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GUEST BLOG: Can science be more sustainable?

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As a self-proclaimed tropical ocean lover, whose optimal temperature range is between 23 and 28°C, the move to Edinburgh and Scotland to undertake an MSc in Marine Systems and Policies presented some environmental challenges. Nonetheless, having had my eyes on this masters program for a few years and having just completed a position as a marine biologist and environmental educator at a field station in The Bahamas, and literally stuck in my house in Rome during the first COVID lockdown, I decided to try my luck with the application process.

September 10th! First day in Edinburgh!

Fast forward 3 months, September 10th I moved to Edinburgh to start the program later that month. Having spent the past 3 years living and working in tropical locations, outside of the world of academia, I had to quickly adjust to deadlines, a continuous flow of endless peer review articles and most importantly, remote and distant learning. While I do recognise that attending university lectures through Zoom, Collaborate or Microsoft Teams, is not the same as in person teaching, and I’m sure every other student who has experienced both will agree with me, distant learning gave me the opportunity to reflect on a few impacts that my previous way of life was having on this precious planet.

As an aspiring tropical scientist, my career would likely take me to remote places to collect the necessary data and do fieldwork, which would be reachable by long, sleepless plane journeys, in most cases involving one or multiple layovers in airports around the world. Do not get me wrong, I am someone who loves travelling, and doing on the ground fieldwork is one of the many reasons I decided to embark on a career in marine biology. However, after my course successfully organised and completed a two week long virtual field trip, which saw me and the rest of the cohort exploring the coral reefs of Honduras, The Bahamas, Antigua, Indonesia and the rocky shores of eastern Scotland from the comfort of our own desks and sofas, I realised that perhaps there is a way to still be able to do research and collect valuable data in remote places, while minimising the number of flights we take. Additionally, with all the major ocean related science conferences, which in non-COVID times attract hundreds of scientists flying in from all the corners of the world, being carried out virtually, with smartly dressed speakers sharing exciting breakthroughs while comfortably sat at their kitchen tables, it further cemented the idea of a potential revolution within the ocean science world. It can all start with a few simple questions, “is there a more sustainable way of collecting the data I need”? “Can I perhaps rely on fellow scientists who are already on location? Can we combine efforts?”

While I am not able to ask these questions perhaps regarding my dissertation, as I am already undertaking a completely desk-based project modelling mangrove fish and invertebrate densities worldwide, such questions will quickly become more relevant as I step back into the job world, masters in hand (fingers crossed). With dreams of continuing working in topical ocean settings, and considering the vulnerability of these areas to climate change impacts, the question “can I do this project and have a small carbon footprint?” will be one that will be asked frequently.

So to my fellow remote ocean lovers and next generation scientists, what do you think, “Can science be more sustainable?”

MSc Marine Systems and Policy students and fellow ocean lovers taking a virtual dive into the coral reefs of Indonesia.


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