Episode 15 - Dr. Joanna Alfaro (Director of Pro Delphinus)
Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree! In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks Dr. Joanna Alfaro, a University of Exeter doctoral graduate who is now the Director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus. Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses Podcast transcript 1 00:00:10,880 --> 00:00:23,270 Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College 2 00:00:23,270 --> 00:00:28,070 Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree. I'm your host, Kelly Preece 3 00:00:28,070 --> 00:00:32,150 And for this episode, I'm delighted to be talking to Dr Joanna Alfaro, 4 00:00:32,150 --> 00:00:38,090 who is the president and director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus 5 00:00:38,090 --> 00:00:41,780 So, Joanna. Are you happy to introduce yourself? Yeah. 6 00:00:41,780 --> 00:00:45,770 Well, my name is Joanna Alfaro and I am Peruvian. 7 00:00:45,770 --> 00:00:57,290 I work in Pro Delphinus and Universidad Científica del Sur. So in 2008 I joined in the programme for PhD 8 00:00:57,290 --> 00:01:03,380 My advisor was Brendan Godley and Annette Broderick at Exeter 9 00:01:03,380 --> 00:01:16,670 And I was. That's probably my favourite years as being back a student in the U.K., a dream that I was able to fulfil. 10 00:01:16,670 --> 00:01:25,460 And for my the theme of my PhD was ecology and conservation of marine turtles. 11 00:01:25,460 --> 00:01:34,270 And that was also great because it allowed me to to apply the knowledge and the 12 00:01:34,270 --> 00:01:41,080 experience that I got to working with sea turtles in Peru towards my PhD. 13 00:01:41,080 --> 00:01:45,210 It's brilliant. Thank you. And what are you doing now? 14 00:01:45,210 --> 00:01:56,700 So when did you graduate? So the though after the PhD, the I was able to to be back at home and and keep working. 15 00:01:56,700 --> 00:02:04,710 And what I love, which is marine conservation. So the projects we we have right now are focus. 16 00:02:04,710 --> 00:02:13,470 It was a very interesting transition because we started our careers being a species oriented. 17 00:02:13,470 --> 00:02:21,330 And by that I mean that I was I love dolphins and whales and sea turtles. 18 00:02:21,330 --> 00:02:25,110 So that was my interest. But we learnt over time. 19 00:02:25,110 --> 00:02:34,880 And and my PhD was a big lesson learnt that is not only about the animals that we were, 20 00:02:34,880 --> 00:02:42,360 that we're when we're working with animals, we should also look at the people that is related to the animals. 21 00:02:42,360 --> 00:02:49,630 So in my case, these people were fishermen. And mostly small-scale fishermen. 22 00:02:49,630 --> 00:02:59,020 And so the the the current work we do now is trying to support fishermen, to keep fishing. 23 00:02:59,020 --> 00:03:09,520 But in a more clean way, in a sustainable way, in a way that they can keep fishing for the for many, 24 00:03:09,520 --> 00:03:15,010 many years to come, but also in a way that we are helping animals. 25 00:03:15,010 --> 00:03:23,300 And in this case, it'll be the ones that we have this passion for the dolphins, the whales, the sea turtles. 26 00:03:23,300 --> 00:03:33,580 So it's it's a very good combination to be able to to be in the middle between biodiversity 27 00:03:33,580 --> 00:03:43,600 and economic activities as fisheries and also communities and engaging the main users, 28 00:03:43,600 --> 00:03:54,900 which are fishermen. That's great and really interesting how, like you say, that you've moved from thinking about particular species to. 29 00:03:54,900 --> 00:04:05,550 To fishermen. And that sort of shift in focus. So can you tell me a little bit about when you were doing your PhD? 30 00:04:05,550 --> 00:04:10,110 Did you know that you want to move on to this kind of role? Oh, yes. 31 00:04:10,110 --> 00:04:18,360 Well, that's a great question. And that's a question that I mention when when I have the chance. 32 00:04:18,360 --> 00:04:28,910 When we started the PhD, we had no idea that we will end up working with fisheries and with people. 33 00:04:28,910 --> 00:04:35,400 And I think that's an idea that a lot of young people start with. 34 00:04:35,400 --> 00:04:46,950 I mean, you go with with with this love for the ocean and the creatures, but then it's it's important to realise that it's. 35 00:04:46,950 --> 00:04:56,310 It will give you have to become useful. It's a bad way to say it, but you have to become useful for society. 