Science & Art: My Two Experiences in ConservationMarch 22, 2023
By Riya Sharma, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member
Featured Image: “Safeguard the Barrier” by Gloria Jin (Texas, USA)
Calmness. Light gusts of wind. Tranquil turquoise waters surrounding me from all four corners, seemingly stretching beyond the horizon to merge with the sky. I lift my binoculars to identify the strange fish skipping near the boat, ostensibly silver in the glaring rays of the Sun. Ah, its needle fish – cute. We make note of them, as we do of many such friends, from turtles and small fish, to porpoises and sometimes even whales. As midday approaches, my team and I have carefully traversed Dubai’s coastline searching for wildlife, close enough to catch sightings, yet far enough to move without disturbing them. Finally, we spot what we’re really looking for – dolphins. Excited, we make note of our current coordinates, type of dolphin (humpback), pack size, and other data that will aid us in their protection.
I discovered the UAE Dolphin Project after researching ocean-based volunteering opportunities due to my interest in doing hands-on conservation work and my love for the ocean. A collaboration of Zayed University; Atlantis, The Palm; and F3 Dive Team; this dolphin survey aims to gather scientific information about the local dolphin population to support their conservation. As a research volunteer, I help collect scientific data in 6-hour boat-based transect surveys to estimate species occurrence, population size, and habitat use. Gaining this knowledge is necessary as there is limited information on local dolphin populations along Dubai’s coastline. My experiences have given me hands-on field experience in relation to visual survey techniques, data collection, photo-identification, and behavioral observation.
As a STEM-inclined individual, exploring the intersections of science and ocean advocacy through research is valuable to me. Moreover, I live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and while it’s stereotyped as a concrete desert, the UAE has a very close relationship with the Arabian Sea due to its history of sea trade and pearl diving. Living in a place with such heritage truly showed me the dependence we have on our oceans, where even the water in our taps is desalinated sea water. I now understand this heritage and the UAE’s marine biodiversity from a hands-on perspective. My growing interest in environmental advocacy and ocean conservation inspired me to join the Future Blue Youth Council and speak at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) as an International Renewable Energy Agency Youth Forum Delegate. My research experience formed part of what I spoke about at ADSW: my journey in sustainability, which has always been intrinsically tied to the joy the environment brings, and the importance of preserving that emotion for future generations. Everyone has a different story, a set of discrete paths they traversed that led them to what they’re passionate about. With its analytical character and focus on problem-solving, research has been one of mine.
As research is a unique lens for ocean awareness, so is art. Participating in Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest or the Fellowship Grant Program are fantastic ways to shift your perspectives and gain valuable experience in environmental advocacy. The Ocean Awareness Contest encourages young people to be climate and ocean advocates and creatively communicate through mediums such as visual art, poetry & spoken word, film, performing arts and multimedia content. I’ve submitted twice and the experience was eye-opening, not only because of the research I did before crafting my entry, but also due to the new perspectives I gained as I let my creativity flow, and from the fascinating discussions it led to with my friends and family.
I urge you to explore diverse models for engagement to discover one that suits you (or to create them!). There are plenty of ways to get involved, including helping raise awareness in your school or community, volunteering at a nearby aquarium, or reaching out to a regional marine conservation agency to understand what the local needs are and how you can help. If you have started your own initiative, or want to get started on a project to tackle environmental issues in your community, we recommend checking out Bow Seat’s Fellowship Grant Program, which is open to anyone ages 13-22 who cares about the environment and wants to make a change. If you’re unsure about whether you’re a good fit, we recommend erring on the side of applying!
Looking forward to your advocacy actions, no matter which medium you choose!