Written by Aaizah Tahir
Vampyroteuthis infernalis (the vampire squid) is my favourite cephalopod. It is incredibly cool and mysterious but also a bit silly with its movement like a vampire cape flowing behind it, its eerie appearance especially when you first notice it in the depths of the sea, and its weirdly long filaments with which it collects marine snow to feed on. Also, it lived among the dinosaurs – how cool is that? It is the first animal I learned the scientific name for (and I am very proud of the fact). You see, I’m an aspiring marine scientist and will be studying marine science at university soon. But let’s rewind a bit.
Ever since I can remember, my dad’s work has taken us to a multitude of places and no matter the country, my parents always found a way to incorporate nature into whatever activities we did. I remember spending summer in the Middle East for years where we’d go to rivers and streams and go hiking – we went to almost every nature site we knew about. Even here in Pakistan, anytime we want to take a break from life, we go up north and spend every minute of our time surrounded by nature. In recent years I’ve been going to Australia to visit my brother and I end up spending the majority of my time exploring on the beach.
However, my real passion for marine science was aroused when I was quite literally stuck in my room when I got covid. I found myself binge-watching David Attenborough’s documentaries – as one does – among others which led me down the rabbit hole to discovering marine biology and just how real and drastic the climate crisis is. Of course, I had studied about the climate crisis in school but watching ‘Chasing Coral’ by Jeff Orlowski jolted a sense of urgency in me to do something about it. That moment kinda kick-started my conservationist/environmental journey.
Unfortunately, when I told my family I wanted to study marine science, it was met with a lot of apprehension and rejection, with sentiments from my mom like ‘So what? You’re gonna go swimming in the ocean? You’re going to pick up trash for the rest of your life?’ and from my older siblings, ‘Why are you choosing such a useless major?’. There’s barely anyone I know in Pakistan who is curious about marine life, let alone passionate, which has consistently led to bouts of self-doubt and overthinking. Every time I tell someone new that this is what I want to do, most of the time, thankfully, it’s met with support: ‘Wow I’ve never heard of that, that’s cool!’. But that support is surface-level and the conversation doesn’t go any further. I tend to chalk it up to them never being introduced to the wonders of marine life and everything that comes with it, but it always leaves lingering feelings of loneliness and adds to the self-doubt pile.
As I become more conscious of my actions and their direct (and indirect) impacts on the environment, I’ve become more aware of the issues in my own community. I go on a walk every day in the park across the street and despite there being trash cans at every corner and various signs telling you to keep the park clean and safe for the wildlife there, every single day I find myself picking up trash from around almost every dustbin even though the bin itself is empty. There are also various wedding photoshoots during which they use smoke bombs which are harmful to the squirrels and birds. Not only this but there are still balloons stuck in the trees even now. I’ve seen direct impacts of this in the dead birds lying around. It’s devastating. I’ve raised my concerns to the people around me and they agree but are never willing to help keep the environment safe. I hope I can normalize these small things, at least in my immediate community.
I will be starting my Bachelor’s degree with a double major in marine and coastal science, and physics next year, so I’m at the very start of my conservationist journey. I hope I’ll be able to accomplish my goals and really make an impact and I hope to make friends with fellow conservationists whom I can share my worries and experiences with. I also wish to incorporate my passions into my community and country in order to stir up their interest and hopefully ignite their concealed passions.