Ortam J. Rolle, Host:
In the field of marine biology, the Bahamas is a marine scientist’s playground.
With one of the healthiest shark populations in the world, the discovery of a new seahorse species and countless coral restoration initiatives; The Bahamas provides lots of opportunities for those studying marine biology.
Many researchers travel from near and far to conduct research in the Bahamas. And while it is a good thing that scientist take interest in our ecosystem, does our country benefit from the research they conduct?
I sat down with Ph.D.candidate, founder of B.E.I.N.G.S. and science capacity builder, Ancilleno Davis.
Mr. Davis, can you explain to us what a science capacity builder is? I kind of fumbled over my words when I said that but could you explain to us exactly what you mean when you say science capacity builder.
ANCILLENO DAVIS: Hey, when I say capacity, I mean all those abilities to do science or understand science or interpret science at any level.
So, capacity building is encouraging young kids to be able to read science, to appreciate science or see science in different things that they do, see science as interesting, see it as a fun thing to do; help support high school kids in choosing the right classes or taking the right volunteer opportunities, so that they could be better scientists or be exposed to science at the right points in their lives.
Speaking to businesses so that they could use good science to advise their business and make them more profitable. Talking to people, adults about science so that they could make better choices about themselves, their families, their health, their community, conservation within their home or within their environment and also at the highest level of society, teaching the stakeholders how to understand and interpret science and use it to make the best decision for the whole country.
So that’s what I mean when I say science capacity builder.
ROLLE: And how does that play into your role as founder of B.E.I.N.G.S, a lot of you may not know but B.E.I.N.G.S. is Bahamians Educated in Natural and Geospatial Science and it is an organization that you have built that has become a community for those Bahamians interested in science.
How does being a science capacity build play into that role?
DAVIS: I think the most important part of it is to get people to the point where they are being autonomous. So they can do the science by themselves or interpret it just without having to call in outside help and that’s really the big goal. And that’s why I started B.E.I.N.G.S. and that’s what I am looking forward to doing more when I get back.
ROLLE: And I just recently, I think a year and a half ago, Miaya had added me to the group, so I wasn’t aware of the group but I would like you to tell our audience a little bit more about what B.E.I.N.G.S is and what it means to you.
DAVIS: Okay, well I guess we could start from the beginning. So I started beings in February 2011.
DAVIS: I was working for the Nature Conservancy and there were several occasions where, in the Bahamas, we were looking for experts or even just technicians for some research to do marine science of bird surveys and we just couldn’t find the people, in country. And so that meant we would have to bring people in from the outside or we would have to train people up.
And so I figured it would make a lot of sense for us to find out where everyone was and make kind of – like a clearinghouse, so we would always know where our scientists where in country.
DAVIS: And we could just like shine a signal in the air and say you know ‘Bahamian scientist assemble’ and go and do what needs to be done.
ROLLE: ….And they show up.
DAVIS: Right. So, I floated it by different partners and kind of the problem was, no one had the funding or the personnel to do it. And then I was part of the national coastal awareness committee and we had just made the facebook page for that. And I said, why not make a facebook page that we could do online, it’s free and we could start inviting people through there.
ROLLE: That’s when the lightbulb went off.
DAVIS: Right. And so I did that. We started by inviting… I invited 50 conservation professionals that I knew in the Bahamas at that time and this was from students that were BESS scholars, the Bahamas Environment Stewards Scholar and they were working with B.R.E.E.F. and the Island School and up to science officers or conservation officers who were working with fisheries, people from ATLANTIS. And so just putting all these people together and then they would invite friends and they would invite friends.
Eventually, we realized that the facebook page, it’s like we had to create the content and then share it with everyone and it was really a time-consuming thing. So we went to the groups format. And so, with a group you kind of -remove that hiearchy right.
ROLLE: Yeah. Where there is one person filtering, or creating content.
DAVIS: Right so now anyone in the group can ask a question or respond to a question as well. So it’s not necessary that one person knows all the connections or all the members inside the group anymore or not one person has to go and find all these opportunities and that’s when it really starting growing.
So now we have about 1,500 hundred people.
ROLLE: That’s excellent. What is one of the trends you saw with Bahamian scientist that kind of sparked your desire to create B.E.I.N.G.S.?
DAVIS: Some of our scientists were just lost. Like you have a student that you know their good, their great at what they do, their professional and then they just fall out of touch with the scientific community. They end up bartending or something like that and you just can’t get in touch with them or find them when you need them.
ROLLE: That’s so true. That is precisely what happened to me. I never thought I would’ve been in journalism or mass communications ’cause I spent three of my years in the states studying biology.
DAVIS: OH! Okay!
ROLLE: So, I wanted to be a marine biologist and that didn’t work out because of my chemistry but I was trying to find a way that I can still connect with it, ’cause I love science and I love marine biology and [it’s] exactly what you said, it’s just like sometimes you get so out of touch with it and you don’t have no way, like no one around me at the time was interested in that typ of stuff.
