Recently, Seychelles Tourism sat down with Ameer Ebrahim, a 25-year-old Seychellois marine scientist and had the opportunity to conduct an interview with him. Ameer is currently studying for his Ph.D. in marine ecology, a field that is important to island tourism and travel. Here, we share the interview:
What motivated you to choose this field of study?
Having been raised in the Seychelles, where I spent most of my childhood snorkeling and fishing around the islands, pursuing a career in the protection of our precious marine life was an obvious choice. Over the years I noticed the changes in the coral reefs that were once bountiful and healthy. This concerned me greatly and cemented my decision to undertake a Bachelor of Marine Science in Australia. I was determined to somehow contribute towards the conservation of our marine environment.
Seychelles is often dependent on foreign expertise. What have you contributed as a young scientist?
As a young marine scientist, I have accomplished what many in my profession are striving to achieve: I have published my research findings and my conclusions in a leading, global marine science Journal: Marine Ecology Progress Series. This Journal prides itself on publishing ‘the highest possible quality of scientific contributions’, and I succeeded in adding my name to the list of authors at the age of 24. As a young Seychellois marine scientist, making a name for myself on a global platform is an accomplishment that I am immensely proud of. My published work attained an immediate recognition in the field of marine science as my findings were breakthrough and served to contradict previous research findings on the same topic.
This led to a PhD opportunity being offered to me by the University of Queensland in Australia. I am currently developing my next research project, as part of my PhD, the findings of which I am hoping to publish upon its completion. I negotiated with the University to allow me to return to Seychelles to carry out my research, as I strongly believe that more Seychellois should be involved in the active conservation of our marine ecology; as a small island nation, we are heavily reliant on marine resources for our sustainability.
Tell us about your research and findings.
For my Honors’ research, I looked at separating the role of different sized grazers, ranging from the large (i.e. turtles and dugongs), to the microscopic (i.e. amphipods), and analyzed what effect these different organisms had on a seagrass ecosystem. The experiment was very complex and it included monitoring 70 plots of seagrass for the length of the experiment.
The results of my project have significantly contributed to our understanding of the importance of algal grazers. This has had direct implications for local marine conservation planning in Australia, particularly the implementation of future marine protected areas and what they might mean for seagrass conservation. In doing so, I have gained significant experience in solving complex scientific problems that are relevant for both local and global audiences. Throughout my project, I regularly contacted external experts in order to discuss particular aspects of my work, which helped me maximize the impact of my results both on local management and in the scientific literature. I obtained a First Class Honors at Griffith University for my research and consequently received a scholarship from the Australian Rivers Institute to publish my findings.
Seychelles is highly dependent on its ocean for food, what is your view on sustainable fishing?
I strongly believe that Seychelles needs to move towards more sustainable fishing practices in order for future generations to enjoy what we have been taking for granted. As a country, our main income derives from our marine resources. However, over the years, there has been a noticeable decline in fish stocks, something which every local fisherman can attest to. More awareness needs to be generated towards the importance of implementing sustainable fishing methods. It is my goal to be involved in generating this awareness, particularly among our youths. I have expressed my interest to the University of Seychelles regarding the possibility of sharing my passion, knowledge and experience with students. I believe education is the key in developing a sustainable future for future generations.
Tell us about the current research you are undertaking.
The research I am currently planning in Seychelles focuses on rabbitfish, one of the most targeted species in the artisanal fishery of our island nation. I am researching the role this species plays in maintaining healthy coral reefs around the Seychelles Islands. Herbivorous fish, like rabbitfish, are known to play a critical role in maintaining coral reefs by grazing on algae, thereby enhancing coral recruitment and facilitating a healthy equilibrium between coral and algal growth. Many of the reefs around Seychelles have become algal dominated. The reason for this may be linked to the removal of such large amounts of key herbivorous species from our coral reefs. This shift of reef types may have a ripple effect on the economy of the country as a large proportion of its income comes from tourism. Visitors flock to this part of the world mainly to admire the rich and unique marine life that surrounds the islands. Therefore, it is essential that these ecosystems be protected for the sake of the environment and the islands’ inhabitants. My research will help determine if the heavy targeting of rabbitfish has caused this shift, and hopefully lead to their better management, and to the recovery of coral reefs around the Seychelles.
Furthermore, my research will also encompass mangrove habitats and seagrass meadows. These habitats are often forgotten as crucial habitats to marine life. They have been known to provide a large range of ecological services, particularly acting as nursery grounds for many herbivorous fish species. Therefore, I am determined to help generate awareness of their importance, and to show how they provide essential nursery grounds to the herbivorous fish which help maintain coral reefs.
What are your future plans?
My plans for the future include expanding my areas of expertise beyond herbivory and seagrass to other areas, such as coral reefs and pelagic fish species including billfish and tuna. This will be achieved through research into these areas, and I am excited by the prospect.
I also plan on graduating with a doctorate in the next few years and, in the process, publish more papers. This will add to the growing body of quality research being carried out in our waters.
Having taught children for many years in Australia part-time during my undergraduate degree, I recognize the impact one’s passion can make in the lives of others. I hope to become involved in the University of Seychelles, and possibly in schools, in order to influence youths in recognizing and appreciating the importance of preserving what many of us take for granted; our marine life is threatened, and it is up to us to protect it.
What is your proudest achievement? How did it make you feel?
Without a doubt, my proudest achievement would have to be when I successfully published my first research paper in a prestigious world renowned Journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series. It is notoriously difficult to get one’s work published in a Journal of this standard, yet I was able to do so at the age of 24 on my first try. As a young Seychellois, I was proud to get my name out there and to add my name to the growing list of Seychellois researchers. I was overjoyed at having my work published alongside well-established and leading scientists in that field. Having one’s hard work payoff is a rewarding and fulfilling feeling. I have overcome many hurdles to get to this point in my career, and it is amazing to know that this is the first of, hopefully, many papers to come, and that this accomplishment can never be taken away. I am making a difference in the field and will continue to work towards marine conservation.
Message for the youth globally:
You should never let anyone belittle your dreams or goals, or say that you are not good enough. You do not have to prove your capabilities to anyone but yourself. This advice is based on personal experience. Follow your heart and shine. Moreover, when you are faced with obstacles in life, never give up on your dream. You must dust yourself off and try again when the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. Life will surprise you, and you will find ways of attaining your goals if you keep trying. You will find that hard work, more often than not, truly does pay off.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope that Seychelles will be employing more sustainable fishing practices and putting an even greater emphasis on conservation. I plan to be at the forefront of this movement, dedicating my efforts into establishing our country as a role model for other small island nations in this respect. I plan on implementing the experience I have gained from years of shark tagging exercises, alongside a leading Australian shark researcher, by conducting shark research in our waters. Following the two, unexpected fatal shark attacks which occurred recently in Seychelles, having access to such research will play a vital role in understanding and predicting the movement and behaviors of these animals. Other areas of research that I hope to be involved in include billfish, and, more importantly, tuna, as this is our country’s main target species.
I also hope to be involved in mangrove and seagrass rehabilitation projects around our islands, and to generate more awareness about the importance of these habitats as vital nursery grounds for a vast array of targeted fish species. My PhD research will be a starting point in this vision. Finally, and most importantly, I plan on being heavily involved in teaching at the University of Seychelles, and possibly in schools, with the intention of getting youths interested in the preservation of our marine environment, as well as giving them the skills and knowledge to do so. I plan on showing them that we can make a difference if we care enough to try.