Ever since she was a child, Sara Mo has had an interest in the ocean. Growing up ten minutes from the beach in Zhanjiang, Guangdong, Sara would go almost every day after school to play, watch fishermen, and look for shells. She also watched as her city continued to develop as more buildings kept cropping up, destroying the natural habitat and beach that she treasured so much. Her experiences as a child nourished her love for nature and were how she first gained an interest in conservation.

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Sara came to Zhuhai ten years ago for school, studying marine biology at Sun Yat-Sen University. She stayed in Zhuhai to do postgraduate research, which she finished up while she began working at UIC in January 2016. Sara completed her Master’s in the spring of 2016, with a focus on cetacean ecology and conservation, highlighted by her research on dolphins.

Sara has done research on dolphins for seven years, since her undergraduate degree. Sara first began to work as a volunteer for dolphin research by doing field surveys, while still in her undergraduate. Sara’s volunteer research now focuses on identifying where the dolphins like to go, and observing how their habitat is changing. Her group then advises the government based on this research.

Sara and her team take a small boat out and search the entire area using their eyes and the cameras when conducting research. They only go out when the conditions of the wind speeds are considered safe. The dorsal fin of every dolphin is different, so Sara and her team can identify individual dolphins as well as naming them. The dolphins will come to the surface and breathe every 3 to 10 minutes.

When Chinese white dolphins (Sousa Chinesis) are first born, they are grey, then become lighter grey and start to fade to white over time. When they are teenagers, they grow speckles. Researchers don’t yet know why they turn white. These dolphins were discovered around 1887. Although the largest population of these dolphins lives in the Pearl River estuary, the population is only 2,500.

When asked to tell us something not everyone might know about dolphins, Sara said “Dolphins have hair. When they are first born they have a few hairs on their mouth, for sensing things. Since they are mammals, they lived on land in ancient times, so they kept a small mustache.”

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After Sara graduated, she was very interested in doing work with environmental education. She learned about the Whole Person Education Office (WPEO), and joined UIC because it really aligned with what she is interested in. She was naturally drawn to work with WPEO because of her past work with conservation. She is currently a facilitator in the Environmental Development Centre, where she teaches a wildlife conservation course and a nature observation course.

With her courses, Sara will take students on field trips to Qi’ao Island to visit the dolphin reserve where they do research, as well as visit the mangrove reserve. They want students to learn about what is happening outside, and what other people are doing to help protect the environment, including what measures the reserves are taking, and how to conserve the natural habitat of the mangrove forests.

“Conservation is conversation,” says Sara. She believes that talking about environmental issues will help to promote conservation. That’s why she loves her job teaching students about the environment. Most of Sara’s students are not environmental science student, so they may be interested in the topic, but they are not going to pursue a career in it. However, these students will become decision makers someday, or may end up running a company, so she’s glad that a wide variety of students are getting educated in environmental issues so they may carry this knowledge with them and help to promote conservation in the future.

On top of her dolphin conservation efforts, Sara tries not to order take-out food, because she finds it wasteful. She also tries to bring a bag with her when she goes shopping to avoid using plastic. Additionally, Sara occasionally writes articles for magazines and websites to spread her appreciation of nature and conservation.

In her spare time, Sara enjoys scuba diving. She joined the volunteer team for the Guangdong reef check, where they dive down and check the coral reef in this area. Sara also enjoys visiting mountains, as well as observing animals and insects. She has always been interested in nature observation and education, and also enjoys birdwatching.

Environmental activism is not very big in China, but it is growing. Sara worked as an intern with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) before joining UIC. With them, she did some research on wildlife trafficking and monitoring. Over the summer break in 2017, Sara attended training for environmental educators in China, and was selected as one of the top three ‘excellent students’ in the training cohort.

Environmental protection is not easy in China. There are many barriers that make it difficult to make big changes, but Sara is optimistic for the future. Sara says that “Environmental education is a job that has hope in it. We are teaching the next generation, and we hope that they can make wise decisions to protect the environment, and not just focus on the economy.”

Reporter/Photographer: Samantha Burns
Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He
(from MPRO)

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