Is it possible to live sustainably in the midst of a pandemic? Ecologist and wildlife biologist Katrina Fernandez, who runs a conservation project in Goa, speaks to Nolan Lewis about living in harmony with nature.

What does your organisation do?

Wild Otters Research (wildotters.com) is committed to understanding ecosystem dynamics and community ecology, with current emphasis on otters, bats, and humans in different habitat types and landscapes in Goa and Karnataka. Our projects aim to fill data deficiencies for various species. Although we primarily work outside of protected areas in semi-urban, human-modified, or human-dominated landscapes, we also work in protected areas in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Besides pure research, both education and outreach are integral components of what we do. This includes internship programmes and training workshops for students, professors, and even the government.

Ecologist Katrina Fernandez

What are the volunteerism opportunities with Wild Otters Research?

We run an online course every three weeks for people who are interested in learning about ecological research and gaining new skills. At present, we do not have any on-ground opportunities due to the COVID-19 situation. But hopefully, when the crisis is over, people can visit our field base and sign up for a residency programme, designed in a way that anyone can come, experience, and learn.

What recommendations do you have to live in harmony with wildlife?

As humans, we need to understand that we are not separate from the ecological system. We are very much a working component, and our existence depends on its proper functioning. A shift in the current human-centric thought process would help immensely, and for that to happen, people need to be more aware of the life around them. Identify the wildlife around you—birds, bees, frogs, reptiles, insects—and try to understand their role in the system. Now imagine those animals no longer exist to perform their roles; what happens then? The aim of this exercise is to create value for our surroundings. As humans, we like to protect what we think has value.

How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting otter habitats?

We need protective equipment to keep people safe, and it is unfortunate that most of it are made of plastic. I’ve seen latex gloves and masks floating down River Mandovi. This is going to affect wildlife in numerous ways. Also, these plastics break down into microplastics that will later enter the food chain and our own bodies.

Ecologist Katrina Fernandez

Is there a solution to this?

Consumers should be cognizant of the type of masks they buy. The use-and-throw surgical masks should be the last on anyone’s list. Buy something that is effective yet reusable. These might have a higher upfront cost, but in the long run, they’re much more sustainable, both financially and environmentally.

Related: How A Handful of Conservationists Are Trying To Save The Endangered African Penguins