Marine biologist hopes to involve communities more in science

2018-11-08 06:02
PHOTO: Nelson MirandaBorn and bred in Port Shepstone, Nasreen Peer is now making waves in the science world.

PHOTO: Nelson MirandaBorn and bred in Port Shepstone, Nasreen Peer is now making waves in the science world.

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AFTER spending her youth wading through rock pools on the South Coast, Nasreen Peer is now an accomplished marine biologist doing amazing things. We spoke to her about her fascinating journey.

Peer graduated with BSc (Hons) in Marine Biology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, then obtained a PhD in Zoology from the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Her research has focused largely on the diversity and ecology of crabs, among other invertebrates. Some of her achievements include leading an ecological survey of South Africa’s mangrove ecosystems and working with a local NGO in Mozambique for over a year. She is now based in Durban and is busy with her post doctoral research. She and her husband, Nelson Miranda, are also starting a business called Argonaut Science, aiming to make science and exploration more accessible to citizens.

Q: What was your childhood like, growing up in Port Shepstone?

A: We had a beautiful home overlooking the ocean and I loved sitting by the lounge window watching the different moods of the sea. I remember the sardine run in winter when we would watch shoals wash up and then we would all run down to the beach with packets to collect as many fish as we could. I am still grateful each time I think about how fortunate we were to grow up in such an environment.

Q: Do you think growing up here had anything to do with your love for marine life?

A: Definitely! The South Coast has some amazing marine habitats. As a family we spent a lot of time at the beach swimming, walking through rock pools, and looking for shells. I loved everything about the beach.

I was fortunate to have parents who motivated us to explore, as well as a few great role models who fostered my interest in science/biology.

Q: You’re now doing Post Doctoral research, what are your areas of interest?

A: My areas of interest are aquatic ecology and diversity but I’ve realised that scientists need to work on communicating our work more broadly, helping to develop research capacity, and involving communities more.

I am currently interested in finding ways to collect and record traditional ecological knowledge. In southern Africa, we have many local communities that have been living as part of the environment for centuries. They have a deep ecological understanding of certain habitats that needs to be shared. When you think about it, they are hubs of knowledge and wisdom that should form an invaluable part of the scientific community.

I also have a keen interest in involving kids in science from a younger age, beyond what they are taught as part of the school curriculum.

Q: Do you think science is a dying discipline among today’s youth?

A: Not at all! If anything, science is gaining popularity through pop culture and kids are starting to ask more interesting questions. On a recent trip to the aquarium with my nieces and nephew, I was amazed at the types of questions they were asking as well as how much they already knew. They weren’t just fascinated by the colourful fish, they were asking questions about plastic pollution, animal behaviour, interactions, and even basic research techniques. We seem to think that because of rapid technological advancement, and the subsequent rise of digital devices, kids are lazier and less interested in the world around them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The internet and smartphones can enable the youth to easily access information, personally communicate with scientists, teach themselves new skills and keep up with cool scientific advancements. This is very exciting, in my opinion.

Q: What message would you like to send out to our readers?

A: One that I’ve learnt repeatedly over the years: be kind to one another. Whether that means smiling or greeting each other, encouraging a friend, cheering someone on, supporting a family member, forgiving, basically anything that involves helping out our fellow human beings, friend or stranger. You can be the best in your field, master complicated techniques, earn a salary beyond expectation, but none of that matters if you don’t have a good heart.

Q: What do you miss most about the South Coast?

A: The Waffle House’s choc chip waffle! Just kidding! I miss a few things. Firstly, life was simple and uncomplicated growing up in Port Shepstone. Whether that was the result of living in a small town or just being a child I can’t say, but I miss that sometimes. I also dearly miss our friends who still live there, I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I would like. Lastly, I definitely miss our seaside home with the sound of crashing waves on a clear night.

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