GISER Trip Summary: Preliminary Trip to Dominica

GISER "Whale Watching in Dominica" project collaborator, Aireona Bonnie Raschke, has an exciting report on her new research:

With the help of GISER’s funding, I traveled out to Dominica for a preliminary research trip in late March 2014. Overall, this project is studying the impacts of whale watching in the Caribbean on both cetaceans and humans, with a specific focus on the small country of Dominica (not to be mistaken with the Dominican Republic). The goals of my journey were two-fold: (1) establish contacts and research partnerships with Dominicans and (2) begin testing the waters for a potential environmental education program.

 Soufriere Bay, whale watching and diving hotspot (Photo: Aireona Bonnie Raschke, 2014)

Soufriere Bay, whale watching and diving hotspot (Photo: Aireona Bonnie Raschke, 2014)

While there, I was able to work with the Dominica Sperm Whale Project to meet with a variety of Dominican officials as well as whale watching operators. As digital and phone communications turned out to be inefficient ways to create contacts in Dominica, this opportunity to make face-to-face contact and begin forming partnerships is extremely valuable to the future of the whale watching project. Furthermore, during my time in Dominica I piloted an interview with local people, which will not only serve as foundation for data that will be gathered later on in the project, but allowed me to make contacts with locals that would not have been possible via digital means. Finally, through my partnership with the Dominica Sperm Whale Project I was able to meet with Dominican researchers, and through this I will be able to foster future research partnerships on the island. The contacts that I made during my time in Dominica will be invaluable for the whale watching project, and through the people that I met during this time, as well as through my partnership with the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, I have begun to set down the foundations for establishing an ecological education program for local students. It is my hope that my work in Dominica will help further research partnerships between the scientists and professionals of the island and ASU.

 Sperm whale skeleton in the educational center of the Anchorage Hotel and Dive Center (Photo: Aireona Bonnie Raschke, 2014)

Sperm whale skeleton in the educational center of the Anchorage Hotel and Dive Center (Photo: Aireona Bonnie Raschke, 2014)

Besides the concrete research outcomes of this preliminary trip, I was also able to learn a few important things about international research that are not only extremely valuable to me, but I believe that they may be helpful to other students hoping to do this kind of work as well. First, I discovered that it is not good to assume that email will be a reliable way to communicate with people in developing countries, although this will depend on the digital resources and culture of the country. Many Dominicans were far more comfortable communicating over the phone or in person. Dominica emphasized just how important networking is to the success of international research. Some of the best interviews that I was able to carry out were due to my hotel manager and a store owner that were able to connect me with other people.