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The journey began with a sleepy text

Dr Shane McGuinness explains his motivations for joining The Water Dairies.

· Education,Conservation,TheWaterDiaries,Geography,Science
Team of data collectors from the margins of Volcanoes National Park

The journey began with a sleepy text message, from my obliging father who had offered to provide a lift to Dublin Airport. He was outside, ready to collect, at the ungodly hour of 3am on Hallowe’en night. Four hours later, I’ve been groggily teleported to Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, typing these very words, attempting to explain why I’m travelling with heavy eyelids.

I am no stranger to fieldwork, not least the early starts. My career to date has involved significant periods in the field, investigating a wide range of challenges to conservation biology, mainly in eastern Africa. I have investigated the diet of freshwater crabs in Kenyan rainforest, searched for cheeky chimpanzees with tendency to steal farmers’ crops in Rwanda, battled with the political and economic sides of conservation biology in Volcanoes National Park (Gorillas in the Mist was set here) and most recently have been looking at the conflicts between various kinds of development and bird conservation in my home nation of Ireland.

Chimpanzees at the edge of Gishwati Forest immediately before raiding the forest.

Aside from conservation research, however, I hold a position in the Discovery and Learning department of Dublin Zoo, moulding young minds towards taking positive conservation actions and instilling a sense of ecological responsibility. It is this which explains why I’m travelling to the Middle East as the field scientist for The Water Diaries.

Oftentimes (particularly in academic circles) few people recognise just how important people are in making our world a more sustainable place, where all species are protected. Too regularly, it is seen as a scientific problem with complex scientific solutions that belong in the lab, even though human behaviour is the common theme across all these conservation problems. So, as the only species on this planet that has the ability to wipe out most other life (and likely still survive; we’re a resilient bunch!), we as a race have great responsibility to act. Thus education, I feel, is the absolute key, by changing how our young people treat natural resources, by convincing them to change practices and become more aware of the difference they can make. Yes, science has a very important place, but without mobilising people to change their practices, the battle will always be uphill.

The catch here, however, is that it’s very hard to convey this importance and passion in the classroom. Try as dedicated, well-skilled teachers across the world may, there is simply no substitute for being “out there”. Not just seeing, but experiencing. The Water Diaries will attempt to achieve this, by bringing the field to the classroom. By using Jordan and its acute water stresses as a living classroom.

Enough said for now I think; you get the gist. My free Wifi is running out and there’s a Starbucks behind me...

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