Trouble in Paradise: Advice and insight from Victor Bonito on saving reefs in Fiji

Director and head scientist for Reef Explorer (Fiji) Ltd, Victor Bonito has traveled the globe studying and exploring reefs including throughout Micronesia and U.S. Pacific Territories, Southeast Asia, Hawaii and Madagascar – and of course, Fiji.  Conservation Careers fishes for career advice for anyone ‘cray-sea’ about marine conservation. 

The worlds’ reefs are in deep trouble, but the ‘coral’ of the story is that they can be saved, one fragment at a time. 

What important steps have you taken in your career? 

By any means, I’ve not followed a typical career path, but, there were some important steps that got me to where I am today. Firstly, I chose a career area that I was passionate about, that was suited to my interests and lifestyle. Secondly, early in my career I involved myself in a range of collaborative research efforts, and conducted research in as many different localities/countries as I could – still continue to network and do this as much as I can. Additionally, I continually make the effort to gain the skills and experience I need to be successful in my work. Lastly, I’ve not been afraid to follow ‘the path less travelled’ by others – while it certainly isn’t easy and is not for everyone, I looked to see where I could most make a difference and where I could thrive, rather than searching for institutional prestige or solely financial stability.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to follow in your footsteps? 

Continue to learn as much as you can, follow your interests and passions, and challenge yourself. Spend as much time as you can in the ecosystem or around the species you are studying, as well as keep abreast of relevant research. 

Cement discs for the coral fragments. Photo: Georgia Raybould

Cement discs for the coral fragments. Photo: Georgia Raybould

What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for someone pursuing a career in this field?

During and after your formal training, volunteer, intern or work as much as you can with organizations, labs or individuals that are working on topics that interest you – it’s a great way to learn about the field as well as about yourself.

What can you tell me about the employment outlook in your occupational field? How much demand is there for people in this occupation? How rapidly is the field growing? 

Recently, there has been on-going interest in marine biology career paths, in particular related to coral reefs. Thus, at the moment there is a fair bit of competition for university positions, as well as in relevant government institutions and NGOs. However, the field continues to grow as new technologies are integrated and interdisciplinary collaborations become a norm rather than exception.

‘Right here on the ocean floor, such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin’ for?’ Photo: Victor Bonito

‘Right here on the ocean floor, such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin’ for?’ Photo: Victor Bonito

A typical day in the field?

Monday through Friday I typically spend 3-4 hours (weather permitting) on the reef either working on our coral restorations project or collecting data/specimens for monitoring and research efforts.  Usually I have a couple of field assistants with me, but not always. Occasionally, I have visitors/colleagues that come along in the field with us. Most often, I’m snorkeling, but occasionally I am using SCUBA gear. The rest of the day is generally spent doing data management and analysis, preparing reports and presentations, applying for or managing grants, or doing administration tasks. 

Stressed out about current events? Click here to give a ‘thumbs up’ to Victor and his team as they continue to save paradise!

About the Author

Paige Winslade is currently in her final year at Oxford Brookes University studying BSc Animal Biology with Wildlife Conservation. Combining her passions for conservation and travel, Paige has volunteered in Fiji, Cyprus and South Africa and has a job lined up after graduation as an Assistant Research Officer in Fiji starting later this year.

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