Nancy Iraba is the co-founder of Aqua Farms Organization and founder of the Ocean Literacy Foundation. Her insights in the area of marine science and women involved in STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is what drove me to arrange an interview with her. Being a marine scientist and an award winner of two awards in science shows the power and determination that lies in the heart of a young lady who wants to fight climate change by using marine science and inspire other ladies to put their fears aside and get into science.
She has been awarded the " Hidden Eco-Heroine Award" by the Republic of Korea in 2017 and the upcoming woman in STEM Award in the field of Marine Sciences in 2019 by Next Einstein Forum. Join me as I share the talk I had with her!
Who is Nancy?
Nancy is a Marine Scientist specializing in Benthic Ecology. A daughter in a family of 4 sisters with one little brother. She is passionate about serving her community, Girls Education, Gender Equality, Science communication, and Ocean conservation.
What is your academic background?
I opted for science subjects at my ordinary level and took PCB (physics, chemistry, and biology) in my advance both studied at Kifungilo girls secondary school located in Lushoto. I am having a bachelor's degree in Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries ( Hons) from the University of Dar es Salaam, and pursuing my Master's degree in Marine Sciences at the same University, branch of Zanzibar.
What motivated you to study marine science?
At the end of 2017, I got an opportunity to spend a month out the sea onboard SA Agulhas research cruise ship, under project tilted " The second International Indian Expedition, (IIOE-2)" with the aim of sampling, collecting, and analyzing ocean data from the Indian Ocean ( which is the least studied oceans amongst all). The research cruise comprised of senior and early career marine scientists across the western Indian ocean regions ( Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Comores, Seychelles), who came together to work under different ocean categories (biological, chemical, physical, and benthic oceanography). It was a moment I got a "hands-on practical" experience with the ocean. As a fresh graduate, it was an astounding experience to explore the beautiful underwater and learn from experienced African marine scientists from WIO ( after learning most of the things theoretically in class).
In 2018, I was again selected for the same expedition, where we explored and sample the ocean from the coast of Dar es Salaam to Comoro Island. This time, I was a trainee under the ' benthic biodiversity" team, and seeing the diversity of species in this branch of oceanography, made me decide that I would major in marine sciences henceforth applied and got fully sponsorship to study masters in marine sciences at the University of Dar es Salaam by the Swedish International Development Agency ( SIDA). All the research cruise expedition were funded by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, who are always at the forefront to support girls in STEM particularly ocean sciences. In nutshell, all I can say is " the ocean chose me" It showed me its beauty and I fell in love and my mission is to make everyone love and value it too for its benefits and unforeseen potential to us.
What's your opinion on the relationship between the ocean and climate change? How does the ocean reduce the effect of climate change?
The ocean is a vast ecosystem, covering the third quarter of the planet, everything that happens on land largely affects the ecological functioning of the ocean, however, the ocean plays a major role in regulating our climate.
This is how:
Human activities i.e burning fossil fuels, cutting down trees, have disrupted our climate, due to the adding of " Greenhouse gases" in our atmosphere. One of the greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, causing climate change by trapping heat ( global warming). Our situations could be very worse with continuous industrialization, but our oceans have played a great role in regulating our climate by acting as "Carbon sinks" through the process of " Biological pump" where atmospheric carbon dioxide ( greenhouse gas) is taken to the deep ocean sediments and gets trapped there for 100 of years via biological processes, this process has helped to keep our climate intact.
Scientists state that " 50x carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is stored in our oceans"
Imagine if we had no oceans, and the 50x was out there in the atmosphere? We would have surely had critical conditions, and probably had undergone extinction already; and this is not only for the ocean, but it's coastal resources such as Mangroves, seagrasses, and algae ( found along the ocean coast) play a significant role in reducing carbon from the atmosphere by the process of " photosynthesis" and different ocean scientists are studying keenly about this area to provide us with facts
As a girl who is passionate about STEM, what's your advice to young girls?
Girls should be courageous and believe in their abilities, they should seek strong role models to look up to ( these are solid examples that it can be done) and Mentorship where need be; however hard work, commitment, perseverance, and sometimes sacrifice are values that are to be embraced while taking this path.
What are your most proud achievements?
My 2019 award as an upcoming woman in STEM in the field of Marine Sciences awarded by the Next Einstein Forum ( largest African gathering for science and technology in Africa), is the proudest moment of my ongoing careers, it felt like " Finally, marine scientists contribution are beginning to be recognized, we are finally getting noticed in Tanzania.
How do you see the growth of marine science in Tanzania?
To Tanzania, this branch of science is still growing, awareness still needs to be spread to young people on challenges that face our oceans, for them to know how to get involved, and what are the research gaps that they can undertake, there is still so much to be done; the good news is countries have come together to make sure this is coming to reality and the UNESCO has proclaimed 10-years framework from 2021-2030 to rethink about ocean sciences and especially in African countries; I have in what the ocean decade will bring, progress is slow but the stakeholders are working hard enough at individual and institutional levels
What challenges are you facing as a marine scientist in Tanzania?
Being a marine scientist in Tanzania is something "unpopular" usually few people understand what is all about, major challenge is the ' Misconception around the field of Marine Sciences": there is so more to it than fish and swimming ( as others think); Furthermore others think this course is for white people, so there is still more work to be done in showcasing diversity to give a chance of future generation to dream bigger and know that the science world is limitless.
I would like to know your experience while working on the TEDxOsterbay event.
In 2017, I got an opportunity to work with TED Global which took place in Arusha, Tanzania. I was inspired by the gathering of diverse people from vast countries joint together by one accord on spreading great ideas across the world. I aspired to provide the same experience in my community. After a little digging, we found out we could achieve that by applying for a TEDx license to the Headquarters of TED in New York. The license is free to any person who wishes to do such kind of event, it takes up to 8 weeks to be processed and granted, and we finally got our first license to host our first TEDx event on 24th March 2018 under the theme of, spark the future, and we have been documenting great ideas since then from all walks of life.
TEDxOysterbay is my way to give back to my community and showcase my country's talents to the world. It's a challenging and rewarding experience in terms of personal and leadership growth. It's time-consuming in terms of preparation requires team support and needs a high level of commitment to deliver a quality event and ensure the best attendees and speakers experience is achieved. We are expecting to host another event mid next year, and all of our talks are on the TEDx Youtube channel.
By Justine Massaba on 02 Oct 2020