Today, we'll be hearing from the wonderful Genaye Domenico. She is Conservation Program Manager at the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF). Conservationist Genaye Domenico is a dear friend of mine. We met in Mozambique several years ago when we were both volunteers for MMF. One of my favourite things in the world is a long beach walk with Genaye to watch the humpback whales breaching on the horizon. These days, we're separated by many miles of ocean but connected by just as many voice notes. As knowledgeable about the ocean as she is passionate, Genaye is such an inspiration. I hope you enjoy our chat.
What does your charity do (in a nutshell)?
Marine Megaufauna Foundation is made up of an education department, a research department, and a conservation department. We are taking steps to create a world where humans and marine life thrive together. We work hard to save ocean giants from extinction.
Why do you care about the ocean?
Oh, I'm absolutely obsessed! The ocean is pure magic, my one true love, and my greatest source of happiness. No matter how much I learn, or how many hours I get to spend under the sea, on the surface, or even near it, it's never enough. The ocean sustains all life on this planet in multiple ways -- it's truly amazing, and we must protect it.
What inspired you to work in the conservation sector?
I think it started with camping. When camping with my family, we would sometimes get lucky enough to find a site that was pretty clean, with a stack of firewood left for us from the previous campers. As our trip ended, we were sure to clean the area and it was engrained in me to "always leave it better than we found it". I feel that way about the planet; care for it while we are here, clean up after ourselves, and try to leave it even better for the next group.
What's a typical day like for you?
I'm not sure any day can be classified as typical - ha (a day in the life of Conservationist Genaye Domenico) A "normal" day might start with the Conservation Team in the office, going over the game plan for the day before heading out to the field. The focus that day might be on preparing our local Ocean Ambassadors for their monthly conservation presentation they deliver to their respective communities in their local dialect. Or maybe we are focusing on engaging the local fisheries councils to discuss how to decrease the use of destructive fishing mechanisms and increase species abundance and diversity on their nearshore reefs. Perhaps, the day is spent chatting with locals on how to track their finances in our Village Saving Loan programs, enabling local loans and financial independence.
Or, yet again, perhaps the day will be spent alongside fishermen who wish to take up a different livelihood, with MMF assisting that shift with tools, support and training offered through our Alternative Livelihoods programs. And surely, whatever the plan is for the day, we must all remain flexible and highly adaptable for when that plan turns sideways; Working in Mozambique really keeps me on my toes! The one thing that remains constant is going to work every day with an amazing team who work very hard to simultaneously protect the oceans and elevate the local community.
How did you get into conservation?
I almost feel it's a natural progression for most anyone who is in love with the ocean. I'm not sure I even had a choice. Jacques Cousteau said "People protect what they love" and I know I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing just that.
What's your favourite marine creature and why?
I could no sooner pick a favourite star in the heavens! Everyone under the sea is so freaking cool. First thought was whale sharks and mantas, of course, working so closely with them and the sense of wonder has yet to fade. Mantis shrimp. Octopus. Plankton, in general. The unicorn of the sea, the Narwhals. Leafy sea dragons. Oh man, I better stop before I really get going...!
What's the weirdest or most surprising fact you can share about the ocean?
~94% of all Earth's living species occur within the oceans, yet only ~5% of it has been explored. This is old news, but it's still crazy, right? Runner up: salps are taxonomically closer to humans than jellyfish.
Do you think communications is an important part of your conservation work?
Communication is vital for conservation. So much of our role in our local community is acting as a bridge for two parties to communicate. Our scientists need to communicate to the world. Our educators need to communicate to the community. The community needs to have accessible communication to governmental branches for more effective marine management strategies. The fishermen need to communicate amongst themselves to agree on stewardship rules and regulations. I could go on forever. Conservation does not exist without communication.
What communications challenges do you face at your organisation?
Here in Mozambique, a lot of our target population won't have access to reliable communication methods. In the US you might be able to jump on a zoom call, or shoot an email across the world without issue, but here village to village communication is taking with limited tech, and limited funds for electricity or data, or even owning a cell phone. In addition to our Ocean Ambassadors presenting conservation lessons to their villages, they also engage in a nation wide radio program, in an attempt to amplify our reach.
Adding to the technical difficulties, there is also a language barrier, where the local dialect changes from area to area. Finding a fish, for example, and needing it translated from local dialect and local name, to Portuguese, to English, to the common name, to the scientific term leaves a lot of room for something getting lost in translation. And lastly, there is a communication barrier that exists in the delicate balance of scientific data vs local village culture. In this area, we acknowledge that real changes take time. At Marine Megafauna, it is very important to us all that our projects are rooted in the community, initiated from the expressed needs of the community, and led by the community with MMF lending assistance when and where we can rather than leading it head on.
What are your hopes for the future of the ocean?
It is my deepest hope that I see significant legislative action which increases conservation and protection of the oceans on a global scale, and that these changes take place without some horrific tipping point of no return occurring to prompt them.
What's the one thing you wish people knew about protecting the ocean?
The ocean matters. It produces oxygen, is a massive carbon sink, creates wind, weather, and controls the climate (at least it is trying it's very best to keep it under control!). The ocean is vital to our human existence on the planet. You matter. Your choices matter. Your habits matter, the companies and corporations you support with your dollar matter, and the policies being passed on a legislative level (and therefore who you are voting for in your elections) matter. I know it seems overwhelming-- you're just a drop in the ocean, right? (Yes, ocean metaphors, of course).
You don't have to be perfect every single day and live a 0% carbon footprint to make a difference; there are so many small things we can all do. Small ripples can become a tidal wave of change (yes, more fitting water visualization here, pure perfection). Find your thing, the one thing you can do (the internet will help you with so many ways you can help). Maybe, when you've mastered this change, and it becomes your new normal, go master another. And, open your mouth! Talk about it with your circle. People protect what they love. They love what they know. Get to know the ocean. Get to know the challenges we face. Spread ocean love recklessly.
What tips do you have for someone who wants to work in the conservation sector?
Conservation is a pretty broad topic. To help narrow it down, make a few lists for yourself. First, find what conservation areas/topics you find the most interesting (maybe you have a few!). Through some googling you can find organizations working in your area of interest (my love of whale sharks brought me to MMF). Once you've found the organization(s) of interest, geek out hard core: learn all about them, their work, their publications, what they do.
Knowing what work they do will help you discover what skills are valuable in this area. Maybe you already have those skills! Maybe you need to develop them still. After a bit of homework, don't be afraid to reach out. I would find a contact who knows the specifics of what they want, what their skills are, and how we could work together very attractive. It's also handy to join some job boards focusing on conservation and check them often; you never know when an opportunity will pop up.
What unanswered question do you still have about the ocean?
Where are whale sharks giving birth?
Anything you'd like to add?
My background is in marine biology but conservation takes all types. ALL types! Teachers, UX Designers, Social Media Managers, Accountants, HR, young minds, retirees, all the types. Eat less meat. Use less plastic (especially single use). Respect the ocean. Check out Marine Megafauna Foundation online. Spread the love. Thank you for all you do!