Dr-Stacy-Jupiter_Wildlife-Conservation-Society-podcast

Podcast: Stacy Jupiter | Wildlife Conservation Society

Have you ever dreamt about a career exploring the coral reefs of the south Pacific, diving in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and all the lost corners of Papua New Guinea?

Perhaps you’d love to spend time with the local communities whose lives depend on the health of their forests and fisheries, working in partnership with them in the longer term to find win-wins for people and wildlife.

Well that’s the day job for today’s guest, Dr Stacy Jupiter, Melanesia Regional Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Stacy’s work to bridge the gaps between science and conservation, forests and reefs, and wildlife and communities recently won her the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in Conservation. She’s a hugely impressive lady working at the cutting edge of conservation in some of the most inspiring locations on the planet.

In this Wildlife Conservation Society podcast we chat about Stacy’s career highlights so far, from the mud slides in Gabon to coral reefs in the Pacific and beyond, and discuss the theory and practice of successful community-based conservation programmes. It’s a wide-ranging, fascinating and exciting discussion so jump in your hammock, grab a coconut and enjoy. 

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Audio Transcript

STACY: My name is Stacy Jupiter and I work for the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS and I am the WCS Melanesia Regional Director. 

NICK: Great. And for people who haven’t about WCS or the Wildlife Conservation Society before, how would you describe the organisation? What’s unique about them? 

STACY: Wildlife Conservation Society is one of the oldest environmental NGOs on the planet, it started as the New York Zoological Society in the late 1800s and it has evolved into one of the larger global environmental NGOs operating globally on the planetSo we operate in over 60 countries worldwide and have several thousand staff and operate across 16 different major regions of the planet with the aims of saving wildlife and protecting some of the last great, more intact wild places on the planet. 

NICK: What attracted you to working for WCS? Was it just the attractive job offer? Or was there something about the organisation itself kind of aligned with, you know, what you wanted to do as a professional conservationist? 

STACY: I had always wanted to be a marine biologist since I was about twelve years old and then after I finished my undergrad I was in the Peace Core and I fell in love with working with local people and local communities. But I felt like I needed some more skills and tools to be able to be effective in that regard and so I went back to graduate school and I got this idea in my head that I wanted to work for an NGO but I didn’t know anything about them. So I was finishing up I saw a talk by a researcher who had worked with WCS in Gabon where I’d been in the Peace Core, and so I went to hear his talk and then after I wanted to have a chat with him about the different NGOs, and he didn’t have time to talk me at that moment and he was based in Germany but he was nice enough to give me a call, to an unknown graduate student that he’d never met before, and tell me a bit about WCS and all of the other big NGOs and I really liked what he had to say about WCS that their programmes tend to be really boots on the ground, working bottom up with local communities, very science-based in their focus and that researchers and programme managers tended to have a lot of independence to be able to make their own direction. And based on that conversation I really only wanted to work for WCS and I had applied initially to work for WCS in Papua New Guinea with their marine programme. I didn’t hear back from them over several months and I understand now why, being on the other end, we’re just so, so busy we don’t have time to get to things. And in the meantime another job fell in my lap as a post-doc back in Australia where I’d done my PhD research so I went there, heard from WCS two days later that they wanted to interview me, figured I can’t burn bridges with the job I’d already accepted so keep me on your radar and then something came up in Fiji a couple of years later. 

NICK: Wow. And so the kind of the circle completing, in fact it’s completed a bit further really hasn’t it, because you then landed a job as the Fiji Programme Director I guess ultimately? And now you’re Melanesia Director as well so your work now covers PNG where you were originally trying to work for WCS. 

STACY: Yeah that’s right. Although I originally came to Fiji just as a scientist associated with the programme but interestingly I’d actually applied for an advertised position as Assistant Director of the programme, which for me was sort of a big leap because I was, you know, employed as an Academic Researcher and so I made the conscious decision that I would be wanting to move into management but then they changed their mind and offered me a position as a Research Scientist with the programme. 

NICK: And right now though you very much travel the kind of the academic scientific route with the implementation, the practical implementation on the ground as well so it’s balancing those two work areas? 

