Community Champion: THALIA PEREIRA- Not your usual kind of Scientist
I first met Thalia when I joined GVI as a volunteer. Just to make you understand where I’m coming from with this article; picture yourself watching Anna Kendrick in one of her comedy movies. Her enchanting personality that is characterised by playfulness, humour and zeal inspires even the defiant and unwilling individuals. A blend of pragmatism and professionalism coupled with her drive to provide answers to questions about cetaceans. She insisted on competence, perhaps because of the nature of the job. Her job seeks to understand matters relating to habitat degradation and species decline, which is mainly a result of human interaction with the oceans. A pat on the back was given for every attempt made by each participant on her team, which made the stay on the expedition worthwhile and pleasant.
Thalia was the officer in charge of the Marine Programme that carried out research on cetaceans (mainly dolphins and whales). Before this she was a determined conservationist, learning as a Kenyan volunteer with a foreign organisation (GVI). As an officer she had tones of responsibilities over individuals from around the world, which included ensuring their safety both at sea and on land. She also ensured that participants were equipped with marine knowledge and data collection skills. Looking at her body size many would feel insecure; but this notion would change once they were at sea battling the strong waves of the kusi and kaskazi monsoon winds, with Thalia fearlessly reassuring them. With her Pisces traits she would make the homesick volunteers and interns feel loved and appreciated.
I had the privilege to interview Thalia for an article on community champions. Marine conservation is a field that is deficient in terms of personnel, equipment and conservation programmes, yet it is a very important source of livelihood to the coastal communities. The dynamics that surround marine species and habitats have led to the negative changes that are now being felt worldwide. It takes a smart mind to notice such a gap, let alone filling it. Thalia, as a young female marine conservationist, had plenty to say regarding how seldom it is to find a woman taking to such a challenging field, dominated by men.
|Tell me how you ended up in your profession|
|My passion for learning about wildlife and being a conservationist, sprouted from a young age. Growing up in Kenya has been a great inspiration for me to work in conservation.After I finished high school, I went on to acquire my Diploma in Wildlife management which was my stepping stone into the conservation world. My interest in marine science grew whilst working with GVI Kenya and I have been fascinated with the ocean and its creatures ever since.|
|What are the unique qualities that make you good at what you do?|
|I am passionate about what I do; I enjoy being outdoors and living in simple conditions.
I like to impart whatever knowledge I can to whoever I can and get people to enjoy learning the subject.
I am eager to learn from others and I am good at learning things practically and applying them.
|How has your career as a Marine Scientist shaped your life? What are some of these changes?|
|I used to have a fear of deep water and working in this field has helped me overcome that.|
|I took a Scuba diving course last year and I have just been more amazed and keener about the life under the surface of the water. I have definitely developed a strong liking for the underwater world.|
|Living on an island for two years made me realise how little we need to survive. I am more aware of how much we rely on the ocean for our day to day survival- I think twice about products I use and minimise the amount of plastics I use.
|What cultures or lifestyles would you advise people to adopt in conserving marine ecosystems? How will they contribute to your work?|
| I would like to see people be more aware of their surroundings and how their actions affect it whether directly or indirectly. I remember one of my lecturers emphasizing the need for us to ”think through the process”- no matter what you do, think about it from the beginning to the end- what effect will it have? Is it positive or negative?A lot of the time, we act without thinking what the consequences will be- while at times, the consequences are ignored.
|I think it would be a better world if we all thought about our actions and didn’t ignore the consequences, there would be less pollution, less human-wildlife conflict|
|Are there any government bodies that have helped you in achieving your goals? How have they helped?|
|I acquired my Diploma in Wildlife Management at KWS Training institute. It was through the institute and the KWS partnership with GVI Kenya that I was able to begin working in marine science.|
|What do you feel these bodies need to improve?|
|I think generally, young conservationists need to be encouraged. There are more students every year studying environmental and wildlife sciences. They need opportunities to learn and make a change, because they are the ones who can.
I think that government bodies or others can work towards guiding/supporting them in starting and/or maintaining projects.
|In your opinion, what are the major hindrances towards achieving Environmental Sustainability in Kenya?|
|We have to want it and then work towards it. There is more than just one factor that contributes towards sustainability- environmental, economic and social. There has to be good balance within each factor.|
|I think that we are overlooking the signs and the examples of what is happening/ has happened around us- melting ice caps, rise in sea levels and natural disasters and climate change.|
|What major achievements have you made in your profession?|
|Being young in the field, I did not see myself as a leader, but I gradually took over that role working with volunteers and other professionals on the project. I was proud to be the first Kenyan taking up a program officer position with GVI-Kenya.|
|I also was quite fortunate to travel up to Watamu and Lamu to provide training workshops to the organizations and members of the local community in both areas.|
|It is gratifying to have been a part of a long term marine mammal research program in Kenya and know that we were successful in achieving some of our long term goals.|
|As a parting short, what would you tell a young woman who looks up to you?|
|Find what you are passionate about and keep your passion alive. Stand up for what you believe in and if you are determined and you persevere, you are guaranteed to be successful. Do not fear failure, for it is a great part of success.|
Drawing inspiration from a fellow woman makes one identify with the ups and downs involved on the path to success. Having a few more women like Thalia would be a great thing to come to young girls and aspiring professionals. When our parents were growing up the only women they looked up to were teachers and most of them ended up obtaining degrees in education. Times have changed now women are no longer marooned, which means that women are now aspiring to fill positions that were once taboo for them to hold because they were “meant” for men only. This is most likely to improve if women in leadership no matter how few they are touched a young girl’s life. Am not mentioning financial assistance for now, but mentorship programmes. These are as important as any other kind of support.