The life of the modern warrior is hardly donning a cape, cowl and choice of heroic bladed weapon. The modern warrior does not save the world in one punch, nor do they celebrate themselves in movies and comic books. Rather, the modern warrior dons their raincoats, wide-brimmed hats and choice of heroic delicate digging utensil. The modern warrior saves the world in their small steps and discoveries and, eventually, they are celebrated in science textbooks and documentaries. Also, they prefer the title “eco”-warrior.
In this edition of Verse, we caught up with one of these down-to-earth green thumb individuals, Hayley Brand, a student having studied a Bachelor of Environmental Science and now a Bachelor of Science (Honours). She spoke on her specialties including conservation and biodiversity, the impacts of climate change and how we all can take steps to saving the planet, like the eco-warriors we truly can be.
Have you always been curious in exploring environmental science, prior to your degree?
I would say yes. It was not specifically my dream job when I was younger, I always wanted to be a zookeeper which led to wanting to be a wildlife rehabilitator. In high school, I always tried to be environmentally conscious which led to my love of improving the world around us. I think that being able to study environmental science aids people with so many skills and knowledge that is beneficial in day-to-day life.
Being very exposed to the environment from a young age did build my love for it. My family and I use to go on a holiday every year around new years for a week or two, always at a different location. It allowed me to see parts of beautiful Australia that you would not normally see on an ordinary road-trip. Being exposed to various people, who all have different views on the environment around us, really helped shape me as a person and made me want to have my part in ensuring that future generation can experience what I did.
During your study, you have specialised in earth systems and biodiversity; what draws you to these specific subjects?
Biodiversity had the element of animal behaviour and ecosystem health that really intrigued me and I would love to get into that field once I have completed my Honours. The earth system side of my degree was completely chosen as I just loved the subjects. I love getting my hands dirty in the field doing soil samples and it was always so interesting learning new terminology that I had never heard before. UniSA offered so many opportunities to get out in the field to do this work, from day trips to 8-day camps. Earth systems related to why the world is what it is today; tectonic plates, coastal environments, soil contamination, soil remediation, and much more. By having knowledge in both these areas, it really opens your mind up to just how many connections there are to every environmental issue. For example, soil contamination is linked to the animals and plants that are in the area, the human activity, the minerals in the ground and the weather patterns.
You have mentioned how your study has taken you to the Flinders Ranges, Robe and Kangaroo Island; what were the individual reasonings for these three expeditions?
Flinders Ranges was done in my third year for a course called Landscape Evolution. We completed 8 days of soil sampling and testing around on an abandoned mine site in Warrawenna. Although, this expedition was so enjoyable, it was the most tiring out of all the field work that was completed in my whole degree. We would wake up as the sun was rising and work until after the sun set. It was so rewarding doing the whole project ourselves though, from creating the structure of how to go about the project to gathering the samples to testing and analysing the samples and to finalising the report.
Robe was for ecology camp in second year; this was an interesting camp. We completed around 6 mini research experiments and then got assigned teams after the camp to create presentations and reports explaining the experiments in detail. We learnt how to correctly trap and handle wild mice; measuring, weighing and identifying what sex the animals were. We worked in both the forest and also the beach areas during this camp, the variety of environments push you physically and also assist in improving your knowledge constantly.
Kangaroo island was for my Field Project class that was in the last semester of third year. This class really set up a lot of us students for Honours this year. I was put into a group with three other students and we had to create a video for Cleland Wildlife Park about the “golden children” who are the selected koalas that were saved from the Kangaroo Island bushfire at the start of 2020. When we were in Kangaroo Island, we visited most places that had been dramatically affected by the bushfire. We went to Hanson Bay Wildlife Park where I interviewed the owner, Jim Gedds. Hanson Bay had been completely wiped out after the fire. There was nothing left apart from disaster.
Are there specific ecosystems you prefer to focus your attentions on (i.e., forests, reefs, etc.)?
Personally, I have only really worked in and around grasslands and semi-arid ecosystems. I would love to expand on going to a tropical forest or more coastal areas though. I am just appreciative that I can even travel to go see these places during the current COVID pandemic. In my future studies I would love to work with either seagrass or mangrove areas as they are so rich in biodiversity and have such an impact on a larger system.
In my future studies I would love to work with either seagrass or mangrove areas as they are so rich in biodiversity and have such an impact on a larger system
Have you found there are certain ecosystems that are more at risk than others?
With climate change playing such a large role in every ecosystem, it is hard to narrow it down to a certain one. Though speaking about climate change, a lot of coastal systems like wetlands are experiencing a lack of sediment for replenishment. Sea level and temperature rise make coastal environments very high risk. The constant change impacts species as they have to relocate or adapt.
Climate change is a massive dilemma that our society faces; over the course of your degree, how frequently is climate referred to or based around in terms of course content?
In every single class I have had over my three years of university, climate change has always been brought up. It may not always be brought up as a contributing factor, but my lecturers always want to make us aware of it. Climate change is very real and is increasingly getting worse, but there is only so much that people will listen to.
What are the biggest factors in human nature that you have found impacts the environment most?
The biggest factor is ignorance. Ignorance of not educating yourself about what is happening; ignorance of not making small changes to help out; ignorance of not taking responsibility. If everyone changed small aspects of their day-to-day life, big improvements could be made. Although, this will never happen until people fully understand why we need to take charge, why we need to help and why everyone needs to play a part.
What are some effective ways you would suggest to the average person on how to conserve the environment?
It all starts with the small steps. Firstly, educate yourself on the simple things that can help; reduce, reuse and recycle. I know everyone has heard this a million times but it really does help. Stop the use of single use plastics. Carpool with multiple people to avoid four cars going to the same place. Plant native plants in your backyard to encourage wildlife to flourish.
What is next for you in terms of Honours and post-university plans?
My Honours project is based around the importance of human and wildlife connection with the intention of wildlife conservation. There is a lot of arguments around wildlife interactions and backlash given to these wildlife parks that encourage this behaviour. To use a little example: when Australian bushfires occur, all people care about are the animals that have been injured, which I agree is horrible. As humans we do not like to see animals in pain and we do what we can to help… though, there is always a cap to this willingness to help. Plants and ecosystems cannot show pain like animals can. They do not have a voice and it is up to people’s willingness to push for the improvement of ecosystem health that will fix the burnt vegetation. A question that I will pose in my Honours is: ‘if you were given a heap of money to put towards one conservation effort, what would you put it towards? Saving a species, an area or educating people?’
Our theme for this edition is Environmentalism, so how does the environment inspire you to continue exploring the natural world and conserving its general beauty?
The most magical thing about the environment is that it is ever growing. Even through all the despair of climate change there are still amazing things to see daily. After studying small aspects of so many areas when I am out and about, I would see something outside and be like ‘oh I know what that species is called’ or ‘that water run off could be solved if this was done…’. Since being to places like Kangaroo Island and the Flinders Ranges, out in the field, there is always a moment of complete silence where there is no human disturbance. It is beautiful. I think by knowing that there is such beauty in every ecosystem makes me want to ensure I save as much as I can so other people can experience the relationship with nature that I have. Listening and understanding why others love the environment so much really does inspire me. My fellow students are constantly talking to me about new papers that explore the most interesting of topics. I also love how much the environment inspires others… others that have a voice. David Attenborough in his film, A Life on Our Planet, really got a lot of people reconnected with nature. It gave us all an ‘oh shit this is happening and it’s real’ moment. It gave 2020 a real kick up the butt, a reality check that a lot of people needed.
The most magical thing about the environment is that it is ever growing.
Interview by Nahum Gale