STACY: Yeah, definitely and that for sure, it’s been my passion, my interest, to be able to keep doing that but I will say that it’s gotten harder to find the time to devote to the research side of things as I’ve sort of moved up the ladder, the management ladder within WCS. 

NICK: Right, yeah. I can imagine. So what’s your current role then? You’re Melanesia Director, how would you describe your role to someone who you were meeting for the first time and doesn’t understand the sort of work that you’re doing? 

STACY: I basically am the one that works with our teams to set the strategy for our focus of what we want to do, what we think will be effective in Melanesian countries. So I’m based in Fiji with the Fiji programme but I also cover Papua New Guinea and I started a programme in Solomon Islands, doing a little bit of work in Vanuatu, I help the teams with fundraising, I review all of their reports to the donors, I review a lot of their technical reports as well, I give them advice on programme implementation, I do a lot of the hiring, especially for the administrative support positions for our region and that seems to fill up quite big portions of the day, in fact. Travelling also to the different sites to help out strategically and also deal with any problems that arise. 

NICK: And what is the best part of your job, what do you enjoy about your current role? 

STACY: I still always just love getting out into the field and meeting local people and hearing about their interests and their expectations of the project and then for me of course it’s always been about getting underwater and seeing the nature that inspired me to go into conservation in the first place. So I make it a point that I still can get out and do coral reef surveys, it has to be at least one to two weeks every year or I start going a little bit stir crazy in my office. 

NICK: (laughter) I can imagine. So you mentioned that you were twelve when you first started to become passionate about wildlife, is that right? Kind of cycle back to the early days if you can then, where does twelve-year-old Stacy, you know, get to explore nature, what kind of led you into it? 

STACY: Even from when I was much younger I always just loved nature and loved animals, you know. I was that kid, I didn’t like playing with dolls, I had all my animals around. I don’t know if you remember seeing the movie ET that came out when I was young but there’s the scene where ET is hiding in the closet with all of the animals and you just see his eyes move and I remember my cat would do that and sit on the bed with all of the different stuffed animals toys because they literally covered the entire bed. 

NICK: That’s a very 1980s scene as well. (laughter) 

STACY: Then I was about twelve I think just from visiting our relatives down on the coast in Florida and then we’d done a trip to the Bahamas and I saw coral reefs for the first time and I said, wow I just love the sea, I love the ocean and I want to be a marine biologist. Not that I had any idea what that entailed whatsoever. But at that time I also convinced my parents, because I always did a lot of artwork, to let me paint this ridged reef mural in my bedroom, so I had rainforest meets the reef and all sorts of parrots from the new world and the old world together and same thing, fish from the new world and old world all together in this scene because, you know, back in these days I was literally looking up pictures from old encyclopaedias, it was pre-internet, in order to paint these creatures on the wall. So you know, it’s funny now just thinking about species and people moving species around to different places but it definitely was a mish-mash. But also just sort of impression in terms of what I would be looking at for research and doing later in life in terms of living in the tropics and working in these ridge reef environments. 

NICK: It feels like the foundations were laid at quite an early age as you were exploring the imagery on your kind of bedroom walls (laughter). What have been the key steps you’ve taken then from your early days to where you are now? When you kind of look back, you know, what have been the significant moments in your career that’s kind of, you know, led to where you got to? 

