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The Return to the Motherland….or a Conservation Adventure of a Young Biologist

By on October 26, 2012 in EDGE Updates, EDGE Fellows, Focal species, Corals

It’s that time of year again! No, not Christmas. It’s time for the EDGE Conservation Tools training course. This year, we’ve come to the Kenyan coast to run a combined training course for early-career conservationists working on both marine and terrestrial EDGE species. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you updates from the course participants, starting with Nikita Shiel-Rolle

Fellows during class

For most Bahamians the continent of Africa is thought of as the “motherland” or the origin of our existence. As a Rolle (a prominent Bahamian Slave surname), there is no question that my ancestry has direct ties to the continent of Africa.  As a scientist the idea of going to the African continent conjures different ideas of large mammals and unique species; exploring a biodiversity hotspot and learning the art of conservation science. So then I ask myself, what am I expecting of this scientific journey in the motherland?

Nassau, London, Entebbe, Mombasa a 3 day trip of over 19 hours in the air as opposed to the unimaginable trip by boat that my ancestors took hundreds of years ago headed in the opposite direction. I was in Kenya for no more than 15 minutes when I saw a monkey running around outside the airport, not to mention the ones screaming outside my tent as I am writing- this is a wild place! Our first official day began with an introduction to Makongeni Village, the community where Camp Kenya (the host location for our EDGE training course) is located.

Kenyan mud hut

As we walked through the community’s dirt roads we passed goats, chickens and homes constructed from mud and palm frawns. Camp Kenya is located close to a primary school that the organization has been influential in constructing. According to Gladys our camp Kenya Coordinator, when Camp Kenya moved into the area four years ago the students did not have a classroom, but rather would conduct lessons underneath the trees.

Women and child in Kenyan village


Our first course was on the Principles of Conservation Biology; this was a nice introduction for me as I just finished a very similar class last semester at University of Edinburgh. As such it provided a straightforward introduction to the more intense classes to come. Meanwhile, the current Ecological Monitoring course is a bit more demanding and has introduced a number of challenging statistical principals that I hope to fully understand by the end of this training. Despite the stress of statistics and the challenges associated with it, it is an area that I really need to work on. The classes we have done so far have been a nice balance of theory and practical application which mix things up and helps my brain cope with some of the really intense topics.

David Curnick (EDGE tutor) during a dive

Today was by far the best day as I had my first dive in the Indian Ocean!  I was really impressed with the different types of coral along with the coral cover here. Everything was so healthy, not to mention that we had a surprise visit from a turtle and number of dolphins. Despite my passion for coral and the ocean I never thought that I would find myself specifically doing coral research. I am looking forward to seeing what the coral quality is like outside of the park. The diving in Kisite Marine Park reminded me of previous dives in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park in The Bahamas as there were so many different animals and everything was vibrant. It wasn’t until the second dive today that it hit me that I was diving in Kenya and that life as I know it is amazing and full of adventures! I can only imagine what’s to come.

Me and my course mates

The experience so far has got me thinking about my project and some of the parts that I want to refine. I have already been inspired and have many ideas on how I can positively impact conservation in The Bahamas.

It has been fantastic getting to know the other members in the group, learning about their EDGE species of focus and what life is like in their home nations. An experience like this is something that will truly impact all of our future careers, and hopefully conservation in general.  Tomorrow we begin statistics, if I said I was not worried I would be lying, but at the same time I am prepared to take on the adventures and the challenges of this conservation biology journey in the motherland.

The EDGE Conservation Tools training course forms part of the EDGE Fellowship programme – to learn more click HERE