DAVIS: Right. And you know like your experience with someone telling you, you know you can’t be a marine biologist because you don’t have the chemistry. Well, in my opinion, that’s not even true and this is some of the down fall in the education system and kind of the way things are for, especially for Bahamian students; ’cause you grow being really enthusiastic about science and then someone is going to tell you, oh a marine biologist don’t make no money or you have two options, doctor or dentist, maybe a vetinarin.
As a marine biologist, if you had the right influences you could be the best fish expert in taxonomy and identification without really going into all the chemistry, right.
ROLLE: That’s true.
DAVIS: You could be doing Agra surveys and knowing all the corals of the Bahamas and really when we’re looking for some of these experts in the Bahamas, that’s what we need. We need this really close tie to the environment.
ROLLE: And that’s why I want to talk to person like yourself, for those students who are out there who probably was in my position, like your saying, had I had somebody to encourage me and say you know what well try and find another school or focus on taxonomy or something like this where its not chemistry based, things could’ve been different.
DAVIS: Right. Yeah and this is really where I saw B.E.I.N.G.S really supporting young Bahamian scientists and then the field of science in the Bahamas as a whole. Because right now we are super dependant on foreign scientists; and I am not a nationalist and I am not one of those people who thinks everything foreign is bad.
We have great, really amazing scientists that are doing great work in the Bahamas. Joe Wunderle and Dave Ewert who started the Kirtland’s warbler research and training program. In my opinion, they made some of the biggest contributions along with Eric Carey who is a native Bahamian but they brought international funding and really made that choice to say, we need to educate Bahamians to do it for ourselves, in country, right.
But then at the same time you have lots of other scientists that, they’re getting the million dollar grants year after year and they continue to come to the Bahamas and you know they may pay you to lift some stuff in the field, they may pay you to collect some data but at the end of the day, your name isn’t going to be on a research paper.
DAVIS: So, I really envisioned B.E.I.N.G.S. creating a world where Bahamians are at the table when the research is planned, Bahamians are being trained to conduct and implement the research and then at the end of the day. We are the ones who are publishing the papers and really telling our story about our Bahamian environment and the biodiversity that is there; and making those choices about conservation in the future, about sustainable development with genuine native input. From locals who have grown up with the environment who at the end of the day, we want to see our kids grow up in this environment,right.
DAVIS: We did the first coral nursery in the Bahamas and I have two sons now and I’m thinking I know exactly where I planted that coral and I can take them to that reef sometime in the future.
DAVIS: And so every student that I see that’s joining B.E.I.N.G.S. and stuff like that, I’m thinking about what their future is going to look like after they’ve gotten their first experience through B.E.I.N.G.S. , they see like this bird watching opportunity, “Oh, let me go look at birds.” They might be the ornithologist that discovers our next new endemic species.
DAVIS: So far we haven’t had Bahamians describing new endemic species in the Bahamas.
ROLLE: It reminds me [of] something you had said earlier, I was watching a documentary on Netflix, I am not sure if you’ve seen it, it’s called ‘Chasing Coral’.
DAVIS: I haven’t seen it yet.
ROLLE: And they were in the Bahamas and there was no point in time that I see where they connected with a Bahamian scientist. Now, they may have, but in the documentary I didn’t see it and it begged the quesiton did they reach out to anybody or did anybody even know they were down there doing that.
DAVIS: Right. And so that’s another huge element to this puzzle, right. Right now we don’t have a Bahamian group that’s going to say listen if you come to the Bahamas [and] you’re doing science, we have scientists here already.
We can support you in your science and stuff. But we need to manage what you are doing in our environment, we need to manage what you say about it after you go and collect this data or information or whatever and we need to have access to that data.
So we also have, If you look at the people that come in to collect scientific data and I’ve seen it happen a lot of times where people come into the Bahamas, they’re on a tourist visa. When they come into the Nassau International Airport, no ones checking their bags, right.
ROLLE: ‘Cause the sure don’t
DAVIS: Because we don’t want to hurt the tourism economy but these folks, they can come in and collect scientific data on our species. They might be catching, harassing our wildlife, collecting blood samples and stuff like that. They know they can’t do that in their country but they’d come and do that in ours.
And at the end of the day, if they publish data, you can go and find a bunch of data published on the Bahamas but they don’t have in their document, you know thank you to these organizations.
Or, yeah it might just be an undergraduate or a graduate student that’s collecting this data but at the end of the day, they might just use that data to get their masters degree. But that’s still data that might be useful to us for conservation purposes, for biodiversity monitoring purposes or something like that.
ROLLE: Very true.
DAVIS: Right. And so if they’re collecting this data and they might be negatively impacting our biodiversity as well. But if we don’t have the things in place to really monitor that or a professional organization that can say hey, we have our scientists here, if you’re going to be doing research you need to have these scientists on board your ship or with your crew in the field to monitor these things. It’s going to continue to be a problem.
ROLLE: Yeah, yeah. And like I said I wasn’t sure if they had connected with anybody, maybe they had, maybe when they were down there they had but it was not in the documentary, that portion. Whereas when they went, I think to Hawaii was another place they went, they had people from Hawaii that they were talking to.