36 00:04:56,310 --> 00:05:02,700 And and it's great if you can, because, well, that's a role we all have. 37 00:05:02,700 --> 00:05:13,050 But but it and in a way, our careers as researchers and biologists are key to to to make this transition 38 00:05:13,050 --> 00:05:22,260 between nature and wildlife and maintain the livelihoods of of people like fishermen, 39 00:05:22,260 --> 00:05:28,820 in my case, for example. So can you tell me a bit more about. 40 00:05:28,820 --> 00:05:36,620 The conservation organisation you work for. And what kind of what sort of work that you're doing and how you're drawing on 41 00:05:36,620 --> 00:05:46,170 your experience as a as a researcher and and particularly during your PhD 42 00:05:46,170 --> 00:05:55,150 Yes, sure. So my PhD was on sea turtles and most of my chapters had to be on sea turtles. 43 00:05:55,150 --> 00:06:01,710 And I did my PhD with my husband, which is which it was a great challenge. 44 00:06:01,710 --> 00:06:10,340 At some point, we were we were sharing the same. 45 00:06:10,340 --> 00:06:14,830 Stress, and it's but we made it through somehow. 46 00:06:14,830 --> 00:06:20,680 And the we are we can we evolve from being a species oriented. 47 00:06:20,680 --> 00:06:25,000 So my my focus was marine turtles 48 00:06:25,000 --> 00:06:32,290 workingwith Brendan and and my husband was working on seabirds and marine mammals. 49 00:06:32,290 --> 00:06:41,380 So we shifted a little bit once being back at home in Pery to work to to apply what we learnt and 50 00:06:41,380 --> 00:06:49,030 apply it to improve fisheries and support fishermen to continue to be able to continue fishing. 51 00:06:49,030 --> 00:06:54,820 So that has changed just slightly or like I don't know. 52 00:06:54,820 --> 00:07:00,310 And the thing is, that is it continues changing, especially now with COVID 53 00:07:00,310 --> 00:07:05,770 Some of our work at Pro Delphinus has changed dramatically. 54 00:07:05,770 --> 00:07:15,400 We can no longer go to the field. We do most of the stuff by phone call or Zoom or Whatsapp 55 00:07:15,400 --> 00:07:26,470 So we are where we see changes in our work during the the latest circumstances of of health worldwide. 56 00:07:26,470 --> 00:07:31,870 And that's the fun part of it. I think the to be constant changing. 57 00:07:31,870 --> 00:07:36,220 I think it it brings challenges is not always the same. 58 00:07:36,220 --> 00:07:44,500 Every day there is something new that we are learning, but it's is where we are enjoying this. 59 00:07:44,500 --> 00:07:57,490 Right. Really. And Pro Delphinus there is we have perhaps over 20 people on the staff and we keep growing, which is very good. 60 00:07:57,490 --> 00:08:05,110 And each of them have an interest and that's the that's what it reaches the the environment 61 00:08:05,110 --> 00:08:11,890 we work in because somebody else may be interested in the social side of the work we do. 62 00:08:11,890 --> 00:08:21,210 Somebody else could be interested in the economics of it. So it's it's I'm enjoying it. 63 00:08:21,210 --> 00:08:22,410 It sounds amazing. 64 00:08:22,410 --> 00:08:30,880 And not only kind of really rewarding work, but also incredibly diverse in the different things that you're gonna be doing, especially. 65 00:08:30,880 --> 00:08:37,770 And, you know, as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact that that's had on all, you know, the ways, everybody's way of working. 66 00:08:37,770 --> 00:08:42,300 So you won an award. Last October. 67 00:08:42,300 --> 00:08:48,130 Did you not Peru's highest award for conservation? Can you tell us a little bit about that. 68 00:08:48,130 --> 00:08:59,420 Oh, man, that was fun. That was that was unexpected. So they they sent me an email saying, the name of the award is Carlos Ponce 69 00:08:59,420 --> 00:09:05,080 Premio para la Conservacion which is a very renown prize 70 00:09:05,080 --> 00:09:16,160 And for Peru, for people working in conservation in Peru. The organisers is a group a consortium is Conservation International. 71 00:09:16,160 --> 00:09:25,810 WCS, Pronaturaleza these organisations have worked for a long time in Peru. 72 00:09:25,810 --> 00:09:37,360 And when with with the e-mail when I answered, I said yes, but I haven't applied to this award and I had no idea. 73 00:09:37,360 --> 00:09:42,340 And then the lady. Well, when I was notified, it was a big surprise. 74 00:09:42,340 --> 00:09:51,460 I enjoyed it a lot. The ceremony was by Zoom and that was that was very different. 75 00:09:51,460 --> 00:09:56,830 But it was very moving. And for me personally was very moving. 76 00:09:56,830 --> 00:10:05,050 And for Pro Delphinus, I think the staff really enjoy it because it's not an award for a person. 77 00:10:05,050 --> 00:10:11,710 But to, in my opinion, is an award for an organisation that has over two decades working. 78 00:10:11,710 --> 00:10:18,540 So it was it was a very nice recognition for our work. 79 00:10:18,540 --> 00:10:27,000 Absolutely. Could you tell me a bit more about how Pro Delphinus started? 