I have always had a profound love and curiosity for the ocean. Some would say it borders on obsession. My desire to understand marine environments led to a bachelor’s of science from the University of Guelph in marine and freshwater biology, and then a master’s of science in geography at the University of Victoria. My master’s degree focused on incentive-based conservation and marine wildlife tourism. Through extensive travel and fieldwork around the world, including Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, the Caribbean, and Mexico, I started to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the threats currently facing the world’s oceans. It was with this knowledge in mind that I decided to pursue a doctoral degree focusing on marine conservation.
My specific research interests integrate social and biological sciences to answer applied problems in conservation. I am interested in understanding social and ecological impacts of marine wildlife tourism for improving industry sustainability and the conservation of targeted species and their critical habitat. My current academic interests grow from my master’s thesis, where I assessed the potential sustainability of whale shark tourism in Isla Holbox, Mexico. For my dissertation, I will be working on the conservation of commercially important reef fish spawning aggregations through incentive-based conservation. Many spawning aggregations, both in Mexico and throughout the wider Caribbean, have been significantly diminished and extirpated due to overharvesting. A successful ecotourism activity based on diving these spawning aggregations could be used to gain support for their protection through the establishment of a network of marine protected areas. The protection of commercially important fish populations is necessary not only for those local communities dependent upon them for their primary food source and livelihood. It would also help maintain a functional ecosystem, which strengthens the resilience of these critical ecosystems to climate change.
I chose to pursue my doctoral degree at Texas A&M because the Applied Biodiversity Science (ABS) program’s goals of connecting local ecological functions and community needs within broader economic and political contexts allows me to take my research one step further and conduct research that matters. The importance of addressing relevant ecological and socio-economic issues, as well as involving local actors such as community members, researchers and NGOs in marine resource management, is critical to achieve conservation in the real world and is a mainstay of the ABS program.