Doing Science.

I will likely always remember the first time I was charged with doing science. The project in question was an ecosystem valuation assessment, and the framing of strategies for community conservation of seagrass. Here are a few snippets of that (exaggerated) story:  

An artisanal fishing boat, sitting idle under the midday sun in Palk Bay © Nisha D'Souza

An artisanal fishing boat, sitting idle under the midday sun © Nisha D’Souza

NOTES FROM THE FIELD..

  • 28 May 2015: Whilst pouring over the literature, realized that this is the first time that an economic valuation of seagrass will be attempted in India. Debated the import of the projects intended outcomes, concluded that I might be famous someday.  
  • 29 May 2015: Received a ginormous amount of fisheries data. Was pretty chuffed – using file as a paper weight for the time being, to prevent it from feeling useless. 
  • 8 June 2015: Spent the majority of the morning wrapping my head around the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity with number crunching experts. Felt a tad daunted by the task at hand and lost my head around lunch time. Realized that the rest of the team was still relatively calm; put my head back on. Turns out its hard to attribute successful fisheries to the presence of healthy seagrass exclusively, particularly when coral reefs and mangroves are also present.
  • 9 July 2015: Spent the morning conducting surveys with artisanal fishermen. Essentially lived like bacon, it was that hot. Learned that eels of the seagrass are caught for their intestines, an ingredient in medicine, or maybe toothpaste (!)  
  • 10 June 2015: This long day was filled with interviews with officials, decision-makers, and law enforcers. Spoke a great deal about morality; learnt close to nothing. Sidebar: I would not look good in prison stripes. 
  •  11 July 2015: Plunged into the waters of the Bay of Bengal for a closer look at the seagrass; activated fish speaking mode. Met a catfish, didn’t seem too keen to talk, surmised it was an introvert. Dropped in on Nemo’s brethren; such a happy duo. Ran into a sea cucumber. You think you have a basic understanding of the world, and then you encounter a sea cucumber, and nothing makes sense anymore! Was happy to see fairly healthy seagrass; not so happy to be out in jellyfish season.
  • 11 July 2015: Post-luncheon, tried my hand at some underwater photography; have new found respect for all underwater photographers. Contending with shifting light conditions, swaying seagrass, fish keeping up with hectic schedules, and waves hell bent on taking one out to sea, is no mean feat!  Have a sneaky suspicion photography might be easier whilst diving; made a mental note to try it next time.
A jellyfish aimlessly drifts amongst the seagrass in Palk Bay © SDMRI

Jellyfish attack stance; coming in for the head-butt! © SDMRI

  • 12 July 2015: Hoped to see a dugong (them squishy play-dough like beings, floating around seagrass, giving each other slow head bobs of recognition) in the wild. Poseidon did not oblige.     
  • 11 August 2015: Fighting trouble understanding the methodology for measuring and valuating carbon sequestration and storage potential in vegetation. Will forsake my social life for time with my pot plants.
  • 15 October 2015: Spoke to some researchers in an attempt to source information for valuation of carbon sequestration by seagrass. Was confronted with a library of data, and overcome by a sensation of slowly sinking to the bottom of an ocean.
  • 4 November 2015: Minor panic attack! We might not complete the project on time. Crisis is not my brand.
  • 10 December: So much data; so little applicability value for current needs.
  • 7 January 2016: Traveled to meet experts to validate final results. The almond biscuits at the meeting turned out to be plain biscuits; everything is falling apart! Not so. The results are valuable! Absorbed all praise with characteristic humility – after all my native brilliance can often be a gift, and a curse. 
  • 31 January 2016: Report submitted. Only took 45 minutes, two bananas consumed in stress, and a kilogram of courage to hit Send. Breathed out for the first time in a year.
  • February and beyond: I know we will never be able to capture the true value of nature, how could we! But if used effectively we can use these assessments as a tool for achieving conservation, to convince communities, governments, the world to take action, to start caring!  
A cuttlefish, masters at adaptive camouflage, swims amongst the seagrass in Palk Bay © SDMRI

Cuttlefish: Masters of adaptive camouflage © SDMRI

Luxuriant seagrass in northern Palk Bay © Nisha D'Souza

Meadows of seagrass © Nisha D’Souza

Tiny fish keep up with their busy schedules amongst the seagrass © Nisha D'Souza

Tiny fish keeping to busy schedules © Nisha D’Souza

I was throughly engrossed by the seagrass and it's inhabitants © Nisha D'Souza

In my own underwater bubble! © SDMRI

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12 thoughts on “Doing Science.

  1. Awesome exquisite piece of Science Work!!!!
    Nish you lucky to explore the mushy waters…n I’m lucky you took me there too…
    Was saddened at the end of the journey to realise I’m amidst the crowded Goan bus. Almost drowned in the waterworld there :)

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  2. I can imagine the courage it took you to hit SEND! As always, I’m fascinated with your stories from the field and your storytelling abilities. Turning a dry, technical project into such gripping writing is truly your strength. I’m so lucky to have you as my bedtime story teller. I want to hear all about jelly fish attack in my next bedtime story telling.

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  3. Lovely! Really enjoyed it. At first when I saw the title I thought ‘Science? This will surely go over my head!!’ But…I just loved it (and understood as well) thanks to the wonderful way you write..went through all the emotions with you …hahaha. Waiting for more :)

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  4. Transported by this! You make hard work seem such fun; the photos stun; humour and wit like rills run! “You think you have a basic understanding of the world, and then you encounter a sea cucumber, and nothing makes sense anymore!” Hahaha :)

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  5. Great post Nish! Like all good projects – hope, patience, despair, frantic activity, relief – hints of pride at the end… though you are uncharacteristically reticent at the end! :)

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