“It’s simply exhausting, your sleep patterns are out of whack.” Aimee says. “Often you’ll leave at 8 or 9 o’clock at night, then you’re back at 4 am after a hard nights work in the swamp.” Studying the breeding habits of frogs isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Overcoming exhaustion is a big challenge!”
Aimee's path is an insight into the many green careers that provide practical learning opportunities along with theory at either TAFE or University.
“I’m doing a PhD at the uni of Western Australia and it’s geared towards frog conservation - more specifically artificial reproduction.” Aimee says.
“ I’m looking at IVF technologies and using different hormones to induce frogs to release their eggs and sperm. I’m also investigating protocols to maximise reproductive success. The idea is to get some of these protocols developed, so that we can start to apply this work for the conservation of endangered species.”
In fact, Aimee is heading to Melbourne in January to apply these studies on the Corroboree Frog.
“I knew from a young age that I loved animals and have wanted to work with wildlife since I was in Primary School. I decided when I was about 12, that I wanted to study zoology, even though at that age I didn’t understand exactly what that entailed!.”
“I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia. I studied Land and Water Management and Zoology. I’ve always had that strong conservation focus, both for animals and the environment they inhabit. I then did an honours project in Albany, in South West Western Australia, about how cattle management affects in-stream fauna.”
Aimee says that after her honours year she took some time off, spending three months at Exmouth working on the Ningaloo Community Turtle Monitoring Program (NCTMP). “With 81 volunteers over the season, I’d drive a small group out to the beaches on the Ningaloo coast every morning before dawn. We’d monitor the beaches for turtle nesting behaviour.” She recalls. “They have been running it for a few years so they can see how the population is changing and look at the turtle tracks and see if they were disturbed when trying to nest.” She says that while foxes do disturb turtles, quite frequently humans watching the turtles nesting will scare them off, driving them back to the ocean without nesting. She held training sessions with the locals to teach them how to watch turtles without disturbing their nesting.
She says she simply stumbled on her current study of frogs’ reproductive systems. “It just sort of happened,” she says. “Perth Zoo were interested in getting people involved with captive breeding. It sounded like a project that was worthwhile and needed. Worldwide there has been a massive declines in frog species over the last 20 to 30 years.”
“I love being outdoors, being in nature, in pristine habitats and being able to watch animals’ own natural behaviour” Aimee says. “In this study, there’s a lot of working in the laboratory, obviously. But my favourite part of the project is the fieldwork and really getting my hands dirty. The lab work, can also be quite rewarding, especially when you’re doing IVF and seeing the eggs get fertilised and turn into tadpoles.”
“I love seeing natural systems and trying to understand them,” she says. “Obviously you can do work in this field without going to uni. But I really wanted to direct the kind of research that I do and so pursued my education further so that I could really do what I’m passionate.”
“Although I think research is indispensable in trying to understand the environment, I also feel that public awareness is equally important, which is why I’ve spent time in community programs and giving presentations to community groups. It’s really important to let people know what’s happening in the world,” Aimee shares.
While Aimee admits that doing her PhD requires her to push herself a little bit more than if she were actually working in the field, she shares that the work isn’t for the feint-hearted.
“I guess it’s physically quite demanding, battling with overgrown areas and getting into creek systems,” she says. “With frog work, you’re doing most your work at night, because that’s when the breeding happens. There are all sort of challenges that accompany night work. It can be quite intimidating, being a young person out there at night. Often it’s dead quiet except for the frogs calling away. It’s a really unusual experience. You need to confident and passionate enough to focus on what you’re doing.” Aimee says that for safety reasons, researchers work in pairs in case something happens.
Aimee was recognised as a Green Ambassador in 2007. “It seemed like a really worthwhile program and something that would be good to get involved in,” she says. “I do like having as much to do with the community as possible. It was a good way to get in touch with the community and for people to get in contact with me, giving us the opportunity to talk about our work and maybe inspire people along the way.”
“It’s also nice to tell people the little things they can do to make a difference to help the environment.”
“I’m looking forward to getting more into the community aspect of environmental work when my PHD is over!” she laughs.
And advice for anyone wanting to get into Conservation?
“I guess one of my biggest suggestions is that you need to do something you’re passionate about. To be good at what you do, you need to be motivated and you need to do it for you no one else.”
“I’m really passionate about people being environmentally minded and getting them more involved.” And sharing a little more about the Conservation Volunteers Australia, she’s definitely a source of inspiration:
“The good thing about Conservation Volunteers Australia is that there’s a good diversity of programs in a lot of different areas. Some up in the Kimberley, some in the south-west. Most are based in national parks and they’re in every state in Australia,” she says. “You can get involved in monitoring programs like turtle or wallaby programs or re-vegetation programs to rehabilitate sites. There are programs to manage wetland areas, out to bush areas. There’s even protected habitat in the metro areas to work with for those who don’t have time to travel.”
Nominations for Green Ambassadors are open until the 24th October, 2008.