STACY: I think the first thing was as an undergrad trying to carve a pathway to doing marine science. I did my undergrad at Harvard University and there wasn’t really a lot of course options for marine biology, there were some that were more related to oceanography but really not a lot of ecology-type courses there. Most people who majored in biology as I did as an undergraduate were going on to medical school and the courses were tailored for that. And so I had thought about this a little bit and Harvard at the time had the option to use advancement placement credit from high school to get a year’s worth of credit from the University. And so I used that instead of graduating in three years, I took a year off and I did a semester at the Duke University Marine Labs on the coast in North Carolina where I could immerse myself specifically in some marine-tailored coursework and then I spent the second half of that year in Australia. My best friend from growing up had moved to Australia when we were pretty young and I’d always stayed in touch and said that I would come when I was an undergrad. And because I didn’t have to do coursework there I was able to volunteer in some research labs which, you know, worked out well for the researchers because I was doing stuff for almost free, in one case I was paid a little bit but I also got first-hand experience of what it would be like to go to grad school and was actually able to do some work to publish a paper as an undergraduate which, you know, I was doing it because it was interesting and I didn’t realise what a big deal that was at the time until I started applying to grad school and then they said, oh you already had a paper. So that was the first critical step in just getting that first-hand experience and, you know, that required just reaching out and at that point internet had been established so just cold emailing a few people, in this case in Sydney to see if they would want someone to come and volunteer in their lab. And then my second big step was having joined the Peace Core. And that really set the foundation for the types of things that I would be interested in. One, as we talked about before we started recording, I was Fisheries Extension Agent, so working with rural farmers in the rainforests in Gabon to build ponds to raise tilapia. And it was a really, really muddy job. I lived in a little village with no electricity and running water, there was a single road that went east to west and it was a clay road and it got really, really muddy and then I would hike in the mud to go to the farmer’s sites and then we’d dig in the mud all day.  

NICK: Gosh, yeah. 

STACY: And Gabon has two very extreme rainy seasons, it’s basically, I was very near the equator and it would just be these deluge of rain and you’d start watching all this mud get into the river and I started thinking about, gees where’s all this mud going and what’s it doing? And so that sort of set these ideas in my head that I became really interested in these linkages between ecosystems and also what happens when humans disturb these linkages? And so I went back to grad school from that with this idea that I would get some more skills and tools to be able to go back and work after with an NGO but to be able to provide some more technical support. And I ended up designing a project looking at how historical land clearing and watersheds have affected water quality change up to the nearshore Great Barrier Reef lagoon. And I was only able to do that because I was fortunate enough to get a Fulbright Scholarship to go over to Australia to have a look at that. So that was another sort of key moment that set me on the path to then enable me really to get this job with the Wildlife Conservation Society because at the time they were implementing quite a large ecosystem based management project in Fiji with a number of other NGOs and my experience in terms of looking at this ridge tree management fit exactly in with the types of work they were doing.  

NICK: There’s lots of themes running through this and an ecosystem based management and linkages between ridges and reefs and forests and the oceans and also the linkages about working with local people as well, that seems to be a theme that’s kind of run throughout your work and I’m sure will continue to run too. I’m quite interested in the kind of community-based  conservation approach, and I’m sure many of the listeners are as well, and it’s something that you’ve done a lot of through your career, not just in Fiji but, you know, across the Pacific and in other areas that you’ve worked in. Why do you think it’s important to kind of take local people and cultural practices into account when you’re doing conservation work? Just to lay the scene, if you like. 

Students-celebrating-graduation-in-the-search-for-the-Top-Conservation-Training-Opportunities

STACY: Well ultimately conservation, while the end goal may be to protect landscapes and seascapes and wildlife, in order to get there it’s about human behaviour change. And so in order to get people to change their behaviour, you have to bring them on board. And they have to want to do that. For me all of conservation is really about conversations with people to try to understand what it is that drives and motivates them and what are their goals and objectives for the place that they live and seeing how we can work together and align our goals and objectives in order to achieve something that has mutual benefits for the local people as well as for the places where they live. And this is particularly important in Melanesia where I work because indigenous people have, depending on the country, about 87-98% of the land. And also customary marine, if not tenure, then customary marine access and use rights to the marine space. So people have a lot of say over what is able to happen on the lands that they own and also the sea area where they access and also who can access those areas and how they can use it. And thus, they are the decision-makers. And so you have to be able to engage people, or else nothing will change and nothing will get done. 

NICK: So you’re looking for these win-wins, you’re looking for areas where you can help local people to achieve whatever their needs are in terms of food or money or, you know, resources that they’re using for the kind of day-to-day livelihoods, but at the same time you’re looking to reduce the impacts which can be quite negative on local biodiversity. Could you maybe talk us through an example project, maybe something that’s been running for a while that you helped to establish and talk through the process, you know. How did you find the site? How was it identified as a priority? How did you engage with the community? What was that process like, you know? And where did the project get to? 

