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Inspirational story of Dr. Jacqueline Uku to WIO-ECSNetwork

This is an inspirational story of Dr. Jacqueline Uku, a Senior Research Officer at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. She is also the current president of WIOMSA and serves on the Executive Committee of the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research (SCOR).

She is a recipient of the 2019 NK Panniker Award.


You’re full names?

Jacqueline Nduku Wambua Uku

Institutions of affiliation?

She is a Senior Research Officer at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute where she has served for 26 years. She is currently, President of WIOMSA and also serve on the Executive Committee of the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research (SCOR).

Areas of specialization/ expertise?

Dr.  Jacqueline area of specialization is plant physiology with emphasis on seagrasses.

Challenges and opportunities in her field of expertise?

Although seagrasses occupy a large proportion of our coastal lagoons they are the least studied and understood ecosystems in the region. The challenge here is that most young scientists prefer to work on coral reef and mangrove research as there is a bigger scientific community around these ecosystems.

Seagrass science offers many opportunities for engagement as there is so much that we still do not know. There are opportunities both for science and community engagement. As they are located in nearshore lagoons, it is easy to set up citizen science programmes that involve communities in order to drive an awareness of this critical ecosystem.

In the realm of scientific exploration, there are opportunities to study the large and small animals found in this ecosystem (meiofauna and macrofauna). Studies on the faunal community associations in these ecosystems are few. The fisheries associated with seagrass beds still remains understudied in most countries of the region. Although, they are found underwater, seagrasses flower just like plants on land, there is an opportunity to study their reproductive regimes.

Aspects of blue carbon are also important as well as studies on restoration practices for degraded seagrass beds. Studies on photosynthetic regimes and their physiological cycles in the era of climate change also present another opportunity. One thing we also need to do is to map our seagrass beds and to use remote sensing tools to map change over time.

I see opportunities not only for science based studies but also for artists and social scientists. Historically, communities have engaged with seagrasses in many ways and there is an opportunity to study these historical relationships and compare them to the current relationships and to document medicinal and traditional uses. There is an opportunity for artists to write stories of the organisms that are found in these beds such as dugongs and turtles.  These are just a few opportunities and I believe that there are many more that will open up if we just took a little time to engage in this important ecosystem.

I look forward to the day when we have a strong community of seagrass experts in the region.

Her most proud accomplishments in her career?

I am proud of my contribution towards building capacity of many to engage in marine and coastal studies as well as seagrass studies. I have been able to do this through the contributions of WIOMSA as well as in my own work as I managed several projects in Kenya. In Kenya, through my efforts in the Kenya Coastal Development Project, we were able to support over 200 students in various short term courses, internships, certificate courses, diploma and bachelor level training as well as postgraduate courses at Masters Level. I am also proud of the infrastructure projects that provided enhanced office spaces to several institutions including my own institution, KMFRI.

Awards given/ received in her life?

I am a recipient of the 2019 NK Panniker Award for capacity building from IOC-UNESCO. I believe that this reflects the work I have contributed to in growing expertise and raising up the next generation of ocean scientists.

Her quote to live by?

Do things that make your heart sing” by Marianne Williamson 

 Inspiration messages/advice to early-career scientists?

Start with a vision for your life’s work that resonates with the things that you are passionate about. Remember that Rome was not built in a single day – progress takes time and dedicated effort so be ready to bless yourself with the gift of time and grow your patience. Do not always look at the bottom line (money) but look for opportunities that enable you to grow your expertise. In my career, I have done the most with opportunities that paid me the least. Do not let fear stop you but grow in courage by exposing yourself to things that require you explore areas that require great courage. Find your voice and lend it to a cause that you are passionate about – then you will find that you have something valuable to say and a contribution to make.

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