This dual functionality has led to a sense of 2 lives in the 2 countries, on all fronts — drastically different time zones, working on both my fellowship and writing my thesis, facing the global pandemic circumstances, as well as the variety of current societal issues. There has also been a sense of (positive) reverse culture shock to American workplace culture, which is very organised and structured; much different from the less formal and more chaotic nature of working in a developing country. Living in Africa requires much patience and flexibility, and having lived in Hawai’i previously, “aloha” or “island time” is at a more relaxed pace, as is the lifestyle in small coastal communities I have called home over the years. This mindset has come quite in handy while we are all adjusting to our new professional realities.
What my workplace was supposed to look like…versus what it actually looks like! (Midway Atoll satellite image: USFWS; desk space photo: Selena Flores)
There also was a big change to my anticipated workplace, when our assignments were modified to take place remotely…especially when I expected to be on a tropical island for several months, skipping the South African winter! My fellowship comprises part of the mouse eradication programme on Midway Atoll, two small islands encircled by coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean, which is home to staggering millions of seabirds, especially albatross. In addition to other conservation issues like fisheries bycatch, climate change causing sea level rise, and marine plastic debris, accidentally introduced mice have also been preying upon vulnerable nesting seabirds and their young, as well as the other species that live on this remote island.
…But this programme is not just about getting rid of the mice; there are many implications to consider, to keep other species on the island safe and protected. My project in particular focuses on how to keep the shorebirds that use Midway Atoll as a place to stop over or stay while migrating, safe from exposure to the rodent bait, mainly by devising techniques to keep them away from the area. While it is disappointing to not be heading to Midway Atoll for fieldwork, the scientific design is equally important. It’s also apt for us to be as prepared as possible when the time comes to implement.
(Albatross chicks among plastic debris: Forrest & Kim Starr, Wikipedia; Laysan Albatross colony: Megan Dalton, Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge)
Time zones, locations, duties, and cultures aren’t the only major reversals involved in my fellowship — for nearly ten years, the focus of my applied conservation research and wildlife management work has involved preventing disturbance to coastal shorebirds and seabirds, not how to effectively cause it! Designing this portion of the project will surely require a lot of learning on the other spectrum of disturbance, and will undoubtedly provide an interesting challenge. I am fully embracing it, and delving into finding the best solutions to keep the shorebirds of Midway safe during a critically necessary conservation operation!
(World map header image: Civilshya, https://www.slideegg.com/; custom edits: Selena Flores)
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP
Location: Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge