With admittedly zero background in conservation, I was expecting to be surprised and challenged by my post, but I had no idea how much I would actually need to absorb right off the bat. It was pretty much a sink or swim kind of situation: to truly succeed at my job I head to jump headfirst into BV and learn all the ins and outs of its work over the last decade. Now, I can spout facts I never imagined I would know, like life cycles of octopus, the importance of tidal fluctuations, the carbon sequestering capacity of mangroves.
A perk of my job has definitely been the travel, undoubtedly extra special here in the world’s so-called “Eighth Continent.” I have traversed many of Madagascar’s ecosystems, from the chilly plateau in Antananarivo, southward through rolling red hills and endless green rice paddies to dry savannah and my coastal home in Toliara. I have ventured up the sandy and bumpy coastline through the incredible dry Spiny Forest and recently spent half of October trekking around and camping near Belo sur Mer, where we work with communities to conserve mangroves and increase fish and crab catches, about 30 hours from Toliara by taxi brousse (packed in sardine-style, of course).
My most notable memories include hiking in the massive, rocky Isalo National Park and jumping into magically appearing natural green pools of water to cool off; seeing mouse lemurs at night; traveling by dug-out canoe in the open ocean and getting soaked to the bone; and fighting off Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Professionally, I’ve been given incredible responsibility and independence, and I’ve learned how to write grants and scientific research reports, am working towards publishing my first journal article, and even met with National Geographic. Along the way, I’ve picked up a (small) bit of Malagasy from my coworkers and am (very) slowly but (somewhat) surely working on my French.
The last four months has given me new friendships, deeper insight into my own life, and a new appreciation for conservation and its ties to food security and poverty alleviation. The absolute highlight, however, has been working for a mission-driven organization that operates at the junction of academia and reality, and is actually implementing development theory in a setting with tremendous poverty and political instability. Although I have been out of my university classroom for over two years now, everyday at work feels like I am learning again, translating development lectures into meaningful and tangible outcomes, and perhaps even doing something a bit strange, in the best way.