The Indoor Side of Conservation

The Indoor Side of Conservation

Sara Ramirez is a program officer working at the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network. She has a background in animal science and is passionate about conservation. This job is as cool as it sounds and we were lucky enough to be able to chat with Sara about it.

Sara has always been fascinated by animals and early on planned a career in field research. As a child, she was enthralled by the birds, bugs, and salamanders that she and her siblings would find in her yard. At first, Sara wasn’t exactly sure how she would incorporate animals into her career so she majored in animal science for her undergraduate degree. During this time, she explored agricultural science, laboratory science, and animal research. She initially gravitated toward studying monkeys and apes, but soon realized she could not focus on only one species and ignore the bigger picture. So, she began to study the interactions and connections between humans, animals, and the environment. This sparked Sarah’s interest in conservation.

As a result of this discovery, Sara went on to obtain a master’s degree in sustainability. Sustainability is very broad and provided an interdisciplinary learning experience. While Sara was focused on wildlife conservation, many of her classmates came from business or teaching backgrounds which offered unique perspectives and really enriched her learning. The greatest skill she gained from this was the ability to see others’ points of view, which resulted in major personal and professional growth.

After finishing her degree, Sara spent time doing fieldwork. Her favorite fieldwork experience took place in Madagascar, where she spent six weeks doing a rapid response assessment for amphibian chytrid fungus. Here, she was working under Dr. Jonathan Kolby of the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center. Chytrid is a very serious problem that is causing amphibian populations to decline across the globe. Madagascar has a large variety of endemic, amphibian species, so the goal of the project was to help keep the island chytrid free. The team tested water sources and amphibians for the fungus to make sure it was not present. During this excursion, Sara got to experience some of the most amazing landscapes, animal life and culture she had ever seen and she would love to travel here again in the future.

In 2015, Sara transitioned to her new role working on sea turtle conservation on St. Kitt in the West Indies. She had previously worked as a research assistant with the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network during the nesting season. In her new role, Sara works to promote sustainable tourism. This is tourism that respects the visitor as well as the social, cultural, and environmental aspects of the destination. As Sara explained,

“Countries with tourism-based economies should not be expected to change their culture, disadvantage their people, or degrade their environment and natural resources in order to attract tourists. Conversely, tourists deserve to feel safe and adequately accommodated while visiting a destination. Sustainable tourism ensures that everyone is happy and should be the way that all tourism happens worldwide.”

Specifically, Sara works to ensure that the foraging and nesting sea turtle populations of St. Kitts are protected and not disadvantaged by the growing tourism industry.

In her current role, Sara has transitioned away from fieldwork and spends more of her time in an office. In order to bring about change, she needs to spend time in meetings with business owners, students, and the general public, educating them about sea turtle conservation. While important, this was still a difficult adaptation to make. In order to find a balance, Sara still spends one night a week during nesting season out doing fieldwork. At times, this means she has to head to the office the next day running on little sleep, but this is important for her to be able to balance her passions.

In the future, Sara hopes to remain in St. Kitts and earn her Ph.D. while using a holistic research approach to study hawksbill sea turtles. She also hopes to have the opportunity to work with larger mammals because this is one of her other areas of interest. Overall, she remains open to all new collaborations and opportunities to communicate about conservation. If anyone has additional questions for Sara please feel free to reach out to her via Twitter, @saradramirez.

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