Though localities around the world try to protect their marine ecosystems, sometimes this protection remains on paper only. In one such area in San Antonio Bay, Verónica aims to bring together communities, policy makers, and science to address the challenges that undermine their attempts to protect their marine ecosystem. She will record her work with a documentary to set an example combining natural and social science methods, local populations, and policy makers all working together to protect their environment. 

Daniel Pauly
UBC Public Scholars Award
Research Description

Aside from the economic benefits that healthy ecosystems provide and the livelihoods they support, it is morally compulsory to conserve the natural heritage that we all share and that we are all responsible for. This project will bring a previously overlooked community’s perspective to the table and raise awareness about the ecological, social and economic value they place on the area that is the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of San Antonio Bay. In the area of the San Antonio MPA, there are big issues that make this MPA a ‘paper MPA’. To resolve these issues, solutions need to be tailored to the local believes and customs. There is a lag between specialization and communication, which widens the gap between academics like myself and non-specialists. I want to bridge this gap in San Antonio by combining marine biodiversity, social data and new forms of science communication: a documentary based on semi-structured interviews with the different stakeholders of San Antonio, a mobile and static exposition and an interactive website.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

To be awarded the PSI is professionally and personally more important to me than it may seem. It will give me a boost of support to push my project one level further. It will elevate the outreach and impact of my research and my career, while undoubtedly contributing to the public good. Moreover, being part of this unique graduate community that shares the same goals as me, will be an exceptional opportunity to further learning and growth.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

I originally worried that one of my PhD chapters (this documentary project) won't be seen as a valid contribution to my PhD. I am fortunate to have a PhD committee that shares my scientific values and understanding and endorses the project as a valid contribution to my PhD. Together with the PSI’s support, I will also be able to elevate its credibility. Being part of this community would be a pivotal contribution to this project and my career, strengthening my resolution to bridge the gaps between science and people with original and inclusive approaches to conservation. The PSI will help my PhD research to create new channels and a more journalistic approach to science fostering the dialogue needed to better understand the situation of different stakeholders within the context of a Marine Protected Area in the North of Patagonia.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I always enjoy working in multidisciplinary teams, learning with and from others. After this PhD, I see myself working in a dynamic multidisciplinary research team, investigating marine biodiversity while speaking up for ecological injustices. I hope this work provides me with the necessary skills and tools to one day work with/in an international developing organization and be able to make a change in local communities while conserving marine biodiversity.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

The semi-structured interviews and the consequent documentary will raise awareness among the different stakeholders of the MPA about others’ needs, participation, worries and relationships. The community will benefit from more informed policy-making and MPA management in a federal system with horizontal and vertical variations in jurisdictions and responsibilities. MPA enforcement with short- and long-term benefits for the local communities reducing overfishing, and climate change pressures, recuperating local economies. In few words, my research will empower and equip the community of San Antonio Bay with instruments of action to implement a much more precise management plan of the marine protected area, and thus, to better protect their natural heritage.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

My work will provide a unique, multicultural experience and knowledge exchange. And on top of that, it is an exceptional way to improve locals’ lives and collaborate with well-established organizations, while bringing an opportunity for change among leaders and locals. My research addresses resource management and community well-being issues to empower and motivate them. My purpose-tailored, interview-based classification system allows identifying weaknesses in the different phases of an MPA. However, a peer-reviewed paper would be of little help for the social and environmental challenges of San Antonio MPA. The questions for me were “How to start a conversation?” and “How to raise awareness among stakeholders that the inadequate management of the area is incurring big ecological and social costs?”. The solution: Next to new knowledge generated through research and stakeholder interviews (fishers, industry, tourism, neighbors, NGOs, managers), one of the main outcomes of the interviews will be a documentary for adults and kids. This audiovisual of ca. 40 min will be the starting point for a conversation among the local stakeholders and a change in San Antonio. Apart from turning the data into an attractive documentary, results and audiovisual material will be shared via a dedicated website, where people can explore San Antonio MPA’s challenges. The documentary will be part of a mobile exposition that will tour the schools and social centers around this MPA. This will be a movie night and an introduction to the local marine ecology through games and small activities for children and adults to create interest for the MPA and an early sense of responsibility to protect their marine ecosystems. The idea is not just to produce a documentary, I will also tour, screen and discuss it at different locations in Argentina and beyond. This will bring everyone closer to the reality of ‘paper MPAs’ and help find more integrated solutions in MPAs and in communities that experience similar challenges.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

There is a need for qualified multidisciplinary experts that can provide dynamic and equitable solutions, especially within marine ecosystems and their derived conflicts. And this was the main reason for me to pursue a graduate degree. It is my professional goal to promote and advise on the adequate implementation of MPAs, and setting the proper trajectory for policies to educate the public and managing marine resources sustainably.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

As an undergraduate student, I became concerned about marine problems caused by resource mismanagement and political conflicts, which encouraged me to pursue an M.Sc. in Marine Environment and Resources. I graduated with a dissertation on a novel concept of Wave Energy Converters where I planned, prepared, and conducted experiments and fieldwork. Later on, as a research assistant at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), I saw the importance of energy production and how money often takes priority over ecosystem protection. My extensive scholastic and practical background, both within marine sciences and across disciplines, equipped me well to pursue a graduate program at UBC. However, I was still missing the push to make further changes on the ground. I chose UBC and especially the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries due to their history of excellence and network which provides the possibility to make a significant change, spread knowledge and bridge gaps in ways to work with local stakeholders and management of marine resources.