It’s hard to believe it has been seven months already since I left Puerto Galera at the end of my Zoox Experience Programme – with lovely memories and a renewed sense of direction. The nine weeks working and living the life of a conservation practitioner, building up skills and confidence, was all the reinforcement I needed to pursue a (potentially overdue) career change. So I returned to my home base Sydney and handed in my resignation (just like that!). While finishing the last few months of my contract at the University, armed with an updated CV (thanks for the tips, Sam!), I started browsing job opportunities. It soon became evident that the positions I was most interested in had the words “relevant tertiary qualifications” in them.
Going back to school initially sounded both frightening and a bit regressive, but the more I looked into programmes offering conservation biology or marine science/management degrees, the more excited I got. I ended up applying to four different postgraduate programmes and got accepted to three (!). What I had not anticipated was an offer from Imperial College London for their one-year multidisciplinary Conservation Science MSc.
Did I really want to leave everything behind in Sydney and exchange my sunny, beachy lifestyle for the cold drizzle of London? I will save you a detailed description of the weeks of mulling over it, losing sleep, making several pros & cons lists and generally being a pain to everyone around me. The end decision was that the ConSci course (as they call it here at Imperial) was exactly what I was looking for, and that I could probably bear a year in the Northern Hemisphere (given the fact that I spent the first 27 years of my life there :-p). The die was cast. Now, the only problem was that by mid-July I was out of a job and my new course did not start until October. So, what does a marine enthusiast do? Go diving! I did not just want a holiday, I wanted to develop better dive leadership skills and (finally!) get my Dive Master Certification.
After some googling, I contacted Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) because they offered high level training in the context of a conservation programme. It was only after I spoke to Soren at MCP that I learned they were in fact working with Zoox after their relocation to Dumaguete. There could be no better recommendation to seal the deal for me! Soren and Helle are a Danish couple who set up MCP and established their base camp at a beautiful botanical garden in Zamboanguita, about 45min from Dumaguete. Together with their scientific staff and dive instructors, they run a fantastic (and growing) science and conservation programme. They are new in the area but very dedicated to the cause as they continue to build relationships with local communities and organisations. I could write a whole blog post just about this absolutely wonderful crew of people, but you can check out their work to get a flavour of what they do here: http://www.marineconservationphilippines.org.
Needless to say, I loved my time at MCP, and … I got to catch up with the fabulous Zoox team, who’d also relocated to Dumaguete in the meantime. Bonus!
So now, I am writing this blog from my tiny desk in my tiny room in my hall at Silwood Park, Imperial’s satellite (and often forgotten) campus in Berkshire, about an hour outside of London. So, yes, forget about the glamour and hustle and bustle of London Town, and think about wellies, mud, forest, rabbits, deer, meadows and lots of ridiculously expensive cars and mansions (this is Ascot after all!). We’re seven weeks into the autumn term and so far we’ve covered such a range of big issues, some more in-depth than others. Just to give you an idea: we’ve had a reading group discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of payment for ecosystem services, spent a whole week on case studies of (more and less successful) conservation policy implementation, we discussed the thorny issue of trophy hunting and canned hunting and their place in the conservation landscape, attended a two-day symposium on the future of food production and the conservation of
biodiversity, and spent two weeks getting acquainted with the workings of London Zoo and the research and conservation activities of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
My 28 other classmates and I come from a variety of backgrounds in both the natural and social sciences, but what we all share is a love of nature and a drive to make a positive change, whether that is protecting rhinos against poaching, advising growers to work towards sustainable palm oil production, human-wildlife conflict resolution, reducing the negative impact of agriculture and food production on ecosystems, poverty reduction and alternative livelihood provision, or improving protected area design and management (and many other topics of interest). It is going to be a mind-opening year, where we’ll spend a lot of time actually working with conservation practitioners and researchers at ZSL, the Durell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Kew Gardens, as well as the staff at Imperial. Next northern hemisphere spring-summer, we are expected to complete an independent research project. I’m still undecided about the details, but the ocean is calling. I might head back to East, because it’s more fun in the Philippines!