Andrea is Mashpi Lodge’s Wildlife Research Coordinator. She came to work initially as an entomologist, in charge of the laboratory and all the projects relating to insects. She has a degree in Biology from San Francisco University in Quito, and a Masters’ Degree in Conservation and Environmental Remediation from Melbourne University in Australia. She returned to Ecuador from Australia in August 2016 and started working in Mashpi in February 2017, originally in charge of the laboratory and entomology, and now as Wildlife Research Coordinator.
What’s your average day like?
In the morning, I dedicate time to administrative duties, answering emails, etc. If we have visiting investigators from universities, then I’ll accompany them on their field work. Most days I go down to the Life Centre to check up on the team working with the butterflies there. I talk with guests, show them the laboratory, interact with children and show them our collection. I also give evening talks to the guests about various themes. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, I hold workshops for the expedition team for about an hour, focusing on insects.
How does the flow of information work between the science and expedition teams?
The guides know a lot about the forest. Many of them grew up here, or have degrees in biology themselves. But through the investigations that are carried out in our department, we can share the latest information with them. For example, when the guides take guests to the butterfly house at the Life Centre, they not only talk about how pretty the insects are, and maybe their life cycles, but also about the qualities of the structural colouration of their wings, their evolutionary adaptations across altitude – knowledge that has been accrued through various studies carried out here.
Is it hard to live and work in Mashpi?
No! I love it. I don’t miss my family! I adore being in the forest for 10 days in a row, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s magical. You live at a different pace here. You appreciate things more here. I like it.
Is your work valuable?
Yes! Apart from generating more and new information about the fragile Chocó ecosystem, we communicate all this knowledge to the people who visit us here. Although we generate scientific papers and studies in Mashpi, the average person isn’t going to sit down and read them all!
But through our work in the reserve and our contact with the guests, we are able to transmit the importance of the Chocó, and thereby generate more consciousness about the forest and conservation issues. I think we also contribute to changing guests’ perspectives, by making them more aware. That’s probably my greatest challenge here: how to communicate effectively, beginning with the General Manager Marc, what we’ve learnt so far and how much we have still to learn!
What motivates you?
Find something new, a new species! But also finding innovative and engaging ways to communicate knowledge. My work is so interesting since it obviously involves my day-to-day science work – whether at my desk or out in the field – but also interacting with the guys who work with the butterflies, for example, who don’t have scientific training but observe empirically, which is also valuable. That mix of ways of learning is really stimulating and interesting. But then I have to transform that knowledge into the tourism context of the lodge. Finding ways to express knowledge is a huge motivation.