'I fell in love with the water'

All Woman

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Even though it meant two extra years of university and crushing her mother's dream of having a daughter who is a medical doctor, Shavelle Service is thrilled with her decision to become a marine biologist.

The 30-year-old is the first and only female senior ranger at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust.

She became a member of the marine park back in 2008, before going off to The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. Though it was short-lived, she believes that experience at the park stayed with her through university. She started out studying for a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, a step along the path her mother was hoping she would take.

“I said let me just start with biochemistry and see where it goes from there. [But] after volunteering in the hospitals, I realised that it was not my thing. I think it was a bit too emotional for me to deal with, and I soon realised that it was not something I see myself doing for years,” said Service.

“I then did a course in ecology and that course entailed a lot about water and terrestrials. The moment I went out in the water, I fell in love. I really loved how the water made me feel and then I found out about marine biology. That was when I switched my major, which my mother was not happy about because I was almost done with school. I had to [study for] an additional two years,” she said with a chuckle.

This new-found love for the water saw her completing a scientific diving course and then going on to volunteering at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust after completing her degree in 2016.

“I did the scientific diving course in the summer at The UWI, and once I had my certification I just started to volunteer here, at the park, because I knew someone who was working here. He was the senior ranger at the time,” she explained.

“I would join in if they were going on the water. I went on a lot of dives with the team and that is how I learned the whole dynamic of installing a mooring buoy or demarcation. It looks so simple at the surface: you see a ball, but when you go down, they have to be drilling stuff underneath the water and mixing cement and carrying it down and pouring it down there, underneath the water,” she said.

Her interest grew during her stint as a volunteer as she gradually recognised that the work of the park was dynamic and very important to the protection of marine life. She was later overjoyed to learn that there was a new opening for a ranger position, and she was qualified.

A ranger's job, she explained, is to “always instil the regulations and laws against illegal fishing and spear fishing”. The Montego Bay Marine Park encompasses nearly 16 square kilometres of mixed-use Marine Protected Area (MPA), which serves as the backbone of Montego Bay's economy and boasts over 20 kilometres of shoreline, including coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove ecosystems. Located in the park are two fish sanctuaries, the Bogue Lagoon and Airport Point fish sanctuary. Spear fishing is not allowed in the entire park and both sanctuaries are a no fishing zone, she noted.

“We have spear fishermen operating in the marine park. I realised that they have been studying the pattern of when we go out on the water so then we try to change it up a bit. The good news is that I have not encountered as many spear fishermen as I used to [see] before. What I do observe now, though, is that there are a lot more fishing vessels, persons doing line fishing as well as fish pot fishing,” said Service.

“The whole point of having a sanctuary is to have an increase in fish abundance, as well as to protect the coral reef ecosystem. This increase will cause a spillover effect so once you have a vast amount of fish population increase, then the spillover effect will send them into the fishing zones and fisherfolks will benefit from that. There have been times when I dive and see fish pots in the sanctuary, right below where our mooring buoys are,” she added.

“Mooring buoys are devices that boats can attach to, without having to anchor in the sand patch or near a reef. That is another measurement to protect coral damage,” she said.

As a woman in what could be considered a man's world, Service believes that she has secured her place as a top ranger at the Montego Bay Marine Park. This, she hopes, will encourage young girls to explore non-traditional careers.

“I would like to tell young girls to think outside of the box. There are so many things that you can be beyond the standard generic career paths that we grew up hearing about. The world is yours, and the sea too,” she said with a smile.

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor, and if not [a doctor] then a nurse. But I wanted [to go] beyond that because I believe I was born for greatness. Every individual can impact someone and that is what I strive to do. Do not settle because of what you were told. Dream big and do it all,” encouraged Service.

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