80 00:10:27,000 --> 00:10:32,460 Yes. Well, Pro Delphinus started to so. 81 00:10:32,460 --> 00:10:38,310 The father, the mother of Pro Delphinus, called Sipek whi is a 82 00:10:38,310 --> 00:10:40,350 a private organisation, 83 00:10:40,350 --> 00:10:53,340 a group of biologists and veterinarians living in Pucusana and working in marine mammals back in 1990s and towards the end of the 90s. 84 00:10:53,340 --> 00:11:02,670 They decided to to be more inclusive for for students and volunteers. 85 00:11:02,670 --> 00:11:08,850 And that was the start of Pro Delphinus and for for their early years. 86 00:11:08,850 --> 00:11:15,760 We didn't do much. But in 2003, we started strong. 87 00:11:15,760 --> 00:11:26,500 It was the year that we applied for a few grants and we got them all, which was a very nice surprise and a great challenge. 88 00:11:26,500 --> 00:11:32,080 We we started growing slowly. We have been growing organically. 89 00:11:32,080 --> 00:11:38,570 I want to say over the years, right now, I think we probably have. 90 00:11:38,570 --> 00:11:43,070 Ten projects and two are big. 91 00:11:43,070 --> 00:11:47,940 One is to focus on sustainable fisheries. 92 00:11:47,940 --> 00:11:54,560 The small scale and the although the other one is for leatherback turtles. 93 00:11:54,560 --> 00:12:08,030 Conservation. And and I want to take the chance to to mention that the population of Eastern leatherback pacific turtles are doing very bad. 94 00:12:08,030 --> 00:12:18,740 So there's a bunch of countries from Mexico to Chile working on improve the conservation of this species to avoid extinction. 95 00:12:18,740 --> 00:12:24,170 This is one of the species that is highly impacted and nesting sites and at sea. 96 00:12:24,170 --> 00:12:35,090 So this project is all about Leatherbacks and working with to reduce bycatch and the water. 97 00:12:35,090 --> 00:12:42,600 And is this work with turtles that led you to become involved in Pro Delphinus or 98 00:12:42,600 --> 00:12:54,150 Was it the fisheries work? It was my my work at Pro Delphinus started with marine mammals, and it started with dolphins because. 99 00:12:54,150 --> 00:13:03,330 Because then when I was a student in the 90's, dolphins were brought to shore and my. 100 00:13:03,330 --> 00:13:14,140 But if you ask me what I thought. My thoughts about a young student I wanted so badly to work with dolphins. 101 00:13:14,140 --> 00:13:23,180 It was my dream. So this group that accepted me as a volunteer, Sipek, they worked with dolphins. 102 00:13:23,180 --> 00:13:26,210 So I went there and started volunteer and. 103 00:13:26,210 --> 00:13:40,060 But I had no idea that all the dolphins were going to be dead because they brought them from the fisheries interactions to shore and. 104 00:13:40,060 --> 00:13:46,450 So it started with dolphins and then they evolved and move on to turtles. 105 00:13:46,450 --> 00:13:52,360 Because as I was observing dolphins, it was the same issue with turtles. 106 00:13:52,360 --> 00:13:59,770 One day we went to a port and there was leatherback turtle laying on this Scarapas 107 00:13:59,770 --> 00:14:08,260 And that was a pretty shocking image. Luckily, we don't see that anymore these days. 108 00:14:08,260 --> 00:14:14,230 But that was the start of my interest on sea turtles. 109 00:14:14,230 --> 00:14:26,820 And I was had had been very rewarding. In fact, the project we have that I just mentioned on leatherback turtles is trying to. 110 00:14:26,820 --> 00:14:37,130 distribute LED light which have proved to help reduce the bycatch of sea turtles. 111 00:14:37,130 --> 00:14:44,960 And with this project, we can hand them, the fishermen, to have them in their nets to avoid 112 00:14:44,960 --> 00:14:53,110 The entanglement of the turtles. And reduce mortality, hopefully. 113 00:14:53,110 --> 00:14:58,690 You're currently the director at Pro Delphinus. Did you. 114 00:14:58,690 --> 00:15:05,450 Did you go straight into that position after your you completed your PhD 115 00:15:05,450 --> 00:15:25,270 No. No. I started volunteering and my volunteer was cleaning floors, dusting bones, picking up buckets of guts of Dolphin. 116 00:15:25,270 --> 00:15:32,720 My volutneer was pretty rough, and I think it was good. 117 00:15:32,720 --> 00:15:45,140 I'm very grateful that it was a rough start because there was a test in my mind was a test and probably in the mind of my my bosses on that time. 118 00:15:45,140 --> 00:15:52,430 So I started as a volunteer cleaning, mostly helping in everything. 119 00:15:52,430 --> 00:15:57,230 And then I became a junior researcher. 120 00:15:57,230 --> 00:16:08,210 And then from there, an assistant researcher. And then now I'm the director of Pro Delphinus, which is very different. 