Who I am
As a child, I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, but a researcher in the academic world most certainly wasn’t it, let alone a researcher studying fish. However, in 2007 a friend suggested I take ichthyology as my third subject in my second year of university. I knew nothing about fish other than that they lived underwater, but I decided I had nothing to lose and started something that turned out to be my absolute passion. Throughout my university years, I jumped between subjects that ranged from working out how much illegal fishing was taking place in South Africa’s oldest marine protected area to studying the genetic structure of a long-lived reef fish species and to using acoustic telemetry to learn more about the movements of a popular angling species in two estuaries. I was also extremely fortunate to have some exceptional mentors along the way, who fully supported and encouraged everything I did. Sixteen years later I find myself a scientist studying the movements of fish, sharks and rays in South Africa for a living – what a career, especially when days in the field, supervising students, mentoring budding scientists and attending conferences overseas are all part of the job!
Where I work
Eleven years ago, as a PhD student, I shifted my working space literally across the fence from the Ichthyology and Fisheries Science Department at Rhodes University to the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), all based in Makhanda, South Africa. I wasn’t keen, to be honest, because I wanted to experience the privilege of sitting in the PhD office at the department. However, this move turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It took me through my PhD, my postdoctoral fellowship and into the current permanent position I hold as an instrument scientist. Although the SAIAB may be land-locked, a lot of the work we do is focused on the estuarine and marine environment. South Africa has so much to offer an ichthyologist! Bordered by two contrasting oceanic currents that give rise to three biogeographic regions each with varying abundances and diversity of species found nowhere else on earth, South Africa offers the perfect natural laboratory in which to study the movements of marine animals.
What I do
I currently manage the Acoustic Tracking Array Platform, which is a nationwide network of acoustic receivers deployed along about 2,200 kilometres (1,367 miles) of the South African coastline, with the aim of collecting information about the long-term and large-scale movements and migrations of a suite of different animals, including several fish, shark, ray and turtle species. When this platform started in 2011, much of the equipment was provided by our long-term partners, the Canadian-based Ocean Tracking Network and South Africa’s National Research Foundation. Continued funding from our long-term partners, the Save Our Seas Foundation, has enabled us to continue maintaining the platform, ensuring its longevity. Much of the work being conducted by researchers focuses on important fishery species, large predatory sharks, endemic species and animals released from aquariums. To date, this national platform has seen an increase in both local and international collaborations, and the data collected is being incorporated into management and conservation plans. My specific interests include learning more about the movements and ecology of important fishery (fish) species, with the goal of improving the management of these species, many of which are considered overexploited or collapsed.