STACY: Yeah, absolutely. So what always sticks out for me is when I first got to Fiji and WCS with WWF and Wetlands International Oceania and at the time USP was an original partner, USP being the University of South Pacific, were implementing as I said this large ecosystem based management project and it was happening in two different provinces on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu. And WCS in particular was working in the district of Kubulau in Bua Province. And to me it is always a little bit of a chicken and egg situation in terms of how that site was chosen. For various reasons, there wasn’t a lot of early history project documentation, it was in the second phase and so I never could really resolve whether WCS had picked this site because of some apriority regional or within Fiji biodiversity assessment to say that this is a site of global importance so there had been this exercise that was led by WWF in 2004 and emerging from that these sites that ended up as the sites where this project was being implemented were both recognised as having globally significant biodiversity and nationally significant biodiversity for Fiji. But then when I got there and started talking with the communities and we heard their side of the story, it sounded like they were realising themselves from the early 2000s that there were issues in terms of over extraction of the fisheries resources and some concerns as well about activities on the land. And so they had at around the same time approached the provincial government who then directed them to WCS as a partner that could potentially help them to manage these threats. So when I arrived in Fiji what I saw when I got there was that WCS had been working with the communities to look at a management plan for an area of reef called the Namena which has outstanding marine biodiversity, it’s a very famous dive area that people have been coming to since… as far back as the early 80s from around world, it’s known for its amazing biodiversity and just being fantastic dive sites and the communities have these customary rites over that area and so they had already informally said we want to protect this because we know that there’s divers coming from around the world and they’d set up this voluntary user access-based system, so they would receive a small fee from divers, the dive operations had agreed that and that would go back to the community for a community development fund and for scholarships for local students. And then at the same time they sort of had an unfinished plan for their entire fisheries management area and they had a separate unfinished plan for an area of forest that they had thought was an important area for biodiversity as well as for protecting their water sources. And I’ve had a look at this and just thinking about everything I’d done from my PhD and through my post-doc work looking at these linkages between the land and sea and say, well this is a good start but this fundamentally isn’t an ecosystem-based management plan because you’re not considering the linkages between these different ecosystems. And so we contracted a lawyer, Pepe Clark who’d just finished up working for IECN to help WCS think about how can we work with the communities to put all of this together into a single plan? And we wanted the ideas to come from the communities themselves and so what we did is we had a large workshop in February 2009 and we brought together representatives from all ten different villages within the district. We wanted men and women and young people to come to represent all different voices and we also had representatives from many of the different government agencies that help support the communities in terms of the management of all of the different ecosystems and Pepe himself bringing in some of the knowledge about the environmental legislation in Fiji. And then we got the communities to go through what we would call a conceptual modelling exercise where they identify what are the key features of where they live that are important to them in terms of the land and the sea for their cultural value, because they use them for food or for income, or because they know that it’s important for protecting their water security, for example. And so they identified some key features that they wanted to protect and then the next step is getting them to think about, well what are the main threats to the availability or the quality of those features of the landscape and the seascape? And then ultimately what are the drivers causing those threats? Tracing this all back and some funny things appeared, you know what, I was still and I still am learning Fijian, I remember walking around and saying, what does kusima mean when I was looking at these drivers of the threats and I was told that kusima is like this burning urge to eat fish, you have to have it right now (laughter) it’s one of the drivers and, you know, it’s a cultural thing and, which… you know, it’s a real thing. And so then we, you know, worked in small groups to get the communities to think about which of these issues can you tackle by yourself? And then what else do you think is important in order to be able to deal with these threats? And maybe you couldn’t tackle yourself but you, you know, with some support from the government, you might be able to do that. And so they came up with a number of different strategies and those strategies turned into the rules for their management plan. And so this went through a number of different cycles where we helped prepare a draft and then it went back to a management committee was established, and they reviewed it, and they sent it up to the chiefs to review, and then after a year or so of doing this the chiefs endorsed the plan and it became the first district-level ridgery management plan for Fiji. Which the model of that we subsequently replicated in at least ten other districts in Fiji so it’s been a successful model in terms of a participatory process. The management plans are living documents, they can be adapted at any time but having that document itself has been useful in terms of the local people having something that they can leverage for local fundraising themselves for different activities. So for example some of these areas where we’ve set up plans have been able to use their management plan to leverage small grants from UNDP for different types of resource management activities like waste management or you know, restoration type activities. So that’s been very useful for them to have this as a tool, not just a reminder of the rules that they decided themselves to comply with, but also to be able to get other external support to continue on to manage their resources. 

