I am Natanah Gusha, a marine biologist and early-career researcher. I have been working for the One Ocean Hub at the University of Namibia and Rhodes University in South Africa. In the broadest sense, I am generally passionate about the marine environment and its biodiversityMy research niche has primarily been understanding dynamics within nearshore ecosystems through evaluating the various drivers of species distribution across space and over time. This involves assessing which factors influence species to be found in the habitats they are found in.  More importantly, my research also includes understanding the different goods and services that people derive from these nearshore marine environments.

What’s your greatest achievement since you started working for the One Ocean Hub? 

Having joined the Hub quite late in 2023, I would say most of my achievements are work in progress. However, as someone who enjoys coding and working with large datasets, I have been privileged to be part of multiple collaborations with One Ocean Hub Namibia and South Africa. I am proud of the research projects that I have had the opportunity to lead and co-design. Within the past year of working within the Hub, I have had an amazing opportunity of being a lead author of 3 out of 4 manuscripts.

In two of these papers, we conducted 2 separate online and in-person surveys to consolidate critical questions and understand angler compliance behaviour and perceptions towards regulations, respectively. With most literature in Namibia dating back to at least 25 years ago, this work is particularly relevant as there are increasing concerns on the decline in fish stock potentially due to an unprecedent increase in dependence on the fishery for livelihood support or poor management structures. This is a timely paper which can several positive impacts such as (i) being considered by anglers and decision makers to facilitate sustainable and adaptive management strategies (ii) improving our understanding of other sectors e.g., the small-scale fisheries or the commercial sector and (iii) go beyond the Namibian borders and be widely applied to many other low-and-middle income countries (LMIC’s).

I am also excited to be part of another paper that I am co-listed as an author with Aphiwe Moshani . This paper is a product of the Knowledge Integration workshop that was held in South Africa.  Essentially, our motive for this paper is that “we can’t sustainably manage a fishery that’s not clearly defined.” This paper therefore investigates the complexities and overlaps in the definitions of the recreational fishing (RF) and the small-scale fishing (SSF) across different levels i.e., international, national, and local levels. This is because the current way in which fisheries sectors are currently defined particularly at local and national levels has fuelled some tensions which challenge ocean governance. We thus focus on how different countries (Ghana, Namibia, and South Africa) define these sectors. Our overall aim with this manuscript is to highlight the current knowledge systems informing fisheries definitions and make recommendations for improved knowledge co-production.  

How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills? 

Through the Hub, I have learnt to manage and coordinate different research projects. As my career is founded on Life Sciences and where most of my research was based in a wet lab (i.e., a type of laboratory that allows scientists to conduct an array of different types of experiments with biological specimen and chemicals), joining the Hub was a significant but much needed pivot and undoubtedly, a big learning curve for me. This opportunity to work within the Hub has been a welcomed experience to learn how to lead and co-lead projects with multiple collaborators because wet lab based research often has long hours of sometimes isolating laboratory and extensive fieldwork campaigns.

In addition, joining the University of Namibia’s One Ocean Hub researcher team as a post-doctoral research fellow also allowed me to step out of my introverted personality and step up as a mentor to the other Masters and PhD students in the UNAM group. This position has permitted me to “bridge the communication gap” that sometimes exists between the lead researcher and the students. On one end, this position has made me introspect and reflect on my time as a “student” as I interact with the other students who emulate to be at the level I am at currently. On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to work and learn closely from other Hub researchers Margit R. Wilhelm & Hub researcher, Warren Potts. This has given me a better vantage point of what it would entail to be the head of a research group or lab and helped me think critically of what kind of a group leader I would want to be when I open my own research lab.

What, in your view, have been the Hub’s most impactful activities? 

Science and/or generally academia can be very isolating in of itself but having activities that seek to bring out synergies across disciplines is quite necessary to promote successful management of the environment and benefit the people that are marginalised and/or that depend on it. Therefore, in my opinion, all Hub activities that seek to promote inter- and trans-disciplinary research are most impactful. For example, the Hub funded the Knowledge Integration workshop led by early-career researcher Nina Rivers held from the 5th -9th February 2024 in Gqeberha, South Africa. This workshop allowed for ECRs to lead research papers that bring out synergies across different disciplines. These papers bring together disciplines such as culture and art, socio-legal aspects of small-scale fisheries, blue economy policies and recreational fisheries.

The Hub is also big on science communication using different tools such as film, art, workshops and conferences, round table discussions, podcasts and peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters.  This multi-faceted knowledge production speaks to different audiences at different stages allowing for more awareness and inclusion in matters of sustainable resource use. Further, the Spotlight interviews are a welcomed experience and opportunity for science communication and forge meaningful collaborations with other ECRs and other tenured researchers.

How does your work contribute to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours?  

