By Lakhram Bhagirat
Guyana – the land of many waters – is among the big players in the world when it comes to pristine forests and we have been, as of late, marketing ourselves as a “Green Tourism” destination.
However, one would also argue that Guyana is not doing enough to take care of our green environment and that is the reason young Felicia Collins is advocating for more Marine and Environmental Biologists in the country.
The 23-year-old recently graduated from the University of the West Indies with her Degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and currently works as a Project Coordinator at the Guyana Marine Conservation Society.
Collins grew up in the small mining community of Port Kaituma located in the Barima-Waini Region. For her, growing was an experience she relished. Everything was an adventure for her, from exploring the backyard with her siblings, learning how to ride a bike down the hills, playing cricket on the road till dusk with the neighbours, to occasional trips to the backdam with her father.
According to Collins, one of the glaring challenges of her childhood was access to a quality primary education since most schools in the hinterland are often understaffed and under-resourced.
“The challenges faced by the students are also different. I remember there would be days when some of my classmates would not have money, books, uniform to attend school, or they would have to travel a great distance on foot to get to school. So, from an early age, I was able to recognise my privilege and appreciate the sacrifices that my parents made to ensure I was able to receive an education, and this is something that remains with me to this day; that sense of humility as I was able to experience both worlds,” she recounted.
The young woman attended the Port Kaituma Primary and after sitting the Common Entrance Examination she was awarded a Hinterland Scholarship from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs in 2009 and secured a place at the North Georgetown Secondary School in the city. She graduated from there in 2014 with 12 passes at the Caribbean Examinations Council’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
“After that (secondary school), I knew I wanted to continue a career in science, but I was not exactly sure what that was, so I decided to challenge myself. I applied to Queen’s College for Sixth Form and I was accepted. I think it was within those two years that my academic interest in the environment grew and after I was done, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the environmental sector.
“After Sixth form, I took a gap year to work and save then I applied to The University of the West Indies – St Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with specialisations,” Collins explained.
Collins has always been a nature enthusiast because of where she grew up but was never aware that she could have pursued a career in studying the environment until she entered Sixth Form.
“Before that, I wanted to be a doctor because that was what everyone expected of me. So, when I applied to UWI I made sure to thoroughly check through the programme structure, read up on the courses and content taught so as to make sure they aligned with what I wanted to study. To be honest marine biology wasn’t even on my radar until I got to Trinidad. My lecturers would constantly stress its importance and vulnerability due to their thriving oil and gas economy, and during this time Guyana was also on the path to becoming an oil-producing nation, so I decided to choose the specialisation to better understand this ecosystem that we know so little about,” she related.
For her, the journey towards achieving her qualifications as a Marine – Environmental Biologist has been intense academically and financially. It was 3 years of late nights at the library and early morning classes, and a lot of self-discipline and motivation.
Collins admitted that she still has much to learn – especially about Guyana’s marine environment which is vastly different from Trinidad’s.
Her job as Project Coordinator with the Guyana Marine Conservation Society includes lots of research and reading. She is currently working with the Guyana Marine Conservation Society as the Project Coordinator for the Barima-Mora Passage Mammals survey. So, she is responsible for managing the timely implementation of this research project and the data collection as well as the data analysis.
She anticipates the publishing of a research paper with the findings once the survey is completed.
“It is important to maintain biodiversity and healthy habitats which provide us with many ecosystem services, not just locally but globally as well. We depend on this environment way more than we even realise. For example, the fishing sector is one of the most economically important sectors in Guyana. It is an important foreign exchange earner and a primary contributor to income, employment, food security, and social and economic stability.
“Make sure you’re passionate about it and it’s what you want to do. I mean, everyone is different, and we’re not all going to have the same paths to get to where we want but if you are sure about something then go for it. Reach out to people, find out their experiences and challenges. Be realistic, plan, set your goals, and work towards them. Guyana needs more marine and environmental biologists because if we don’t protect our environment, who will?” Collins posited.