Greetings, friends of CPAWS!
My name is Madie Stewart and I’ll be working as a Conservation Campaigner for the Nova Scotia Chapter! I’m excited to be a part of this amazing team to explore the remote corners of our province and help protect these amazing natural spaces.
I can still remember the first time I fell in love with the ocean, but it might not be what you would expect. When I was about seven years old, my family took a trip to Disney World, and one of the attractions we visited was a shipwrecked-themed aquarium that you could snorkel in. As soon as I gazed into the water with my mask and snorkel, I was absolutely enthralled. There were hundreds of fish, mounds of coral, and sharks all around me. I ended up begging my parents to let me do the attraction again, which they did, and so I went in again… seven more times. To this day, I still vividly remember that experience and how I felt being underwater, and I still get that feeling every time I am in the ocean.
Growing up in Ottawa, I spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors, from family camping trips in Gatineau Park, kayaking or canoeing on the Ottawa River, catching bugs in my backyard, and swimming in any body of water that I could find. I also learned a lot about nature from my father, who was a high school science teacher with a degree in marine biology, as he showed me how to use a microscope, brought me along to collect pond water samples for his classes, and set up fun experiments or science activities at home. This is one of the main reasons that I decided to pursue a career in the natural sciences.
Although I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, I spent my summers in Nova Scotia, and it became my second home. It was also the place that I first saw the ocean, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2013, I moved to Halifax to start my undergraduate degree in marine biology at Dalhousie University and I immediately loved living the seaside life. I took up coastal hobbies, such as surfing and hiking, and took part in as many field courses as I could during my studies, which allowed me to experience first-hand the habitats in and around the water.
After graduation, I was accepted to the ISATEC – International Studies of Aquatic Tropical Ecology master’s program (it’s a mouthful, I know) at the University of Bremen in Germany. For my master’s thesis, I worked in Fiji for three months, where I lived in a traditional coastal village on the Coral Coast of Fiji’s main island. I conducted field surveys using snorkeling to collect data on the effects of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on territorial damselfish (Stegastes spp.) communities on the fringing reefs. The pace of life in Fiji was totally different than what I was used to, but it allowed me to slow down and appreciate the smaller things, as well as have gratitude for Mother Earth and what she provides, and I continue to try to channel this mindset in all that I do.
Coral restoration on the fringing reefs in Votua Village (Photo: Reef Explorer Fiji).
Working for CPAWS is a dream come true, and I’m so lucky to have a job that allows me to spend time outdoors and experience the variety of habitats that Nova Scotia has to offer. I can’t wait to dive in and share my findings with you all!