“So Grace, what is mutualism?” All eyes turned to me as Dave Smith, director of Operation Wallacea and head scientist of the Coral Reef Research Unit, asked me this question. It was a simple question which, on an ordinary day, I would have mindlessly responded straight away. But this was no ordinary day. My group mates and I were standing in front of experts in the field of marine conservation to present to them a research proposal we aimed to carry out in the next couple of days. After more than two weeks of lectures and diving, we, the EDGE trainees, crafted a research proposal that allowed us to show what we have learned in the training and how we can apply it. Our group (composed of CM from Malaysia, Andri and Lely from Indonesia and myself from the Philippines) decided to propose a study on the EDGE species Heliofungia actiniformis. We wanted to determine its abundance and distribution and its association to the diversity of its symbionts. At that point, the panelists intended to assess the research proposal we had designed, and Dave needed to make sure we knew what we were talking about.
For conservationists, the importance of knowing and understanding what we are talking about is most critical to the success of our endeavors, but oftentimes we make grand statements about environmental issues without truly understanding the science and ecological principles behind them. In the EDGE Coral Reef Conservation Training, I’ve realized that the power of conservation education and management lies in timely, accurate and relevant scientific information and the proper use of it. This is most especially true in my case. I am mainly involved in marine environmental education in the Philippines through Ocean-action Resource Center, a non-profit organization based in southern Leyte. Our goal has been to make marine science and conservation accessible and easily transmissible to local communities, especially among teachers and youth in coastal areas. The EDGE training has highlighted how important our role is and how much responsibility we have in our hands. In fact, in the training we were not only taught about relevant scientific concepts, we were also trained on how to communicate them effectively. We were assessed on our presentation skills, including the effective use of graphics, speech tempo and voice volume!
When I go back to the Philippines, among the many things that I need to do is to reevaluate the content and design our education programs, prioritize on information management, and collaborate more closely with scientists and research organizations. I know these things are not easy to do, but after having learned from the personal experiences of my co-trainees and the experts who guided us in the training, I believe all these can be done.
Thank you ZSL for giving me this wonderful learning opportunity.