Spotlight on early-career researcher: nina rivers

My name is Nina Rivers and I am currently an early-career researcher with the One Ocean Hub at the University of Strathclyde, UK and Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. My work focuses on integrating Hub research and findings across and within Hub partner countries and thematic areas. My areas of interest are equitable knowledge co-creation and integration as well as community engagement processes for just and transformative ocean governance.

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

My greatest achievement was working with fellow early-career researcher Mia Strand and former Deputy Director of the Hub, Bernadette Snow on the Oceans Connection Exhibition in Geberha, South Africa in 2022 which was part of the broader Algoa Bay Project. We worked as a team to bring together multiple collaborators and knowledge holders including Indigenous and local ocean and coastal representatives, local coastal authorities, NGOs as well as key decision makers with regards to marine spatial planning (MSP) and ocean governance. These collaborators engaged with the impactful photographs from the exhibition as a group and then we co-identified six key recommendations of how to integrate Indigenous and local knowledge in MSP in a workshop which resulted in a co-authored a policy brief and a paper.

I am also quite proud of the Knowledge Integration writing workshop that we hosted earlier this year in Gqeberha, South Africa. The workshop brought together Hub researchers from Ghana, Namibia, the Caribbean, South Africa and the UK to integrate work across the Hub through high impact papers and exploring future legacy work.

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

My work has by nature been interdisciplinary for some years now as I first came to the Hub as a postdoctoral research fellow with Nelson Mandela University on the Algoa Bay Project, the first marine spatial planning pilot project in South Africa made up of researchers from the biological sciences, law, economics, spatial planning, biochemistry and social sciences, to name but a few. 

My current integration work within the Hub has required that I operate across disciplines, Hub countries and thematic areas in order to shape a coherent picture of the work generated over the life of the Hub while still accounting for and valuing context-specific knowledge and findings. 

In terms of also contributing towards the transdisciplinary endeavours of the Hub, the broader integration work has also identified legacy themes (see Integration Writing Workshop report for legacy themes co-identified with each Hub country) to contribute towards future work of the Hub. I also co-created and co-designed a pilot process of co-developing future visions with colleagues and collaborators from Ghana which will feed into a Transdisciplinary Toolbox of Ocean Knowledge Co-Production for Transformative Governance. In October 2023, the Hub was endorsed as a UN Decade Implementing Partner and the Hub’s contribution is this Toolbox. The Toolbox is conceptualised as three toolkits: The Foundations (already realised projects), The Pipeline (projects currently in development and underway) and The Future perspectives: A Toolbox User Manual. The Ghana work will inform some of the Future perspective of the Toolbox and was also presented in a poster at the UN Ocean Decade Conference in Barcelona this April. 

3.      What opportunity has the Hub provided you to lead on innovative research? How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills?

I co-led and co-designed an inter- and  transdisciplinary pilot process with Hub researchers and stakeholders in Ghana, one of the Hub’s partner countries. The pilot process sought to collaboratively reimagine a transformative future vision for Ghana’s oceans, coasts and coastal communities in the face of climate change, plastics pollution and resources overuse (overfishing and overharvesting of mangroves etc.). I had never led or designed a process like this before and while the task was challenging, it was so much fun and the team around me was so supportive. I learnt a lot about myself and others in terms of our capacity to respond to learning in new ways (e.g. using virtual tools and drawing on design thinking methodologies) and co-creating and visioning with colleagues from multiple disciplines. A huge shout out to colleagues from Ghana for their patience and participation as well as to Mark Jackson from the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika for allowing me to bounce some ideas off him for this work. This work will culminate in a forthcoming paper, report and policy brief and as noted above, was presented at the UN Ocean Decade Conference.

I have also had the opportunity to grow in my leadership skills in terms of facilitating and co-designing workshops as well as presenting at international events such as the UN Ocean Decade conference in Barcelona, Spain. 

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

I think some of the Hub’s most impactful work has been that of the Coastal Justice Network, a scholar activist network that emerged from the Hub and works in solidarity with small-scale fishers and other blue justice movements in South Africa (for more on their work see this article). I also think the various films made by Hub researchers in Namibia and Ghana have a lot of reach and impact as well. 

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

Working in a collaborative environment such as the Hub has brought me into contact with really original thinkers who challenge me to think, feel and do bigger, broader and deeper things. By engaging with other Hub researchers I have been exposed to different perspectives on current ocean governance issues as well as demonstrate what is possible in research, especially when it comes to using the arts for research practice, communication and litigation.

I came to the Hub with a background in cultural anthropology, sociology and environmental education. Through my work with the Algoa Bay Project I was further exposed to researchers and practitioners from disciplines such as fisheries science, maritime law, economics and marine spatial planning. Since joining the Hub and working on the integration work I have had the privilege to engage with researchers investigating climate change, the deep sea as well as artists for the first time which continues to excite, inspire  and make me really proud of what everyone in the Hub has achieved over these past five years. Perhaps more important than being exposed to these other disciplines is the way in which I’ve seen researchers from these different disciplines collaborate and work together on various parts of the Hub to produce some really beautiful and moving work such as the Empatheatre short film ‘Indlela Yokuphila: the soul’s journey’ which was co-developed by local and indigenous knowledge holders, fisher communities, artists, biodiversity scientists as well as social scientists. 

Although it often takes longer to work in a collaborative manner (you move fast when you journey alone but go further when you journey together), I appreciate getting constructive feedback from colleagues and also being able to bounce around creative ideas with others who have worked in this area for a bit longer. My local and international networks have also grown so much since joining the Hub which is exciting and has opened up opportunities to travel and engage with others on new projects and initiatives. 

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

The challenges are many, especially if you are an ECR in the global south. It is difficult to find long-term projects or secure employment and academia is very competitive. I also often feel quite overwhelmed by the vast amount of knowledge being generated and trying to keep up in my field of interest, never mind having to know a bit about other areas of research in order to be relevant and be able to operate in transdisciplinary teams. The upside of this challenge is that you are stretched and learn to adapt quickly, while hopefully picking up new and useful skills along the way. 

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

Be ready to be pulled in all sorts of directions! Be open and flexible to explore and to say yes to new people, ideas and opportunities but also identify a strong sense of what your research interests are so you can swim in a current that resonates with you and will support your future career. This is much easier said than done as these projects move fast and life and research is messy. Good luck and have fun and when life gets too much take a deep breath and go play in the ocean!

nina rivers

Related SDGs:

  • Reduced inequality
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions