Salome getting ready for a dive in Tobago

It is my joy to present the second Green Antilles interview. Salome Buglass is a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia. She spoke to Green Antilles about her research on coral reefs, what inspires her and her hopes for marine conservation in the Caribbean.

Green Antilles: Please introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from and where you work

Salome Buglass: I’m Salome Buglass, I am a graduate student at UBC in Canada. I have recently embarked on a research-based Master of Science programme and the focus of my studies coral reef ecosystems and climate change. I am a global citizen, as my mom is Trinidadian and Venezuelan and my father is British and German. I was born in Germany but I grew up in Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean and graduated at UCL, London. But I feel most at home in the Caribbean. I spent the last 3 years living in Trinidad & Tobago, where I got into SCUBA diving and developed a strong interest in coral reefs.

GA: Tell us about your research. How did you become interested in this field of marine conservation, and what motivated you to continue to do what you do?

SB: Most of my life I’ve lived near the sea. I’ve been swimming since I was five years old and snorkeling since I was six, and have always been passionate about marine life. In 2009 I volunteered at Coral Cay Conservation, a UK-based NGO dedicated to marine conservation in high-risk reefs around the world. There I got the opportunity to become trained to do SCUBA dive marine surveys and I learned to identify hundreds of reef species and gained an immense appreciation for coral reef ecosystems and the threats they face.

The main reason I want to do my research on Tobago’s coral reefs is because they are seriously threatened by marine pollution, overfishing and now coral bleaching as a result of climate change. If something is not done soon, all we will have left in Tobago will be zombie reefs, reefs that are no longer functional as cradles for fisheries and marine biodiversity. This is serious, as these coral reefs are not only amazing but vital to people’s livelihoods — they provide fisheries, shoreline protection against storms, build sandy beaches and attract tourism.

It seems ironic that I had to travel to Vancouver to study coral reefs off Tobago, but UBC has an excellent research programme and some of the world’s finest marine scientists. When I was accepted onto their Master’s programme I was given the opportunity to research my region’s reefs. What more could I ask for? My wish was to work on marine conservation in my home Caribbean region.

GA: With regards to your research, what are your current goals and projects? What are your ambitions and aspirations for the future?

SB: As a young scientist I think I am going through what many go through, which is the more you learn the more you realize that you need to learn even more!! My current goal is to continue learning about marine ecology, to gain a clear understanding of issues affecting marine ecosystem health, and to gather and create meaningful and legitimate reef data that can inform management and contribute towards ensuring marine livelihoods for people of this region. Often, when I stop and think about what I do, I feel as if I am only scratching the surface when it comes to researching these complex marine ecosystems. But this is how you start, before it gets a lot deeper!

My research objectives are specifically to study the impact of a devastating mass-bleaching event that struck Tobago’s reefs in 2010. I want to resolve whether the reefs still have the ability to recover and how long-term human induced threats are affecting recovery from such mass-bleaching events. The main goal of my research is to gather reef data and information that can support informed decision making for future marine resource management in Tobago.

GA: What are some of the areas or issues that most concern you in terms of marine conservation (or lack thereof) in the Caribbean?

SB: I worry about the lack of “marine conservation”. And about the dearth of knowledge and information for conservation specialist and among the public, who are the ones that need to advocate for protection of their marine ecosystems. The matter is urgent! Recently, studies have pronounced that in the Caribbean some 50 to 80% of coral reefs have already been destroyed i.e. rendered non-functional ecosystems.

I am concerned about the uncertain future coral reef ecosystems have; will my children get to see coral reefs like the ones I saw?

It greatly concerns me to see once vibrant and diverse ecosystems turn into ZOMBIE ecosystems. The causes being unregulated overfishing, waste water discharged directly into the ocean, unregulated coastal development and deforestation. The most worrying aspect is that all of these will only intensify with population growth. Then combine this with increasing impacts brought about by CLIMATE CHANGE: warming waters, increased ocean acidification and rising sea levels. The demise of coral reefs has already started. The frightening question is will we be able to save some corals, especially in the Caribbean?

GA: What are some of the developments or innovations in the field of marine conservation that you find exciting or encouraging?

SB: In the 21st century we are seeing an explosion of multi-media tools that enable us to share information about coral reefs and their risks with a greater audience.
Google Earth has started putting underwater cameras on reefs. You can see what’s happening on reefs around the world. This helps educate people about reefs and pin-point and observe ecosystem damage.
The use of cameras is facilitating the study of reefs. Instead of relying on doing everything underwater on slates and pencils in real-time, we can film a study site on a reef and do species counts in our own time on dry land.

GA: Finally, what advice do you have for the average Caribbean person looking to a more sustainable reef-friendly life?

Go out to the beach, borrow a snorkel and mask, see the creatures that live in our Caribbean Sea and remind yourself of the amazing life our natural environments sustain and how we need to help implement sustainable practices. These experiences hopefully can give people an appreciation for conservation science.

To watch a video about Salome Buglass and her Tobago reef research project visit the Rockethub site there’s also the possibility to sponsor some of Salome’s Tobago fieldwork – press on “Fuel this Project”. Plus you can follow Green Antilles on Facebook . Sincere thanks to Salome for her time for this interview.

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One Response to “Green Antilles interview: Salome Buglass, Masters student at UBC, asks Have Tobago’s corals survived mass bleaching?” Subscribe

  1. Sannah Buchet December 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Interesting interview..but sad also..i too did the same training with coral Cay Conservation, but with the lack of support from our local fisheries..no equipment..etc..etc..the training cannot be implimented..btw…silt being washed into th
    e sea through forest fire deforestation is also a main cause of coral reef death..

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