NICK: Fantastic, and with Kubulau now, we’re looking, what ten years on, how have things changed? Have you had any particular successes for, you know, local people or the wildlife in the area? Have you seen a significant shift? 

STACY: Yeah. I mean I think that it’s a case where things have stayed in reasonably good condition. It already was in great condition and so in this case it’s not so much that we’re expecting to see a recovery but that we’re, you know, hoping that things would stay there. And that’s a huge success in this day and age where you see a lot of things getting worse, right?  

NICK: Yeah. 

STACY: Kubulau like a lot of Fiji was hit very hard by tropical cyclone Winston in February 2016 and decimated parts of their reef and, you know, hit their villages, there was a lot of destruction of the houses and the infrastructure. Despite this devastating event that really disrupted people’s lives, what was heartening to see as the stories that we heard was that it was the villages, their resource management committee were instrumental in kind of organising the relief efforts for the communities. So this governance structure that was created to help manage natural resources was also instrumental in helping for as quick as possible, you know, recovery and distribution of aid resources or just whatever resources that they had following the cyclone. And so that was kind of another positive add-on that, you know, when we look at these areas, we look at not just the ecological system but the social systems as well and they operate together and so what we did is help to build up the governance to be able to have this effective social ecological system and it was really nice to see that that’s operating in practice after a big shocking event. 

NICK: Yeah and it just shows how important, how useful that governance system is for the community that you helped to establish, yeah, wider than just the environmental aspects. When you’re looking to recruit new staff, you know, who are going to come in and be quite integrated into the kind of community-based  conservation programmes that you’re establishing now across the region, what are the sorts of people you’re looking to bring in and what skills are you looking for them to have, you know, to be effective at engaging with local communities and running these participatory planning workshops and so on? 

STACY: You know, a lot of our staff are local hires. I shouldn’t say that for the listeners. Most of the staff that are employed within our country programmes are local nationals. It’s important that they, you know, especially the ones that are doing the community engagement, that they have the language skills to do so. Most of the areas where we’re working are in Fiji, in Solomons and in PNG are indigenous communities so being able to communicate in the local language, understand what are the local customary protocols and, you know, people who are willing to put the time in and spend a lot of time out in the field, and that can mean being away from their families for considerable lengths of time, but doing this work does require that sort of engagement and building trust with local people, and building relationships with them and, you know, it’s something that I’ve experienced more a little bit now working in Solomons and PNG is that especially in Solomons and PNG, when you embark on a project with local communities, you’re sort of entering in potentially this relationship for life. And particularly in Papua New Guinea there’s a culture of this reciprocal exchange and that’s how you sort of build relationships and build alliance. So you know, we give something to you and you give it back and this is done for life. And that’s how the trust is earned and that’s how you end up reaching the end goal. And I think a lot of conservation in the region has failed because they don’t understand these cultural norms and practices and think, oh well, you know as an NGO it’s our role to build things up and then exit. But in this case it’s not necessarily about exiting, it’s maybe about maintaining a light touch and maintaining these relationships over time through whatever mechanism that you can do so.  

NICK: Yeah. You talk there about sort of, you know, having staff who can speak the local languages and have those language skills. There are particular challenges working in Melanesia because there are just so many languages, right? 

STACY: Yeah, of course, yeah. Fortunately in Fiji most people speak English so you certainly can get by in local communities speaking English though… I mean myself, because I don’t speak fluent Fijian, only a few words, yeah, you miss out on a lot of the nuances about what’s really going on. And then in PNG, Solomon Islands they speak a pidgin everyone, so you can get by if you speak pidgin but again you miss out on kind of a lot of the details about what’s really happeningSo having local staff that can bridge that and serve as translators is really important. 

