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Staff Q&A with Florence Pichon, Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator

In the latest instalment in our series of staff Q&As, we ask Florence Pichon, Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator, some searching questions about science, conservation and superpowers…

What is your job and academic background?
I’m the Barren Isles project coordinator. Although I’m working in conservation, my background is in development and environmental research. I studied Political Science, History, and Econ at the University of Texas in Austin, and I also have an Msc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

Why do you do what you do?
I love dealing with the intersection between humans and the environment. Blue Ventures approaches conservation in a very people-centric way. meaning that conservation has to make sense to local people, economically as well as environmentally. Of course, this is easier said than done… but the need for sustainable marine resource management is more urgent than ever, so I have a very tangible motivation to get working in the morning!

What is the best/worst thing about working in conservation?
Best: The fact that getting to go snorkelling around some of the most untouched islands in the world is occasionally part of my 9 – 5.

Worst: People’s difficulty to conceptualize the long-term. This is something I can understand coming from a fisher living from hand to mouth, but can be frustrating coming from a government representative or a businessman. Like the fishers, these people are also rewarded for exploiting short-term interests; life tends to be uncertain in Madagascar, so there is real a culture of taking what you can while you can – but they also have more power to change that mentality. I’ve heard more than one person lament it while still reinforcing it with their actions.

While the job can be tough, the workplace is anything but!

While the job can be tough, the workplace is anything but!

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variation and unpredictability. I love spending one day pondering over a report, the next out speaking with fishermen in the coastal villages, the next in meetings with regional officials, the next in the office planning a conference, and then the next giving a presentation at a local school. There’s always a challenge to zero in on, and I thrive on being in the middle of it.

What is your favourite species or group of species and why?
Well, my favourite species also shares the dubious honour of also being my least favourite species: humans. We are constantly making life harder for future generations by chasing short-term gains, yet we also have an amazing capacity for innovation, organisation, and compassion. That’s my lazy answer, though, because the marine environment is so incredible that it’s too hard to pick just one! I guess I’d have to say turtles. They’re such gentle creatures, and I’m lucky that the Barren Isles are a nesting site for three different species of these amazing animals.

What would your conservation superpower be?
To be able to fast-forward and rewind time at will , in order to show people the long-term implications of their actions and observe changes that the ocean has undergone over the course of the past century.

What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you while working in conservation?
Having late night philosophical conversations with a fisherman about making a pact with a mermaid. The line between the reality and mythical can get a bit blurry in Madagascar, and I always find people’s interpretations of the world around them to be fascinating.