A flurry of activity and a real-life blizzard for MCAF Fellow Daniel Fernando’s visit to Boston

The Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) Ocean Conservation Fellows Program* brings ocean conservation leaders from around the world to the New England Aquarium, where they exchange ideas with Aquarium educators and Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life scientists, share their work with the public, and inspire and empower the next generation of ocean protectors. MCAF Fellow and shark and ray scientist Daniel Fernando, associate director of the Manta Trust and founder of Blue Resources Trust, shares his experiences from his fellowship week at the Aquarium in March of this year.

It was a week of snowstorms and sunshine for my Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) Fellowship at the New England Aquarium in Boston this March. The New England Aquarium’s MCAF has been supporting my work in Sri Lanka since 2012, and this offer to become a Fellow was an incredible honour and opportunity. The grant I received in 2012 enabled me to establish a significant proportion of my fisheries research that has brought me to where I am today. I had also been given the chance to visit the Aquarium two times prior to this Fellowship, something that I truly appreciate as it not just helped build up my skills and network with the Aquarium, but also demonstrates the long-term commitment that MCAF has toward its grantees.

daniel speaking to Aquarium researchers
Daniel Fernando shared his work with the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center staff and scientists.

A few weeks before leaving for the U.S. for the Fellowship, I gave my first talk online, for school teachers from in and around Boston. However, this was only the warm-up, and from the moment I touched down in Boston, I had a jam-packed schedule awaiting me. On top of that, nature had something of its own lined up. I was informed that a blizzard was hitting the city of Boston on the second day of my Fellowship, resulting in a complete shutdown. So after my first day of events, and all my Aquarium colleagues offering advice to stock up on rations (I opted for chocolates) and board myself into my hotel room, I was prepared for a snow day. The following day was certainly very cold and while the blizzard was not as extreme as anticipated, which was probably for the best for all residents, it was a nice contrast to the heat I had left in Sri Lanka.

daniel in IMAX
Daniel views his slides on the big screen in the NEAq Simons IMAX Theatre

Over the following days, as the weather got warmer and sunnier, I was busy giving a series of lectures for both the general public and Aquarium staff, participating in networking meetings to help identify solutions and potential collaborators for projects in Sri Lanka, and then ending my week by attending the Boston Seafood Expo! However out of all these exciting events, the two that certainly stood out were the talks for students—the first at the Sullivan Middle School in Worcester and the second for the Marine Biologist-in-Training Teens (MBiT). The questions I received validate the importance of educating future generations as they contemplate issues from a completely different and fresh perspective to adult audiences. And on top of that, a few weeks after I returned home I was rewarded with wonderful drawings and poems from the students at Sullivan Middle School.

group photo
Daniel Fernando, at center, with Goddard Scholars Academy students from the Sullivan Middle School

This Fellowship has truly helped expand my experience in adapting my talks for various audiences, provided me with a wealth of knowledge to expand existing (and begin new) projects in Sri Lanka, and presented me with the opportunity to make a lot of new friends. I cannot say how grateful I am to all the staff at both MCAF and the New England Aquarium, and all the participants at my lectures for this wonderful experience.

One of the many student letters, poems and artwork Daniel received from the students at the Goddard Scholars Academy at the Sullivan Middle School in Worcester, MA

“Dear Daniel, Thank you for coming to our school to explain the importance of manta and devil rays. You not only brought information, but also inspiration along as well. What you have done is not only protecting all rays across the globe, but you have also inspired the next generation to follow in your footsteps and be better in everything else too.”

*The MCAF Fellows program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant number MA-10-15-0258-15. The contents and views of this post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.