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C3 Internship Review – Tara Whitty – Madagascar 2009

July 22, 2011
As part of my PhD program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and its Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, I had funding to seek internship experiences during my first two years of grad school. Being interested in international conservation in developing nations, I sought experience with small NGOs who worked with local communities on conservation issues.  C3’s commitment to such work caught my eye, and I applied.  I had a particular interest in marine megafauna bycatch, which fit perfectly with C3’s project assessing bycatch of sea turtles, sharks, and cetaceans in Madagascar.
This was low-budget, “muddy boots” work, and I learned a lot about working in such settings (typical for such research in developing countries) with a small, but highly motivated, team.  In fact, the C3 team was the best part of my experience – and, considering what a fascinating, magical country Madagascar is, that’s saying a lot!  The Malagasy interns, Sthela and Ismael, and a visiting Malagasy researcher, Gisele, were incredibly bright and friendly.  Not only were they fantastic to work with, but we developed friendships that I will always cherish.  Cooperation with local researchers is vital to building respectful, productive relationships in international research, and it was wonderful to be engaged in such a partnership.
I learned much about Madagascar’s natural history from Sthela, Ismael, and Gisele, and I learned a lot about the challenges that face students and researchers in Madagascar.  It was also a great way to learn more about Malagasy culture and the language; I will always remember Sthela teaching us how to dance in the local salegy style and how to balance buckets of water on our heads, Ismael teaching us how to make a clapping circle and writing out Malagasy lessons on the sand, and Gisele teaching us how to make local food.  And the other foreign interns were wonderful to work with and befriend, as well!  We still reminisce about our amazing experiences, adventures, and misadventures in Madagascar.
Our work interviewing fishers inspired me to continue working on artisanal fisheries research. One night, the president of a fishers’ association invited us to dinner at his home.  The conversation turned, naturally, to fisheries management, and he said, “We want to conserve our resources, but we are also very poor.  That is the obstacle.  But we want to work with researchers to save our resources.”  That was a defining moment in my career and life.
I am now doing similar research for my dissertation in Southeast Asia (http://ofdolphinsandfishers.wordpress.com/), and I’ve founded an interdisciplinary research group in San Diego for artisanal fisheries research (http://artisanalfisheries.ucsd.edu/).  My experiences with C3 have helped me in my own research, and the connections and skills I developed while in Madagascar will help me for the rest of my life.  I still plan on returning to do more research in that amazing country and to reconnect with my friends there!
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