121 00:16:08,210 --> 00:16:16,090 But I still clean. So really a case of sort of getting involved with the organisation from the ground up. 122 00:16:16,090 --> 00:16:29,130 Yes. Yes. And that has been good. I am I'm happy that it was started that way, because now I can I can place myself in the shoes of the volunteers. 123 00:16:29,130 --> 00:16:40,880 And and and I, I work my way up, which which was has been a rewarding feel is. 124 00:16:40,880 --> 00:16:46,070 So could you tell me kind of like what your typical day is like? 125 00:16:46,070 --> 00:16:51,050 I know the answer is going to be there isn't one Yeah, sure. 126 00:16:51,050 --> 00:16:54,430 My typical day has changed now. 127 00:16:54,430 --> 00:16:59,240 And there were a lot of sitting. A lot of computer time. 128 00:16:59,240 --> 00:17:10,850 But before that. And that's because of COVID then because the office is partially closed, we are starting to go but not many hours and et cetera. 129 00:17:10,850 --> 00:17:17,960 But my normal day before COVID was a little bit more fun. 130 00:17:17,960 --> 00:17:25,250 Most of my days will be meetings with government officers or in some occasions I also 131 00:17:25,250 --> 00:17:31,820 go to fishing ports because I don't want to lose the connection of with the field. 132 00:17:31,820 --> 00:17:43,220 If somebody asked me in my job, I want to be able to tell them from experience what I have been observing and respond with the experience. 133 00:17:43,220 --> 00:17:47,420 So the contact with the field and fishermen, it's important to me. 134 00:17:47,420 --> 00:17:56,830 So I will go I will combine meetings, office time with some travelling and. 135 00:17:56,830 --> 00:18:02,350 And some and phone calls, a lot of phone calls, too. We write a lot of papers. 136 00:18:02,350 --> 00:18:11,110 We we work on that. That's our most precious. 137 00:18:11,110 --> 00:18:20,290 Give give back to society and to academia and to the country that has this has been the focus. 138 00:18:20,290 --> 00:18:25,750 Last year we did over 20 papers, the year before I think 18. 139 00:18:25,750 --> 00:18:29,590 So we're we're good. The staff is great about that. 140 00:18:29,590 --> 00:18:34,040 They're really into research and publishing. 141 00:18:34,040 --> 00:18:47,230 And that sounds such a varied day and a varied kind of type of work in terms of advocacy and being in the field, writing papers and, you know, 142 00:18:47,230 --> 00:18:51,730 still having that really important kind of academic research contribution, 143 00:18:51,730 --> 00:18:57,890 as well as the wider kind of contribution that you're making to conservation. 144 00:18:57,890 --> 00:19:02,840 Sounds like a fantastic kind of combination. I wonder if we can sort of. 145 00:19:02,840 --> 00:19:07,490 To finish up what advice you have for anyone who is currently doing PhD 146 00:19:07,490 --> 00:19:15,450 Who wants to. Pursue a career in the kind of conservation organisation that you're working in. 147 00:19:15,450 --> 00:19:24,870 Mm hmm. Yeah, well, the advice in general will be if you have a topic that is of your interest. 148 00:19:24,870 --> 00:19:29,290 That's great. But if you don't, it will come up. 149 00:19:29,290 --> 00:19:35,430 It will come up at some point and you will identify something that is really interesting for you. 150 00:19:35,430 --> 00:19:44,250 So don't worry if you don't have that passion that that some people do at early age and take 151 00:19:44,250 --> 00:19:53,550 opportunities as they come to experiment and try different things within your career and out of your career, 152 00:19:53,550 --> 00:20:04,890 because sometimes you can combine things that are not specifically related to biology or research. 153 00:20:04,890 --> 00:20:12,000 And if you're thinking about working in an NGO is this is great. 154 00:20:12,000 --> 00:20:18,270 I mean, for us has been great. I know it's challenging because you have to look for your own funds. 155 00:20:18,270 --> 00:20:29,070 But the early years are difficult. And then it becomes smoother as your expertise, as you develop your expertise. 156 00:20:29,070 --> 00:20:38,880 And combining that with PhD had been for us a great step in our careers, in our lives. 157 00:20:38,880 --> 00:20:50,240 We still collaborate with Brendan So we build a little network in Exeter and that I hope it continues over time. 158 00:20:50,240 --> 00:20:58,360 And and and and I'm looking forward for what's coming in the future. 159 00:20:58,360 --> 00:21:09,160 Thank you so much to Joanna for taking the time out to talk about the really exciting and important work that she's doing. 160 00:21:09,160 --> 00:21:24,884 And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.