One of the main tasks of any researcher is to turn data or any collected information into relatable and useful knowledge. Drawing from my expertise in quantitative data analyses, my involvement within the Hub has allowed me to grow and apply my expertise by learning how to analyse social sciences data. My research focus in the Hub focuses on recreational fisheries, specifically patterns in catch, effort, effects of the environment (from a climate change perspective) and more importantly human behaviours, attitudes, and perceptions towards the fishery. This research ties various interdisciplinary components which include the human, social, ecological, and economic dimensions. Through understanding these diverse yet pivotal dimensions, we anticipate that the information we collate can be useful in improving management, governance, and sustainable use of the fish resources.

What is your advice to fellow early-career researchers working on a global development project?  

Through my collaborations within the Hub, one thing I can say is “Teamwork makes the dream work.” As such I believe whenever one hits a brick wall, it’s prudent to always reach out to someone because there is always someone who is willing to help or point you in the right direction. I believe this is because within each person that has committed themselves to a global development project, there is always an innate desire to succeed or at least change/better the world.

In addition, to any early-career researcher out there, I would also like to “Chase it all, but be  realistic” I say this because, as “young people” sometimes we always have a myriad of blue-sky science ideas we want to chase (and there is nothing wrong with that, by any means), however they may be a lot of curve balls that may hinder that and being realistic about what one wants to achieve in the now and in the grander scheme of things allows for well thought out impactful deliverables. Admittedly being this type of person, having mentors within the Hub such as Christopher Bova, Margit R. Wilhelm, Kieran Hyder, Warren Potts, and Bernadette Snow has really assisted me in channelling my energy and mental capacity into well-thought out deliverable ideas.

In addition, always be on the lookout for collaborations, no person is an island, it saves on time, mental burn. Following on this, one last advice I would give to ECRs is just as one of my mentors has always reminded me “Work with the right people and make yourself someone others want to work with” and “where possible be an extra set of brains rather than just an extra pair of hands,” because the former will place you in a more hireable position when a permanent position comes up.

What are the aspects of working in a collaborative environment such as the One Ocean Hub that you value the most? 

The Hub has fostered a transdisciplinary approach that is particularly relevant in this Anthropocentric era. Through this approach fostered within the Hub, it becomes easier to tackle, understand and predict issues surrounding global phenomenon such as Climate change from various dimensions e.g., social, economic, biological, and ecological viewpoints. In essences, these Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours cultivate a culture of unity among researchers. For example, in September of 2023, Hub researchers met in Namibia for a series of Climate Change and Marine Spatial Planning workshops. These workshops brought together scientists, academics, policy makers and the marginalised communities in different parts the country. These workshops also yielded a high impact paper (which is currently in review) led by Georg Engelhard. The paper looks at which sectors are most at risk from climate change in Namibia. It further discusses and suggests some options that can be considered to promote improved resilience to these climate-related risks.

Working with other Hub researchers who have extensive experience in other disciplines such as social sciences and economics, has also taught me to look at my work from a trans- and inter-disciplinary perspective. For example, among one of my deliverables, I had the opportunity (for the first time) to co-design a questionnaire and lead a paper that looks at the issues surrounding angler compliance, their behaviours, attitudes, and opinions towards the current management regulations. Many of the responses from this survey were statements and opinions (which again was a first time working with such qualitative data), but I am happy to share that the manuscript is in its final preparation stages. I am confident to say I can analyse social sciences data which often comes in the form of guided interviews or questionnaires. In essence, I am not terrified to open an Excel spreadsheet and see words rather than numbers. This skillset was only possible through working and learning from other Hub researchers who already have this skillset.

What are the challenges and new demands that early-career researchers face today?   

The job market is quite competitive for ECRs. For those that choose to stay in academia, the most common phrases often tossed around are “Publish or Perish”, or “ No more than 5 years since graduation from highest degree”. These statements often create a constant need to prove oneself. Although this can be used for self-growth and development, if one is not fully grounded and determined to push through, it can become detrimental to one’s mental health and or personal life as it may cultivate imposter syndrome or a feeling of “not being good enough”.

Another challenge for ECRs associated with the above is that some ECRs end up settling for unfulfilling career paths or jobs that they never really wanted simply because it pays the bills.  Also, for females who would want a family and kids, it might be difficult to set aside time to be away for extended periods that can be associated with childbearing and parenting.

Lastly, within some institutions, ECRs are not well compensated for their expertise, because some shrewd employers know that ECRs will settle for any job that pays the bills. Overall, my advice to other ECRs is that “It is okay to change career paths if one feels the path they are on is not for them, because life is most fulfilling and fun when you love your career” In the same light, “If one thinks the career path that you are on is for you, be ready to give it your all and your best, because it’s a very competitive world out there.”

Related SDGs:

  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water