NICK: Yeah, absolutely. So just thinking in terms of careers advice more widely now, you know, there’s a lot of people listening who are going to be thinking, gosh Stacy has the perfect job, I’d love to follow her footsteps, you know, how do I get myself out to the Pacific doing community-based  conservation programmes, how do I get to dive in some of these wonderful places you also get to visit? What advice would you give for someone looking to follow in your footsteps? Have you got any kind of key snippets that might help them? 

STACY: Our Fiji programme does offer, our country programme director Sangeeta Mangubhai has been offering these three-month placements to get a little bit of experience. It’s reasonably easy for us to be able to get a three-month volunteer programme permit for someone to come over. We take emails from people and if someone emails me, I usually pass it on to Sangeeta. If they’re interested in coming and she has a look at their CV and sees if there’s a good fit. And in this case a good fit can just be someone who’s really, really interested in doing community-based conservation. I think having that sort of short-term placement even though it isn’t paid, and that’s something we could talk about in a minute, because that’s challenging for a lot of people, it does give you a real feel for what it’s like working in a conservation organisation. It’s not all fieldwork and sitting with local communities which, you know, you could say is the fun aspect of it. There’s a lot of sitting in an office planning, there’s a lot of entering data, entering information that’s come back from community engagement meetings. So, you know, it’s just as much about doing that data management, data entry programme management as it is in terms of going out and doing fieldwork. And I think that’s an aspect of conservation careers that isn’t really taught in universities but is really, really important in terms of being a good conservationist. 

NICK: And something you touched on there also is about volunteering and working for free essentially. I mean, how do you feel about that as kind of an important aspect for a lot of people when they’re kind of exploring different job options, trying to get experience, trying to improve their CV but, you know, obviously the other side of that is that it kind of favours those with deeper pockets, you know, and people struggling to work and to live and exist. How do you feel about the conservation volunteering sector? 

STACY: Yeah that’s right. I mean I’ve read a lot of articles about it recently, you know, on Mongabay or various different websites about the challenge for young people who want to establish a career in conservation and it really is, in some ways, skewed in favour of people who are able to volunteer and work for free to get some experience. And that makes me uncomfortable because, you know, you’re potentially selecting only a certain segment of the population and you may be losing out on people who have really, really valuable skills and perspectives that would be really beneficial for conservation but they just aren’t able to do that because they can’t afford to take some time off for unpaid work for the experience. So I’m not really sure what the best way to address this is. Unfortunately the reality of the conservation sector is that it’s donor-driven and there’s, you know, not a lot of money to go around in order to be able to do these paid placements. We would love to even be able to pay our staff more but, you know, we’re just really balancing how do we keep our programme going on limited sets of funds, trying to do all the activities that we need to do, trying to make sure that the staff are paid a decent wage and then when you look beyond that, there’s not a lot of money left over to be able to pay volunteer interns from abroad. So it’s a really tough challenge, you know, if you have any answers you’d like to add to this to help people that you’ve observed (laughter) feel free. 

NICK: (laughter) Well, yeah we help to pull together the Mongabay article that you referenced actually so people can kind of dive in and have a look at that and we spoke to Rhett Butler their CEO also on the podcast about a month ago. We didn’t touch on this particular issue but it is a key one. I mean, thoughts from me? I think volunteering is a great way to kind of explore different job options. So if you kind of want to test drive something and the opportunity you just mentioned about going out to Fiji for three months, if you’re interested in community-based  conservation that would be a fantastic thing for you to explore and to figure out whether it’s right or wrong for you. Understanding something if it’s wrong for you, it’s just as important as knowing it’s right. And I encourage people, you know, if time or money is limited, like it is for many of us, you know, try and find those times in your holidays, your evenings, your weekends, think about volunteering remotely as well, not everything has to be paid, you know, there are paid opportunities out there where you can spend a lot of money and get some quality experiences or some poor quality experiences. But you know, just make sure that the volunteering you’re doing is really going to impact you and provide for the skills that you need to bridge to become employable for your chosen role, so you know, be creative, you know. And I think reaching out as you did Stacy in your early days when you were writing your emails to the people that… in Sydney, you know, in Queensland, in other places, you know, being proactive can kind of really pay dividends actually. I’d like to kind of wrap up then, I’m just aware of the clock, I know you’re a busy lady and I just want to ask some questions at the end really, some more open questions really. So a few things that kind of jumped to mind for me. One, I’d love to hear like some of your most memorable wildlife encounters? You’ve been to some amazing places, you’ve dived in some beautiful spots. Do you have any particular encounters with nature that just kind of took your breath away and it kind of really… were special moments for you? 

