Hi! My name is Alannah and I am the Research Assistant for Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS). A non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to protecting our oceans through research that both inform the public and encourage action, ultimately improving the understanding and stewardship of our oceans. (www.perryinstitute.org)
As PIMS’ Research Assistant I work on several programmes:
1. Reef Rescue Network (RRN): seeks to rehabilitate deteriorating coral reefs through using coral nurseries. I travel throughout The Bahamas and Caribbean establishing, maintaining, managing and outplanting from coral nurseries to restore endangered coral colonies and ultimately, whole coral reef ecosystems. I also assist with restoring long-spined sea urchin populations and I also certify recreational divers to assist us with our research so they too can become a part of the effort to safeguard our oceans and its creatures. (www.reefrescue.net)
2. Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment: The Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program is an international collaboration of scientists, managers, and supporters aimed at improving the regional condition of reefs in the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Their main goal is to conduct scientifically sound, comparable regional surveys of the health of coral reefs using a standardized method to support the conservation of coral reef ecosystems. So, I travel The Bahamas and Caribbean to conduct these surveys. (http://www.perryinstitute.org/agrratrainingoftrainers/)
3. Lastly, I manage the PIMS website and social media as well as the social media for the Reef Rescue Network and the website for Atlantis Blue Project Foundation. I also design printed media for PIMS and RRN. ( http://blueprojectatlantis.org)
In short: I travel The Bahamas and the Caribbean rehabilitating deteriorating coral reefs through the establishment, maintenance, management and outplanting from coral nurseries. I also travel The Bahamas and Caribbean conducting coral reef surveys so that we can have a snapshot of the status of the health of our coral reefs and ultimately understand what they are trying to tell us. Additionally, I train recreational scuba divers in the methodology that we use so that they can too be a part of the scientific diving that goes into safeguarding our oceans and its creatures. Finally, I manage the website and social media for PIMS, RRN and Atlantis Blue Project Foundation.
Name: Alannah Vellacott
Alma Mater: South Dakota State University
STEM Career Path: Marine Ecology
KH: What has been the most interesting part of your career?
AV: The most interesting part has to be diving in the most remote locations and seeing rare, beautiful creatures that some people can only witness from their screens and then being able to share what I have learned with everyone. I get to relax and focus. When I am submerged and it’s just my bubbles and I. I am blanketed with like a feeling of belonging, a feeling similar to walking into your home after a long day of work. Then I think “What will I see today and what will I learn?”, “What will I share with people, what can I teach them?”. Every day I am in the field I am constantly reminded of how much is still out there for us to discover.
KH: For young black women that are interested in pursuing Marine Research, how do they get there?
AV: #1 – Get scuba certified! I cannot stress how much this will benefit a young, aspiring marine scientist. You have to get in the water and develop not only your skills but also develop your relationship with the underwater world. Fortunately, diving instructors are probably the most accepting group of people I have ever met and always welcome people regardless of their background.
#2 – Network! There are SO many women out there who want to support other women who are interested in marine science. If you are reading this blog, that is a great first step already. Reach out to different organizations, reach out to professors at universities even if you don’t know them. Ask questions, get stuck in, knock on doors until one opens. A website that gives scholarships to women divers is the Women Divers Hall of Fame: http://www.wdhof.org
#3 – Go get it! If marine science is something you feel within your bones that you want to make a career out of, you have to just go for it regardless of the ‘noise in the market’. There will be people who will ask the question we all loathe, “How do you plan to make money from that?”. For me, I answer this question almost on a weekly basis. My answer to them is that the feeling that I get from protecting our oceans, from sharing what I learn, from giving the gift of life to people across the globe over several generations is incalculable. So, set your goal and just go for it!
KH: How do you enjoy your weekends?
AV: On the weekends, if I am not in the field, I actually go diving! Sure, I might take one of the afternoons to catch up with much needed hair care, (diving with long natural hair is a whole other blog!), but I still find myself in the water somehow. Sometimes I go for an extended walk with my dog on a beach and do a mini beach clean-up on my own. However, if I am truly exhausted after a work trip or a training course, I get super snuggly and try to catch up with whatever series I am watching and I get some much needed rest before I move on to my next trip.
KH: Why is it so important to get more women into STEM fields?
AV: Because it's more than just shattering glass ceilings and meeting representation quotas, it’s about showing every little girl who questions science, technology, engineering and math that she not only has the right to ask those questions, but that she can answer them too.
KH: Best advice you have ever received?
AV: When I was a teenager, I was going through a really rough time and I had just started running Track. I was really nervous for my first big meet and had a lot of hurt in my heart from my situation at the time. I simply felt defeated before I even started. As usual, my Dad was right there next to me and he gave me a big hug and told me “Leave it all on the track babygirl.” I ran my heart out and collapsed at the finish line placing 2nd and breaking my personal record. That feeling of putting my all into what I am focused on, “leaving it all on the track”, has become one of my life mantras and what a feeling it is to look back at a project, a task or even a random act of kindness and know within every fibre of my body that I did my best.
Thank You Alannah For Being Such A Wonderful Inspiration!
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