Walk the talk

By Davide Gaglio

It’s time for the 2nd World seabird conference! I am very excited to be a part of it and luckily it happens to taking place in Cape Town this year. An international conference is an important step for a PhD student, and I get to meet my heroes in seabird research! Researchers from institutes all of the world will be gathering this week at the CTICC in Cape Town.

This conference will give me the chance to make a lasting impression that could make a huge difference to my project and my future career. It will give me the opportunity to showcase my PhD and in particular follow up on my mission to convince everyone that “not only penguins are cute… but also Swift Terns!” (But maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot with this mission — recently I won in the Oceans of Life Photographic Competition with a cute penguin photo…) It’s probably the most important international photo competition on the marine environment, so to be one of the winners makes me feel very privileged and super-excited! And I can’t wait to see my picture displayed at the conference!
I’m starting out right with the photo, but I’m a bit stressed about my talk… So I thought I’d share some suggestions, which I found helpful.

1) Be yourself

Figure out what my “natural” presentation style is, is crucial. Ok, English is not my first language…but I always try to find a way to entertain my audience! I will start my talk with an old Italian say “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are!”… good intro to show a dietary study, right?

you are what you eat

2) Preparing slides

I’ve been told that when it comes to slides, less is more. There is not point to rush through 50 slides in 10 minutes. The bulk of my talk will be 5 or 6 slides, which will be focused on the results. I mean, that’s the interesting stuff, really – who cares about the boring background detail?

3) Be clear and concise

My goal will be to make the audience remember my focal points, trying to highlight my primary message more clearly. I want a broad audience, not just experts in my field, to be able to understand my results. So I won’t ramble and I won’t use overly complicated language.

4) Engage your audience with illustrations

… “I DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT!” I have plenty of photos!

5) Handling the Q&A

For me, the most nerve-wracking part of a presentation is that after I have delivered my talk and I will be waiting for unknown questions!!…hhmmm… It’s a bit intimidating! Well, people told me “Davide… You designed and implemented the study and conducted the analyses so no-one better than you, can answer the questions related to your project”…Yes, they are right! I should relax…

6) Practice makes perfect!

Perfection is my second name!! ha ha… Allow yourself enough time to practice your talk at least three times before going live on stage, focusing on transitions, eye contact, and rate of speech, which are often problematic when first giving a talk. Practice your talk in front of a diverse audience. Use your lab mates, who probably already know a lot about your research and can give detailed comments. It may also be useful to spend some time toying with any equipment you may use, such as a laser pointer or projector, so that you don’t waste time during your presentation to figure out how to use it. The more comfortable you feel during a talk, the clearer your message will be to the audience.
My preparation for my talk is going well, but I know I will get the most out of the conference once my talk is done. Then I will stop practicing in my head, and actually listen to the other presenters, too. And I am really looking forward to it, especially the numerous social events!! ☺ ☺

A story from the past: “The Fallout of the Guano Fever”

By Davide Gaglio

Doing a PhD is not just an academic exercise — it can make you attuned to events, ideas, and knowledge that has real-world consequences for humans and the planet we inhabit.

It is well known that oceans play a vital role in the welfare of humans and are an important economic resource, which sustains a large portion of the global food industry, renewable energy, tourism and much more. And I often wonder why we are so indifferent to the future of the ocean which we use? Not far in time and in space from our southern African coastline, personal profits created human deprivation and exploitation of an ecosystem that has not recovered to this day. Did we forget about the tragedy that happened during the White Gold Rush in South Africa? For about one hundred years (1890-1990), the rush for guano caused slavery, death and significant disturbance at breeding sites of endemic South African seabirds for the profit of only a few. I spent a lot of time on offshore islands for my PhD, and using my photographic passion, I would like to tell you this story with a short film.

This film interprets the hypothetical journey of a guano scraper reliving the first moments; the discovery of a pristine island that soon would become a prison; the first encounter with the unsuspecting wildlife, harsh weather, struggle for survival; the horror.

I am glad to introduce you: The Fallout of the Guano Fever

guano fever

It’s a story from the past that brings us to the modern era where the same marine environment is still being over-exploited.

Maybe it’s not clear for all but over-fishing, and its associated environmental impacts, is our biggest global environmental challenge alongside those posed by climate change. Scientific research (which includes my ongoing PhD) highlights that if we continue fishing as we are now, we will most likely see dwindling supplies of seafood within the next few decades. Over-fishing in southern Africa is emptying the seas faster than nature can replenish it, threatening the food security of all of us.

And things are getting worse.over fishing

The main solution is that fishing needs to be sustainable in order to restore the regions highly degraded marine environment, without negatively impacting Africans’ food security.

In South Africa, the WWF is doing a great job with their SASSI program. The goal is to improve fishing practices that are destructive to our oceans. This includes issues like illegal fishing, over-fishing, by-catch (the catch of species not intentionally targeted by fishers but harmed in the fishing process) and habitat destruction. Their system includes an advice pamphlet for the consumer to make the right choice once in the supermarket. By using a “traffic light” system, the colour-coded SASSI list categorizes selected South African and imported seafood species according to their conservation status.

This is happening now and here…it’s your choice to avoid repeating mistakes from the past today!