By Stephanie J. Rousso –
Sixteen years of education can get you a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field. Upon graduation, the two primary choice paths are joining the scientific workforce or continuing onto a master’s degree or PhD. Yet, all the $200 textbooks and the dreamiest of dream jobs offer little in terms of mindfulness and wellness. The increasing popularity of citizen science has engaged more people in an active role in conservation biology, thus carrying mindfulness and wellness into the forefront of science. But what exactly is a citizen scientist?
National Geographic describes citizen science as “the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge.” The benefits of citizen science to nature conservation are well documented. Smartphone cameras and GoPros are powerful tools for tackling many of the challenges faced in the field of conservation biology. For example, public sightings of endangered species can advance natural resource management and environmental protection. No doubt photos of wildlife and plants from the masses provides indispensable means of combining ecological research and natural history observation.
While this is great news, very few articles focus on the benefit to the participant—you.
The more we know about the wildlife and plants we encounter, the more mindful and connected we are in nature. This effectively helps reduce the stress-induced cortisol hormone levels in our brains while contributing to conservation biology. Then we can reach a heightened wellness level especially when we integrate good nutrition, exercise such as nature yoga, and meditation.
At La Duna Ecology Center, located at the southern portion of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico, mindfulness and wellness are intertwined with citizen science volunteers. La Duna started out as a ranch built consciously behind the coastal dunes to protect the pristine shores of La Paz Bay. When the goats and chickens were moved off the property, Gabriela Flores, the owner of Rancho La Duna converted her land into an ecology center for yoga and artist retreats complete with ranch-style outdoor cooking classes. Now, there are eight eco-cabins constructed with natural materials of adobe, palm leaves, and trumpet vine. The latter is noted to have antibiotic properties and there are many other native desert plant species that offer wellness through natural medicinal benefits. These cabins, separated by desert vegetation of evergreen cactus, mesquite trees, and creosote bush, encircle a main palapa. The palapa is a round open space with a handmade palm-thatched roof.
If the juvenile owls that roost under the palapa had a citizen science program, it would highlight the cumulative time that humans sleep in the hammocks that line the palapa and the number of downward facing dogs they observe in the spring.
Only steps away from the palapa is the outdoor kitchen where Señora Malena, a grandmother who grew up and raised her family next door without electricity and running water, prepares amazing gourmet meals for citizen scientists and yogis. The circle design helps the positive energy flow through the campus. Yet, the highlight of La Duna is where the stone-lined path takes visitors to the breathtaking views of the La Paz Bay and Gulf of California. Atop the rolling, wind-swept coastal dunes, dolphins and sea lions break the surface at dawn. When the tide is low enough to form semi-enclosed tide pools, mystical octopus, sea stars, and invertebrates that reflect all the colours of the chakras are exposed.
This is where visitors to La Duna engage their “Blue Mind” which, according to author and scientist Wallace J. Nichols, refers to “the surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, (and) more connected.”
A Mexican non-profit, Alianza Keloni, which means Turtle Alliance, is creating programs that merge citizen science with the presence, mindfulness, and wellness that La Duna offers. Visitors contribute to biodiversity conservation by volunteering with local wildlife biologists and university students. Volunteers receive a brief introduction to species identification and methods then head out in pairs or groups to register invertebrates, birds, reptiles, small mammals, and seaweed.
Every morning at La Duna, visitors make their way to the coastal dunes for guided or self-induced meditation as the sun illuminates a new day over the bay. Then they begin registering all the wildlife tracks from the night before and the pollinators feasting on tiny coastal desert flowers. Volunteers don’t just write notes about the species they see; they also engage their intuition and listen to the messages different species send to us. This part is written down in a nature journal each volunteer keeps everyday while at La Duna. Volunteers take home this journal as their personal instruction manual for nature as medicine for the mind, body, and soul. At dinner, as stories from the day unfold, and groups share the spiritual meanings of the species that draw their individual attention. In this way, we holistically reach neuroconservation, a term created by Nichols to explain how we promote conservation by engaging our mind through neuroscience.
Contact us to be a Blue Mind Citizen Scientist at Stephanie@AlianzaKeloni.org
Stephanie J. Rousso is a wildlife biologist specializing in habitat use and spatial ecology of migratory species. Originally from the US, for over eight years now she has lived full time in Baja, Mexico.
Blue Mind: The Brain Science Behind Well-being and Proximity to Water
Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, innovator, scientist, movement-makers, and marine biologist, enlightened the world with the Blue Mind concept, which describes the scientific connection between emotional, social, and intellectual well-being and humans’ proximity to water. Also an explorer, author, and lecturer, Nichols tells an engaging story – new to the world, but based in long-standing science – of the vast cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, physical, and spiritual benefits that we can all derive from healthy waters and oceans throughout our lives.
Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? Nichols’ theory suggests remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water, and backs his claims with the latest neuroscience and first-hand accounts from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists. According to Blue Mind, proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success. Blue Mind illustrates the crucial importance of our connection to water and provides a paradigm shifting “blueprint” for a better life on this Blue Marble we call home.
For more information, please visit http://www.wallacejnichols.org.