A group of people sit on a small porch overlooking a beach. One young researcher is interviewing two fishers, with another student looking on.
A group of people sit on a small porch overlooking a beach. One young researcher is interviewing two fishers, with another student looking on.

As a conservation researcher whose work focuses on the interactions between conservation efforts and communities, a critically important part of my job is to better understand people. Those who aren’t particularly familiar with conservation might be surprised to learn that there is often conflict between conservationists and communities. This is generally because conservationists want to save XYZ species at any cost, which often involves substantial disruptions to the way of life, livelihoods, and well-being of people whose activities happen to impact — or even just overlap with — the species in question. Conservationists also, unfortunately, tend to come from “outside,”…

Two groups of villagers sit in the ground in circles, sharing ideas with a team of local researchers in Myanmar
Two groups of villagers sit in the ground in circles, sharing ideas with a team of local researchers in Myanmar

I’ll be very candid. When I first learned about Design Thinking, I internally rolled my eyes. “This is just… common sense. Why does it need a flashy label?”

And then I thought it over, and remembered — to quote many elderly people in my life — “common sense isn’t very common.”

Upon further consideration, I realized that Design Thinking (DT) is actually a very compelling approach that encompasses important processes and mindsets that are often missing in conservation research and implementation. …

Apparently, I took very few photos while in Jakarta, and those that I did take were with a tiny smartphone. Here’s my first tempeh experiece — revelatory.

Jakarta, August 2012.

My first visit to Jakarta, completed.

It was not as bad as I’d expected, based on warnings. Though, I am not sorry to head off to Kalimantan Timur (southeastern Borneo) after several days tediously criss-crossing the city on the large-scale scavenger hunt to process my research permit as a foreigner*.

The traffic is…amazing. The pollution is thick and hazy. The city is immense.

And the smiles are fantastic. I read in a guide book that “Indonesians are great smilers” — it’s true.

I haven’t gotten to experience much of the city outside of various bureaucratic offices and…

About a month or so ago, the grumpy old lady who lives in the not-so-deep recesses of my mind was stirred by social media posts like these:

“Nature is healing! Humans are trash!”

“The COVID crusade is saving the planet from humans doing bullshit.”

“Mother Earth is now healing. Maybe that’s the plan after all.”

“Mother Earth is healing. Don’t panic. Take a break and join her.”

Rainy season in this part of southeastern Myanmar is miserable. It brings relief to the scorched remnants of the hot dry season, but then it runs amok and often floods the cities and villages and rice fields. It is a time of mud and mold.

It is not an ideal time to go traipsing around doing fieldwork.

Yet we were doing just that. There we stood, on gray soggy sand under a damp dreary sky, at the edge of a small village by the sea. We were narrowing in on the goal of a months-long quest: finding a place from…

Zion shot me a look of doubt, which I deftly avoided by gazing off into space. I snuck a glance at the man sitting in front of us — a grizzled old salt, a man of the sea, a sinewy and no-nonsense fisherman. He was one of the first participants in my research project on Irrawaddy dolphins in Malampaya Sound, in the Philippines, which included interviews of local fishers. Neither Zion nor I felt particularly confident about the next question on our list, but I had stubbornly insisted on including it just to see what would happen.

She cleared her…

My father’s birthday was last week. He would have been 76. As with so many of his birthdays, I was far from home, though the situation this time was certainly more surreal. I was whiling away the days in my partner’s apartment in Yangon, self-isolating instead of pursuing my original plan of meetings, field visits, and trainings for my 8-week work trip. I had arrived just as the COVID-19 situation started to grow more frenzied, and had been instructed (several days later) to self-isolate as a recent arrival from the US.

Two years ago, I was also in Yangon, also…

In the waters of South and Southeast Asia dwells an elusive and funny-looking species of dolphin. It lacks the long snout of the well-known bottlenose dolphin, its back is oddly lumpy, and its mouth is turned up in a smile that is simultaneously adorable, cheeky, and mysterious. I say “cheeky” in part because they are notoriously frustrating to study; they tend to be shy of boats, scattering hither and thither while desperate researchers struggle to photograph their (tiny!) dorsal fins to identify them.

“Cute, but generally irritating,” is how one colleague describes them.

This is the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)

TS Whitty

Exploring the world of coastal conservation & communities, meaningful travel, and life along the way | tswhitty.com | PhD in marine conservation

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