No career out of reach, says marine biologist.
Paul is a marine biologist with the Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife Commission--one of three marine biologists on staff with the organization.
"Within our science branch, I work on the crustaceans, so the lobsters and crabs mostly, that's my research. We have different people who do fish and do aquaculture. My area is with the crustaceans."
While Nova Scotia would seem the perfect place to work as a marine biologist, most of Paul's work actually takes place inland, researching species found in Bras d'Or Lake, a unique salt water lake located in the heart of Cape Breton Island.
"Our people have lived on this lake for thousands of years and used it for food and livelihood and recreation. But what's happening now with all the population around the lake, the lake is endangered ... my research is on the certain species that I'm working on, because our stocks are down," Paul said.
Eskasoni is one of five First Nation communities located around the lake--Membertou, Chapel Island, Waycobah and Wagmatcook also are found there--that share a concern for the lake ecosystem. To co-ordinate their efforts, the five bands have formed the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources, which works to ensure local First Nations have a say in the management of natural resources within their traditional territory.
"So a lot of the research I do, I work for Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife, but it benefits everyone around the lake, Native and non-Native," Paul said.
Paul graduated from Acadia University in 1999 with an undergraduate biology degree, and has been working with the commission since her graduation. But although she enjoys being a marine biologist, it's not necessarily the career she had in mind when she began her post-secondary studies.
"When I was a young girl, I was always very interested in science. And I was interested in marine life, but I was also interested in astronomy and being an astronaut, so I wasn't really sure when I was a kid what I really wanted to do," she said.
While she was in university, she spent some of her summers working for the commission, and one summer working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. She got a taste of what a career in marine biology would be like.
"And I liked what I was doing. It didn't seem like work to me," she said. "But I continued with my degree and I finished my degree. And actually I wasn't even going to stay on. But I got offered a job here and I took it for one year, because I wanted to do an environmental science degree after my undergrad biology degree. And I ended up staying here and I ended up liking it, so I'm still here."
To Paul, the best part of her job is the fieldwork, when she gets out of the office and out on the water.
"My field season runs from May until the end of November. And for a lot of that season it's pretty nice out and you're out in the boat and you're out of the office. And you're actually doing hands on. And that's probably the best part of my job, I would say. I mean, you have to be someone who likes the outdoors. But then you have to do a lot of computer/office work too. You have to do number crunching and analyzing data. So it kind of goes both ways," she said.
Her first assignment was to do research on the European green crab, a small shore crab whose native habitat is the North and Baltic seas, but which has been expanding its habitar over the past century. This invasive species first turned up in Cape Breton in 1998.
When she began her research, Paul said, she didn't know anything about the green crab, but once she got out into the field, that soon changed.
"Just from being out there working with it and seeing its habits, you start to learn about this animal," Kara Paul said.
"I learned so much. And at the time, people didn't know about the green crab that much around here. So I became the contact person for the European green crab in Nova Scotia. Which is kind of neat, since I just kind of landed in it. So that was pretty cool. I'd have people from different universities and media calling me for my opinion on stuff, just because I was out there and watching them and seeing them, I knew a little bit more. So that was pretty interesting."
Her knowledge of the species also earned her a seat at an international roundtable on invasive species held last year in Miami.
"You know; I'm from Eskasoni. I'm from a small community, and I'm sitting here with scientists from Mexico and from the U.S., which I thought was pretty cool. You don't think that's going to happen when you start something like this. Under the NAFTA agreement, they had this big roundtable. That was pretty interesting. Everybody was talking about their problems in their area with invasive species and I gave the Bras d'Or Lake situation to them."
Paul sees her work as a marine biologist as being fun, but she also sees it as rewarding, knowing that she is helping to make a difference for her community.
"You know, we have people that rely on our lakes, not only for livelihood, but just for recreation reasons, some people for their food. And people come to us, and I'll have local Elders or fishermen come to me and say ... what's going on with the lobster stock? And I'm like, I have no idea, let me check into it. So that's what I've been doing for the last few years. I've been working on the lobsters."
Paul's advice for young people who are considering where their career path should lead is to find what you want to do, and then do it.
When she was younger and picking the courses she wanted to take in high school, people tried to steer her away from the science courses and toward the general programs.
"But if I had listened, I would have never gotten to where I am today. Because you know your abilities and you just go for it," she said.
"My advice to anybody that wants to do something ... is just go for it. You know, go do it. I mean there's nothing easier than saying I can't do it. And the thing is anybody will tell you you can't do it or can do it. It's up to you. If you want something, you just do it. You do it, you work hard, and you put your time in and you'll get there."
By Cheryl Petten
Windspeaker Staff Writer
ESKASONI FIRST NATION, N.S.
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|Title Annotation:||Careers & Training|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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