Four women embark on science

There are four women carving out a niche in their respective scientific fields, clearly demonstrating that Jamaica is not lagging behind in the research space.

The four – Sashalee Cross, Treya-Ann Picking, Reanne McKenzie and Shanna-Lee Thomas – all conduct research projects in different environmental conservation projects across the island.

Sashalee Cross, Assistant Botanist at the Jamaica Institute of the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, managed a recent research and conservation project targeting invasive species control and habitat restoration in the River Protected Area Mason (MRPA) which was funded by Jamaica Conservation Partners (JCP), a project of the CB Facey Foundation.

The small St Elizabeth power station said it had always had a strong passion for science.

“As far back as I can remember, I had an extreme love of nature as well as the drive to learn more, the fascination with things in nature, the quest for knowledge of how living things were so varied,” Cross explained. “The why, how and how it all seemed to come together to form the perfect balance intrigues me.”

Sashalee Cross is assistant botanist at the Natural History Museum of Jamaica

Cross revealed that botany chose her because although she had no particular interest in plant science as an environmental biology student at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, her best grades were in plant science. .

“I felt I had found my true love and passion in some of the advanced plant classes.”

The 202-acre MRPA holds Jamaica’s fourth internationally important wetland and is located on the border of St. Ann and Clarendon.

The area also has 430 types of plant species found at the site, of which 90% are native and around 11% are endemic. This special area and its plants are however threatened by the invasive vampire fern which grows aggressively on land that has been cleared by fires or disturbed by landslides.

The other three women in science practice closer to the water’s edge.

Picking is doing critical work with the American Crocodile in the marshes, mangroves and man-made habitats around the island, which received a two-year JCP grant.

The herpetologist started by catching smaller species, lizards and cane toads in his garden. Today, she leads a team, helping her pursue her research for her Masters of Philosophy in Zoology at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Herpetologist Treya-Ann Picking does critical work with the American Crocodile in the marshes, mangroves and man-made habitats around the island

“My research focuses on the status of the American Crocodile in Jamaica where I am conducting the first ever National Crocodile Survey in Jamaica in collaboration with NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency), UWI and the University from Florida,” Picking explained.

The NEPA Environmental Officer continued, “As Jamaica is an island rich in diversity of reptiles and amphibians, it was easy for me to focus on herpetology. This interest only grew when I started working on the conservation and management of the American Crocodile in Jamaica. Reptiles and amphibians can be very misunderstood and underestimated and so I am on a mission to help people see the beauty of our island herpes.

For nearly two years, Picking spent many nights – in the wet, woven mangroves or in the open sewage basins of populated Portmore areas that mark the habitats of American crocodiles – taking eye surveys and staring. satellite trackers on endangered reptiles.

Marine biologist Reanne McKenzie runs the White River Fish Sanctuary (WRFS) on the border of St Mary and St Ann.

The Sanctuary, in its fifth year of operation protecting 300 acres of coastline east of Ocho Rios, is also managing coral farming, grafting and replanting as well as a second-phase study to map human activities on the White River.

McKenzie’s two years with the organization, which received five years of JCP funding, really helped solidify her goals and aspirations in the marine realm.

“It’s really just a passion. Although it’s my job, it’s also my whole life. I love animals and I love the sea, so it’s really a no-brainer,” said the native of Trinidad and Tobago, beaming “What interests me most is the dynamics of underwater systems; how each organism (animal, plant, shell, etc.) has its own individual identity, but is always so interdependent and interactive with each other and creates a completely different world than what we see on the surface.

The WRFS, in addition to patrolling and protecting habitat, also does public education and community development which McKenzie has become very passionate about.

Shanna-Lee Thomas, Principal Research Scientist for the Queen Conch Project at Discovery Bay Marine Lab

Heading west outside of Ocho Rios is Shanna-Lee Thomas at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab (DBML).

DBML, a teaching and research school owned and operated facility by the University of the West Indies, Mona, is currently conducting a study on queen conch spawning.

Thomas, also a marine biologist, said her love for science, especially biology, and the outdoors led her to pursue the field of environmental and conservation natural sciences.

“Marine biology is a diverse work environment. Scuba diving is always a highlight,” beamed Thomas. “The work ranges from teaching various groups about the marine environment, to being underwater, and sometimes walking through mangrove forests and being knee-deep in mud to collect data.

“Analysis is not as exciting, but just as important as data collection, which can be rewarding once we understand what the data is telling us and how we will apply what we learn,” said she declared. “We live on an island and we all depend in one way or another on our coastal resources. Through my work I am able to understand certain issues affecting coastal ecosystems and through research I am able to find ways to solve or mitigate these issues.

Project leader Thomas said the Queen Conch project funded by Jamaica Conservation Partners is try to determine the exact period when the conch spawns to ensure the close season is accurate.

The project is important because at low densities (too spread out), the conch does not spawn or reproduce. The slow conch is easily fished whether using scuba gear, snorkeling or snorkeling and can be easily picked up from the seabed and the overfished resource. Work in the protected area also includes community outreach and education of fishers, as poaching is the main threat to the research subjects – the conch.