STACY: Yeah there’s one in particular that sticks out diving in Fiji. So in Fiji people still eat turtles, even though there’s a moratorium on hunting turtles. And so turtles, marine turtles tend to be very skittish of people. And if you see them in the water and they see you, they tend to dart off pretty quickly. But I was diving off the island of Gau and this turtle saw me and it came over and it kind of backed itself up to me, and at that time there weren’t many people around me and it just came close enough to me that I put my hand on the back of its carapace, and then we just swam around together for about a half an hour. And any time that I would take my hand off to try to take a picture say of a passing shark it would look back at me saying, what are you doing? Well, you know, I’m anthropomorphising that but that’s what it felt like. And then, you know, I was quite sad when my tank was running low and I had to go up and I had to leave this turtle because I’d swam around with it for so long. I’d never had quite a similar encounter before or after in that sense. 

NICK: You made a turtle friend in Gau, that’s nice. (laughter) Also I mean, just reflecting like as a conservation movement, we’re facing some really huge challenges, you know. I mean we look at some of the facts and figures about well, half of all native forests are gone, three quarters of fisheries globally are exploited or over-fished, 40% of migratory birds are declining – these are really big issues that the planet are facing and the conservation movement are doing the best that we can, we’re still fighting many losing battles at the moment. But where do you feel, not necessarily where are conservationists going wrong but what do we need to do more of as an industry to really start turning around some of these really, you know, bigger issues that we’re facing? 

STACY: Yeah, from my perspective, you know, being based in Melanesia, I think a lot of times working from a big conservation organisation that has nature and wildlife at the forefront and those are their key objectives, I think sometimes you miss the people. And as we started this conversation talking about community-based conservation and people are really the key. It’s their behaviour that we need to change, and there are many ways to influence that. But, you know, making sure that local people are part of the project design and part of the conversation from the beginning, making sure that the projects meet their needs and their goals and their aspirations as well, making sure that it’s aligned with their cultural practice and not going against it, those are the easiest ways to get people to either not comply with management rules or to become disinterested if you offend people by doing something that goes against their cultural norms. And so, really taking those considerations in from the outset and also planning with local people is ultimately going to end up with more successfully implemented programmes. 

NICK: Fantastic, great. Well look, thank you Stacy so much for your time today, it’s been really nice to talk and to catch up a little bit too. We wish you all the very best with your work at WCS and I hope things continue to go really well for you. Huge congratulations on your MacArthur Fellowship as well, we didn’t talk about that but we’ll link to that in the podcast notes. If people want to find out a little bit more about you, your work and WCS more generally, you know, where should we point them? 

STACY: I think on the WCS Fiji page there’s still a fair bit of information about the work that I’ve been involved with there. There is a WCS Melanesia page, there’s not that much but, you know, they can always just do a Google search with my name and see what turns up 

NICK: (laughter) I’m sure it’s all good. Great, well thank you again Stacy, it’s been a real pleasure to talk. 

STACY: Thanks so much Nick. 

NICK: Ok well I hope you enjoyed that everyone, if you did then please do hit that ‘subscribe’ button to get notified when new episodes are live and also give us a rating as it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews we’ve collated the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free e-book, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @ConserveCareers, we’d love to hear from you. Ok, till next time guys, this is Nick signing out. 

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Conservation Careers note: Please be aware that it’s safest for you and for wildlife to avoid touching marine wildlife.

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