From Würzburg into the world05/31/2018
Mareike Huhn studied biology in Würzburg. Today she lives and researches on the Banda Islands, an archipelago in the Indonesian Maluku Islands. Encounters with hammerhead sharks and manta rays makes living there worthwhile for her.
Which jobs do graduates from the University of Würzburg work in? To present different perspectives to students, Michaela Thiel, the director of the central alumni network, interviews selected alumni. This time, it is Mareike Huhn's turn.
Mareike Huhn is the founder of "Luminocean", a social organisation that brings together Indonesian and foreign students. With its partners, the Bogor Agricultural University and the College of Fishery, it promotes research projects aimed at marine conservation on the Banda Islands.
Dr. Huhn, how did you find your research focus? The GAME (Global Approach by Modular Experiments) research programme of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel led me to my research focus. I participated in the programme to write my diploma thesis. Professor Linsenmair, who held the Chair of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, supervised me back then.
And why did you opt for Indonesia? Initially, I was in Kiel to do the research part of my thesis and from there I went to Indonesia. This was because the Bogor Agricultural University is one of many partner institutes of Geomar in the world, where participants of GAME team up with other students of the respective partner institute to do their research project.
How did you wind up in the GAME research programme? I followed the regular application process, since it was an opportunity for me to shift my research focus to the marine domain. I had always been fascinated by the tropics, and after learning how to scuba dive during my studies, I fell for the marine flora and fauna in particular. Each year, GAME determines one topic in the field of marine benthic ecology, the study of organisms that make up communities living at, on and in the sea bottom, on which all teams at the different institutes worldwide work simultaneously. This allows experiments to be replicated geographically at the same time.
What did you research? The subject in my year was to compare invasive and native populations of benthic species that occur on a global scale. This marked the starting point of my "marine invasive biology" focus which I am still pursuing. It is concerned with the stress ecology of the Asian green mussel (Perna viridis). We obtained interesting results, so I decided to hang on to the subject and won a PhD scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Why did you stay in Indonesia? I was more and more fascinated by the country during my time in Bogor as a PhD student – and in many other parts of Indonesia searching for green mussels. Hardly any other country can boast such a rich cultural diversity and biological variety both on land and in the sea. Especially East Indonesia is home to the most species-rich coral reefs in the world. It is a diver's dream come true and even more so for a marine biologist.
And from there, you went on to the Maluku Islands to establish Luminocean. Yes, my search for green mussels took me to the Maluku Islands in East Indonesia, among others to Ambon and the Banda Islands. The Banda Islands fascinate both under water and on land and have an interesting history. I decided to commit myself to preserving the pristine nature and combine this commitment with my research activities. My decision was also made easier by the fact that my partner was able to become the manager of what was then the only diving school on the Banda Islands. I founded Luminocean in 2014 together with two close friends from Jakarta and Bogor where I now combine research, education and marine conservation.
What does your everyday work involve? My work routine is very varied. Our practical work is bound to the seasons in-between rainfall periods from September to December and from March through May. So I spend a lot of my time underwater during these periods, sometimes to take samples and survey the coral reefs or to train students or volunteers. We at Luminocean also study nocturnal flashlight fishes in collaboration with Professor Herlitze from the Department of Zoology of the University of Bochum, so I often ascend from a dive not before 10 pm. These fish are highly averse to light which requires us to work on this project at night.
But you are not working underwater the whole time, are you? No, another part of my work routine is to teach English to children and to raise their awareness for the marine environment. This year, I established an educational centre on Hatta Island funded by an online campaign and the German support association Banda Sea e.V. which I co-founded. Of course, like most scientists, I also spend a lot of time at my desk to analyse results and write papers or applications. The monsoon period in June and July is ideal for these tasks. I am less tempted to go diving during this time than in the sunny season.
What do you like especially about your job? The variety and the chance to spend a lot of time outdoors and in the water. Also, my activities on Banda have enabled me to make a lot of interesting acquaintances some of which have become good friends. My job is intensive, very time-consuming at times, but also exciting and always has surprises in store for me. In April 2017, for example, I had my first encounter with a group of orcas that emerged suddenly to hunt dolphins.
Which traits are important in this job? You should be patient, even-tempered and enthusiastic. In Indonesia, and especially on small islands far away from Jakarta, the pace of life is generally a bit slower and more relaxed than in Germany. Being patient and accepting setbacks with equanimity can make your life much easier.
Sounds as though you have had quite a lot of experience with this. During my first year in Indonesia, I learned that there is no use in trying to push things. You quickly run into brick walls. I also made the experience that any small problem sorts itself out eventually. It always goes on. My enthusiasm for my work is of course immensely helpful when it comes to staying patient. Each sunset looking out at the sea or an encounter with hammerhead sharks and manta rays reminds of why it's worth pursuing this course.
What would you recommend to students who are looking to follow a similar career path? Students who would like to work in marine biology or abroad should actively look for internships. Your graduation thesis should be about a subject that you are genuinely interested in. This requires a proactive approach. The DAAD awards great scholarship options for this purpose and you should just give it a try and apply. Even internships done during studies can be eligible for funding.
You offer internship positions yourself, don't you? With Luminocean, we give students who want to make experiences abroad or learn new methods, for example, the opportunity to participate in our regular programmes. They take part in current research projects in marine biology, get involved in the intercultural exchange and contribute to educational activities in the field of marine conservation. Students who have their own ideas can do their research project for F2 internships or their bachelor's or master's thesis with us. This can either be within the scope of one of our research projects or as an entirely autonomous project. We support students by supervising them, helping with logistics issues and applying for research permits and visa.
Thank you for the interview.
If you want to learn more about the alumni network of the University of Würzburg or to register, follow the link below. (http://www.alumni.uni-wuerzburg.de/)
Links and contact
Mareike Huhn: firstname.lastname@example.org