Public Health Spotlight Featuring Shanna Challenger

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Hi, I'm Tanya!

Hey guys! It’s that time for another feature. As you know In this new series I will be featuring individuals who are in the Public Health field in some capacity. Before we get into today’s feature, here’s something you should know. Social and economic environment, as well as physical environment, plays a role in the determinants of our health.

Environmental health is a branch of Public Health that deals with the likes of climate change and so much more. What I’ve recently learned is that there is an intersection between Public Health and Conservation. Which brings us to today’s feature where we’re going to learn a bit about how we all have a role to play when it comes to this planet that we all live on by way of conservation. As a fellow Caribbean gyal, I am very proud of the work that today’s feature has done and is continuing to do. Let’s get into it!

Introducing Shanna,

Shanna Challenger

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Shanna Challenger, and I’m a 24-year-old Caribbean gyal freezing while getting my Masters in Conservation Biology at the University of Kent here in the UK. I enjoy birdwatching, and binge-watching Netflix and I’m on a journey trying to protect the beautiful biodiversity on our planet

What made you choose to study conservation biology?

A combination of making influential presentations to policymakers on environmental issues and negotiating maritime boundaries has shown me conservation challenges faced by Caribbean leaders. With all this practical experience, I was determined to achieve the academic qualifications to match, to further my ability to conserve biodiversity and the ecological processes that support ecosystems and people. 

For those who don’t know what conservation biology is, briefly explain.

Conservation biology is a science that focuses on protecting and restoring the Earth’s biodiversity. To preserve biodiversity, conservation biologists are concerned with understanding how life is distributed on the planet, the associated threats, and what can be done to eliminate them and restore the health and diversity of an ecosystem

What experience do you have as a conservation biologist?

From flying goats in a helicopter to dissecting rats near a campfire, my work as the Redonda Restoration Programme Coordinator threw me into the world of fieldwork. From my other work with the Environmental Awareness Group, I also have experience in wildlife monitoring of local reptiles, birds, insects, plants and spend time taking students and teachers alike to witness the wealth of biodiversity on our very own offshore islands.

Wildlife Monitoring in Barbuda

Where did you start your career, are there any particular specialty in this field?

Yes, so my conservation biology career focused primarily on two aspects: island restorations through invasive species removal; and endangered species population recovery.

What are two interesting facts you would like us to know about conservation biology?

Conservation Biology is known as a ‘discipline with a deadline’ due to the rapid decline of biological systems and the race to save species from extinctions and reduce our impacts on the planet before it’s too late.

Conservation biologists don’t spend all their time in the field, as the scientific research we provide makes important contributions to the design of protected areas and informs government policy and environmental legislation.

Shanna in the field

Tell us about your journey to becoming a conservation biologist.

I am a firm believer that your passion should be your priority.

Shanna Challenger

At the age of 21, I threw myself into my position as my priority was working on one of the world’s truly irreplaceable areas for biodiversity. Being in a career where you can visually see the impact you’re making in the world is unforgettable, extremely rewarding, and has fueled my passion further. Now more than ever, I believe that my work illustrates that nature truly does respond with a bit of help.

What are your plans/ Hope for the future as far as conservation biology goes?

Modern conservation science transcends the traditional boundaries of biology, ecology, and environmental management. Today’s conservationists need to be versed in a broad range from wildlife monitoring to working along with communities to achieve our conservation goals. For the future, I do think a focus on complementing our fieldwork with science communication is paramount to restoring humanity’s connection with nature and fostering empathy for the environment. My goal is for my work to inspire others to live a more harmonious life with nature. 

What is the #1 thing you wish you had been told as a student while pursuing your degree?

Well, I’m still pursuing it, but I wish I had been told more about how different the British marking scheme is. And that I would eventually become addicted to coffee! ☹

What was your biggest obstacle while in school?

Adjusting to the cold!

Tell us a little about the requirements needed for entrance into a program like this.

An upper second-class honours degree, or better, in a relevant subject; like Wildlife Conservation/ Animal Behaviour or Ecology or a good honours degree in other subjects with relevant practical experience.

What are some suggestions/advice you would give to someone interested in this field? 

Conservation science deals with issues where quick action is critical and the consequences of failure are significant. This field can be very tough and seemingly doomed, considering all of the threats that our species face, and how few of us are trying to help them. But, with the future of the planet in limbo, our profession is needed now more than ever.

I would definitely recommend volunteering with an environmental NGO to see what it would be like, and then researching schools that offer practical field components. Don’t ever feel that you won’t find work here in the Caribbean – we are a hotspot for biodiversity and have species found nowhere else in the world. I truly believe that there is hope for the future and the more people that are inspired to get involved with conservation, the better!

What does a typical day look like for you as a conservation biologist?

A typical day would start off with an early morning at a meeting, discussing with my colleagues about our next venture to promote environmental sustainability in Antigua & Barbuda (check out EAG GreenLeaf Certification), followed by an afternoon of birdwatching/counts in one of our mangroves. To end, I would probably be writing up a report based on my last wildlife monitoring activity (e.g. , how many lizards observed, checks for rats, etc). But the exciting thing about my job is that it changes daily!

What can we, as citizens of this society, do to ensure that conservation is effective? 

Each one of us can help conserve biodiversity in their own way by learning about local threats and learning the most effective ways to counteract them. Five easy ways you can help are:

  1. Personal Behaviour – Turn your garden into a haven for biodiversity by planting flowering plants and fruit trees; Reduce consumption of unnecessary waste; Prevent the spread of invasive species when visiting the offshore islands
  2. Education – Increasing your knowledge on environmental issues, impacts of biodiversity loss and tell others about what you know
  3. Volunteerism – Take part in environmentally friendly activities like litter picking, beach cleanups, bird watching, tree-planting
  4. Donation – Support conservation efforts through monetary contributions to local environmental NGOs or community groups doing environmental activities
  5. Political Activism – Increasing support for government policies and actions that conserve our valuable ecosystems and habitats

We all have a role to play to preserve nature for the benefit of generations to come – why not start today?

Shanna Challenger
Masked booby and chick on Redonda

Thank you for sharing your story, looking forward to following your journey, and seeing all that you do.

Featured Below is a Carib Grackle, and Shanna with the Antigua Racer Snake.

Keep up with Shanna on Instagram where she shares her knowledge on so many topics conservation related. My favorite is her series called “Wild Life Wednesdays.” Check it out!

Be sure to like, share, and comment on this post. 

Did you learn anything about conservation biology, did anything spark your interest? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments +

  1. Thanks for sharing Shanna’s perspective! This was such a great read – definitely learnt a lot!

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