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Article: Monday Must: Conservation Optimism and the teachings of a Pangolin

Monday Must: Conservation Optimism and the teachings of a Pangolin

Hello! I’m Gabriella. I am a marine conservationist based in Goa, India with close to ten years of experience working with coastal ecosystems. I run a small seaweed wellness company called The Good Ocean which hopes to start a pilot seaweed farm later this year.

A growing number of people who work with the natural world are finding themselves burning out and tired, in what seems like an endless pursuit of trying to combat climate change. These are some of the things that help me cope and bring me joy, so I can continue with the work I love. 

Turning collective grief into collective action 

I am part of the Amche Mollem Campaign which is a collective of young people working towards protecting Goa’s largest National Park from being fragmented by three large infrastructure projects. The campaign started with four of us in a room, distraught at the thought of 230 football fields of forest set to be destroyed. What we didn't know at the time, was that there were thousands of other young people in Goa and the rest of India that felt as strongly as we did about protecting our last remaining forests. The Amche Mollem Campaign has managed to stall the three projects till date through national and international support and continues to engage with over 15 thousand young people to collectively hold our local government accountable for their policy decisions. My most important learning from this process is to lean on the expertise of a wide network of people instead of trying to fight battles on my own.  

Self Awareness and working for the right reasons 

In many ways, my work as a conservation biologist is geared to be depressing. Learning about the intricacies of ecosystems and then watching them being plundered for supposed ‘development’ is heartbreaking, but I simply cannot walk away from this work. Initially I thought it was because it was the right thing to do, working for the good of the planet. I also thought that If I didn’t do the work, who else would? This martyr mentality was a huge reason for my constant burn-outs resulting in me becoming frustrated and angry at anyone who seemed to not care to the degree I did. 
I had it all wrong and it was only after I started to work with seaweed forests that I realised the root of why I love my work. I love spending time in nature and I find that it restores my mental energy and makes me happier in general. THAT was the real driver. Realising this made me focus on work that was satisfying such as research and community engagement and less on legal and government based interventions that I found confrontational and aggressive. While I do participate in protests and spend many hours writing letters to the government, it's not the core of what I do. My work is fun and enjoyable to me and that gives me the strength and energy to also do the difficult work of campaigning against corrupt systems.

Advice from a Pangolin on the importance of rest 

The Amche Mollem Campaign has taught me so much. The most important lesson being that of combating mental fatigue with breaks and rest. The campaign has periods of time where we switch off completely and go into what we call “ Pangolin Ball mode”. Pangolins are little mammals found in tropical forests such as Mollem National Park in Goa. The name Pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling which means ‘ one who rolls up’. Pangolins curl up into a ball and rest through large parts of the day, much like we do when we are on a break from protesting and campaign work. The Mollem campaign shuts down its social media and takes a complete break for a week or two at times, coming back refreshed. While we believe in rest, we also work to be as accountable as we can, making sure that we do the work assigned to us so it doesn't create more work for someone else. 

We can't do it all. 

I struggle to say no to things and often overwork myself because of this. I’m trying to be more aware of my strengths and what I enjoy and don't enjoy doing because I find that finding joy in work is half the work done. Through this process I'm also letting go of the need to do it all. I've learned that there are plenty of  people who can work much more effectively on certain things because the work suits them better. I've found that I enjoy working on my seaweed company and that's what I do best. To be honest though, who wouldn't want to snorkel through seaweed forests for work?  

Reimagining a regenerative future 

Seaweed gives me hope and that's one of the core reasons I'm building a seaweed wellness company. While most ocean based industries are extractive in nature, seaweed and oyster farms ( if designed conscientiously) can be regenerative, boosting biodiversity and pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. Until recently I also ran a small landscaping company that designed edible gardens. This was also a regenerative business which converted homogenous lawn and hedge gardens into food forests that were a host to insects, frogs, birds and happier humans. Kate Raworth in her excellent book Doughnut Economics talks about how we need to design regenerative economies that can tackle a wide range of issues from climate change to poverty. I really hope we can build better regenerative businesses which give back more than they extract. 

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