DAVIS: Right and that’s another thing, like who becomes this face of Bahamian conservation or science that you will see inside the documentaries. If you look now at , like Krista Sherman she’s like the face of marine science in the Bahamas, her and Lindy Knowles. When you see them …
Oh and Scott Johnson, if it’s anything to do with snakes or community education with the BNT they are all over it and they have really good quality video stuff coming out but when you look, like you say on Netflix, you know that that’s Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas but they are talking about like River Monsters and your like, get off of that.
ROLLE: Yeah, thats ridiculous!
DAVIS: And when you look at the credits at the end of the show, you don’t see thank you the government of the Bahamas for allowing us to film in this location or thank you to the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) or B.R.E.E.F. or whatever, you know. And that type of stuff is important to put the Bahamas on the map for science.
Right now we’re a tourism country where people come for pretty water and stuff like that but when you talk about science, like the shark species that were discovered near the island school, the marine mammal research that is going on in Abaco, the species of Nuthatch in Grand Bahama, the Lyretail Hummingbird in Inagua, on Abaco you have our Bahama Parrot, all of those things, that’s really beautiful scientific data and opportunities that is just not being shared.
ROLLE: At all and that in itself can add to our ecotourism.
DAVIS: Exactly and when you think about it, there are hundreds, if not thousands of students that visit the Bahamas every year.
DAVIS: So whatever type of field trip, winter workshop, summer workshop, they come down on, all of these students, I feel it would be in their best interests for them to not only get an experience of the country, like the landscape and stuff like that but to genuinely interact with the biodiversity and recognized that hey this is one of the countries with some of the most beautiful organisms but we’re going to be impacted by climate change first.
DAVIS: And then also when you have a class like that you need to have them introduced to an authentic Bahamian scientist. So, when I bring students down there I want them to meet a Scott Johnson, an Eric Carey, who are leading the drive for developing more science in the Bahamas.
ROLLE: Yes, yes and rightfully so.
DAVIS: And like right now, I am at a predominantly white institution and so when they go down there, their thrown into this totally different environment and in the Bahamas we look on TV and we don’t get to see scientist that look like us.
ROLLE: At all.
DAVIS: And so for my American students that come down they also get this opportunity where they’re in an environment where the scientist don’t look like them.
So, I feel for international organizations or schools they need to help to develop things like this too, so that you can understand that there is diversity not just in the diversity of life for the wildlife and stuff but there is diversity in the scientists that are studying this wildlife and diversity in the reasons for which we all conduct science.
ROLLE: And also that when they graduate they want to come back to someplace like the Bahamas and finish working with some of these scientists that they met along the way.
DAVIS: Bing. That’s part of this sustainability element that I am always talking about. When you talk about sustainability, there is social, economic and environmental sustainability.
And we already touched on it where you got tourism diversified into ecotourism, educational tourism but then when you develop this social sustainability of creating connections between people and places and different cultures, and you have the American scientists now respecting the Bahamian scientists as a contributor and collaborator instead of just a field technician or someone to carry the equipment, now your developing proper sustainable cultures of science.
DAVIS: And you developing a way where you know have a long-term ability to sustain this research.
ROLLE: Are there any examples of this that you have been a part of or that you know about?
DAVIS: The Kirtland’s project I think has been going on for maybe like, I don’t know, like 14 years, maybe 16 years now.
ROLLE: Oh wow.
DAVIS: But they had a totally different perspective, right. They wanted to engage with local scientists. They wanted to groom local scientists to continue to be engaged in science. And so, all of us are still there, we’re still doing something in science and we’re Bahamian and we’re present and we’re making a contribution.
ROLLE: And that helps the longevity of the project too.
DAVIS: Exactly and that project has grown and they’ve learned more than they ever could have if they had just come down with their group of scientists, right.
ROLLE: And their whole idea and do what they needed to do and leave.
DAVIS: Right and also, we gain a lot more benefit from it. So any government official that listens to this podcast needs to know that this is where the future is. You have to engage with these visiting scientists, visitin experts and say hey, we have experts here as well and it need to be a collaborative effort.
DAVIS: And we need to not just focus on the science but focus on developing this community and that’s really what B.E.I.N.G.S is all about.
And every once in a while, I go on B.E.I.N.G.S, and I see someone new has joined and they’re super enthusiastic and I get this feeling of such pride that I kind of made it on a whim but now it’s grown way beyond anything I could’ve imagined; and these students, teachers, there are professors from around the world that are engaging the page and yeah, it’s just amazing to see how different that is when you develop community and get people engaged like that.
ROLLE: Yes, B.E.I.N.G.S. has shown us that community is very important when, you know, pushing an intiative or trying to change a culture around a topic such as science.
So thank you very much Ancilleno for sitting down and having this conversation with me.
I look forward to all the work that you’ll be doing home with B.E.I.N.G.S. and the other ventures you have planned and I wish you all the best of luck.