It is well understood that the ocean is undergoing drastic changes in ecological structure and function due to the cumulative impact of resource extraction, development, and climate change. Shifts in ecological resilience produce stark ramifications for the human communities that rely on the ocean for socio-economic and cultural needs. As a researcher who studies the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems and coastal communities, my goal is to create knowledge that directly supports decision-makers and communities who want to protect marine socio-ecological resilience and adaptive capacity.
As a researcher who studies the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems and coastal communities, my goal is to create knowledge that directly supports decision-makers and communities who want to protect marine socio-ecological resilience and adaptive capacity. It is well understood that the ocean is undergoing drastic changes in ecological structure and function due to the cumulative impact of resource extraction, development, and climate change. Shifts in ecological resilience produce stark ramifications for the human communities that rely on the ocean for socio-economic and cultural needs. For example, globally, ocean acidification is estimated to cause annual losses of more than US $1 trillion to the world economy by 2100. At a local scale, sea level rise and increased storm intensity interact with shoreline development and pollution to degrade the health of nearshore ecosystems and impair coastal community wellbeing, sense of place, and livelihoods. These complex and reciprocal feedbacks between ecological and social systems underscore the need to create knowledge that bridges natural and social science disciplines, and that includes diverse ways of knowing (e.g. local, traditional, scientific ecological knowledge). In my work, I am employing a community-based participatory research approach to characterize the resilience of a marine socio-ecological system in British Columbia, Canada, to anthropogenic pressures. Working in partnership with Indigenous and community groups and governments, I will conduct participatory mapping, interviews, a survey, and community meetings to characterize the distribution and adaptive capacity of social, economic, ecological, and cultural values across a Pacific northwest fjord: Howe Sound/Atl’ka7tsem, Squamish Nation place name. Next I will bring together and overlay these spatial qualitative data with ecological and human-use datasets (e.g. species distributions, shipping corridors) to provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary visualization of areas of high value, conflict, and pressure in Atl’ka7tsem. Collectively, this information will provide meaningful knowledge to support regional marine spatial planning and adaptation of coastal socio-ecological systems in the Anthropocene. Other areas of research interest that I am pursuing during my PhD include conducting field and laboratory experiments and synthesis studies to understand how ocean warming and acidification impact marine invertebrates.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Over the past few years of graduate school, I have developed a personal research-to-action philosophy that is grounded in two core tenets. First, I believe that researchers who study climate change and biodiversity loss need to take responsibility for connecting and translating our work into climate and conservation action. Second, I feel that scientists need to critically assess the questions we ask, and ensure that they are of meaning and value to the communities who we work with, and to Indigenous groups on whose land and waters we study and live. I feel that being a Public Scholar will strengthen my ability to embody and implement these ‘research-to-action’ values and to catalyze positive change within my research network at UBC and with my broader community partners in the Salish Sea.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Bridging the research-to-action gap requires creating information that is understood, trusted, and meaningful to community groups and decision-makers. Unfortunately, scientific research often fails to catalyze change due to methodological and communication patterns rooted in the ‘ivory tower’ paradigm. For example, research that is created by and shared exclusively with academics will impede the ability for non-academic end users (e.g. community groups, decision-makers) to access, understand and translate that knowledge into actions, plans, and solutions that can improve their social and ecological well-being. Unfortunately, expanding beyond this paradigm can often take significant time, energy, and effort; therefore, without incentives and support, it can be beyond the capacity of many graduate students, supervisors, and academic departments. By providing support, skills training, and networking opportunities to graduate students who seek to address this systemic problem within the Academy, the Public Scholars Initiative contributes directly toward the evolution of academic institutions toward impact-oriented PhD experiences and research.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
As a student who is keenly motivated by conservation and climate change solutions, I am uncertain whether academia is the right career-path for me, and thus have actively sought out experiences during graduate school that broaden my skillset and expose me to alternative networking and professional development opportunities. While designing my proposed research, I became inspired by the field of marine spatial planning, which I perceive an effective way to proactively address major threats to marine socio-ecological health. By convening diverse stakeholders and rightsholders and weaving together their values, concerns, and solutions, marine spatial planning offers a dynamic, adaptive, and relationship-rich process to strengthen the health and resilience of our seas. Accordingly, I have deliberately tailored my proposed research to support marine spatial planning within Atl’ka7tsem and the Salish Sea so as to enhance the connectivity between my scholastic experience and desired professional development.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
In my proposed research, I seek to strengthen the role and trust of science in society by collaborating with regional Indigenous and non-Indigenous community groups throughout my research’s design, implementation, and communication phases. My objective of creating meaningful and actionable knowledge led me toward selecting a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach. CBPR is infrequently implemented in natural science research departments, such as Zoology, and is not supported by many natural sciences funding programs. However, the basic principles of communication, collaboration, and reciprocity are integral to producing knowledge that translates to meaningful action. In grounding my approach in CBPR principles and socio-ecological system frameworks, I seek to not only strengthen the ability for my research to inform and catalyze actions that protect coastal socio-ecological systems and values, but also to inspire fellow graduate students within my department and institution to apply more holistic and integrated research approaches into their own work. Overall, I feel that through practicing respect, reciprocity, and reconciliation, the field of science can move increasingly into a more ethical space that empowers community and builds trust to enable collective action that protects both nature and the communities that rely upon it.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I am an inherently curious person. I feel very compelled to learn as much as I can about the world around me, and constantly seek to challenge my own assumptions about what I know, think I know, and do not know. Accordingly, it is very easy for me to become distracted by learning and drawn in many different directions. One of my motivations for pursuing a graduate degree was that I felt graduate school might help me to channel and streamline my interests and expertise. Like many folks, I was under the impression that most graduate students end up being quite specialized, with a niche subset of knowledge and expertise. Over the past four years, I have discovered that while this is true for many students, it is not a reality for many others, who like me continue to be distracted and intrigued by diverse topics and disciplines throughout the course of their degrees. An analogy that provides comfort to me is that some graduate students adopt a ‘mining’ approach to their pursuit of knowledge, where they dive deeply into one specific topic and learn all they can about it. Other students pursue a ‘farming’ approach, where they cover a wide array of topics in less detail, with a focus on synthesizing and connecting fields and disciplines. Both approaches are necessary to contribute to the ongoing advancement of human understanding of the world around us.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
My interest in studying at UBC was grounded in both research and personal motivations. My research interests are inherently place-based: I am passionate about learning about the coastal ecology and communities in the province where I grew up, British Columbia. The Salish Sea is where I spent my childhood, where my family lives, and where my motivation for contributing toward conservation and climate action stems from. While there are diverse labs across at institutions across the province whose research objectives align with my own, as soon as I saw my current supervisor’s lab website, with the title of studying ‘Coastal ecology and climate change’ and a focus in B.C., I knew that it would be a great fit. In addition to research, I sought a department that valued collaboration, inclusivity, and community amongst its students and faculty, as I knew that being happy in graduate school would depend on so much more than just my research. The incredible sense of community found within UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre, Institute of Oceans and Fisheries and surrounding departments inspired and drew me toward applying to them. I feel grateful every day that I get to interact with such brilliant, compassionate, and creative researchers.
I feel that being a Public Scholar will strengthen my ability to embody and implement these ‘research-to-action’ values and to catalyze positive change within my research network at UBC and with my broader community partners in the Salish Sea.