks and rays) species, this methodology has generally only been achieved on frozen samples and relies on the availability of refrigerated sample storage facilities and quick transport to the laboratory.
The availability of these things becomes harder or nearly impossible in the remote places of developing countries where these filter feeders aggregate. For example, while a freezer is technically easily purchased, reliable power is not, thus a back up generator must also be added to the lab equipment wish list. Although, both Indonesia and the Philippines have many airports spread around their archipelagoes that would help me quickly transport samples; finding dry ice or other long term cool storage solutions, to allow the material to stay frozen during international transport from beach to lab is much more difficult. Thus, it would be beneficial to this study and others that a new method for effective sample preservation without the need for refrigeration during storage and shipment, be developed and tested. Researchers at the Murdoch Metabolomics and Separation Science Facility at Murdoch University are helping me do just that.
From sea side to bench side
Marine debris is a complex problem requiring a multi-facetted approach, which is something we at MMF aim for in all of our projects. Public outreach and local stakeholder engagement and inclusion is very much part of my project. While developing this social aspect of my project I had the good fortune to meet a fellow marine biologist, Christine Parfitt, whose interests also lie in reducing plastic marine pollution.
Her initial interest in sea turtles led her to develop elementary school curriculum, Bottle for Botol, with the aim to educate the next generation of Indonesians about the hazards of plastic waste mismanagement and in particular, reducing single use plastic. Working alongside Christine, and with the help of her social science and education theory expertise, I hope to develop better awareness methods to effectively reach stakeholders in the rural regions where my fieldwork takes place.
Christine with her Indonesian students and their “Bottle for Botol”
While in Perth visited the local dive community at Underwater Explorers Club of Western Australia to raise awareness about microplastics. While large solid waste management is handled relatively effectively in developed countries, attention is still needed on reduction. Additionally, many of the talk attendees were surprised to learn about the hidden microplastics in our cosmetic products. It is my continued goal to cast a wide audience net and raise awareness about the hazards of plastic debris, especially micro sized plastic, to our marine environment by drawing focus to our charismatic focal species, the manta rays and the whale sharks.
Ellie “Talking Trash” to the Underwater Explorers Club of WA
To engage a wide audience at MMF, we often integrate interested general public into our field research as “citizen scientists”. Lucky for us, our focal species are often found in some of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, and thus our citizen scientists, and us, get treated to some amazing encounters and experiences. If you too are a diver and excited about marine conservation, you are invited to dive in and join us in these spectacular locations in the field. I for one cannot wait to get wet!
Our Citizen Scientist getting acquainted with a manta ray in Komodo.
– Manta rays in the land of the dragon, Komodo National Park, Indonesia. A special joint expedition with Aquatic Alliance, and you get to meet our PhD student, Ellie Germanov. November 16th – 20th, 2015. Get in touch: [email protected]
– Swim the world’s largest known aggregation of the world’s largest fish, whale sharks, Mexico. July 2016.
– Join our researchers for our whale shark field season in Mafia Island, Tanzania. November 2015 and 2016.