This summer I spent a few months in Southeast Asia, eight weeks of which, I spent on Hoga Island with Operation Wallacea. I spend a couple of months here each year conducting research for my PhD and to work alongside Operation Wallacea to bring research and conservation to the Wakatobi Marine National Park. During this expedition I took on the roles of Scientific Coordinator, Intertidal Project Supervisor and Lab Manager which meant I was kept very busy.
My role as Scientific Coordinator enabled me to develop experience in coordinating a team of research scientists, undergraduate dissertation students and research assistants in the high pressured environment of a remote field station. Working as the Scientific Coordinator and Intertidal Project Supervisor has led to a better understanding of conservation and the harsh reality that it often entails.
My research this summer focused on finalising the story of the fiddler crabs that is my PhD. ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ is the fun title my good friend has named it. I am attempting to understand how species coexist, how they avoid competitive exclusion and how they tolerate, or even thrive due to the anthropogenic influence at the site.
The research base on Hoga Island is extremely remote which can produce many an obstacle in the face of science, yet behind any persistent researcher is an enthusiastic brain, some hard work and many excellent friends. Due to the journey and limitations on luggage allowance we can only take so much equipment to work with for each expedition and if these break we have to either know how to fix them or suitably replace them. As part of my coexistence project I am determining whether the fiddler crabs have different shaped mouthparts to filter different types of sediment. To look at sediment size I must dry the sediment, in an oven, after filtering it through sieves of various apertures. The oven that I had this summer caught fire about 6 weeks into the trip, this clearly left me disheartened for a while, until I woke up two days later realising the only way to fix the problem and collect my data was to build a new oven. I tried first to make a solar oven, out of vast amounts of kitchen foil, duct tape and wood, which initially functioned admirably until there was a monsoon downpour one night which left it in pieces. I then found out that another of the scientists had a heat lamp which I was offered the use of and again using much kitchen foil, duct tape and wood, with the added help of a hammer, some nails and many cable ties I had an operational oven. This served its purpose for the remaining ten days and with the help of some marvellous research assistants I managed to recollect all of my lost data and finish my research. A picture of this oven can be seen below.
This was hopefully the final time I go to Hoga to conduct research for my PhD, I don’t say ‘hopefully’ because I don’t enjoy it; I am simply ready to finish my PhD and move on to the next stage of my career. My PhD has taught me more than I thought it possible to learn in four years and I now feel more equipped than ever to stand up for the things I believe in.