Meet Dr. Sarah Foster

When did you first become passionate about the ocean and about conservation?

My passion for fish came before my passion for the ocean. My family members are keen recreational fishers; every fish caught by family and friends, over several generations, has been traced on paper and prominently displayed.  I loved helping my father dissect the fish we caught. The intrinsic value placed on fish by my family led me to develop a strong curiosity about them and their underwater habitats.

My passion for the oceans arose during visits to New Zealand – where I would explore the beaches and the tide pools with my dad. Visits to public aquaria and my dad’s subscription to National Geographic were also critical in maintaining my interest between trips to the beach, as we did not live near the ocean. 

My real passion for conservation was ignited after volunteering as a survey biologist in the Philippines.  It was at that moment I became aware of the magnitude of the importance of fish, and that their slow but certain disappearance from almost every body of water on our planet had graver consequences than not being able to "catch the big one”.  It meant poverty and hunger for human populations world-wide, especially those that rely on fish as their main source of protein. 

How did you become involved with Project Seahorse and what was your role?

I first became involved with Project Seahorse as a volunteer survey biologist in the Philippines.  We were monitoring how marine protected areas restore fish populations and habitats.

How long were you/have you been involved with Project Seahorse? What are some of the highlights/best memories you have?

I have been involved with PS for over ten years now!  I started as a volunteer, then a research assistant, then a PhD student, and now I am a Research Associate. I have so many great memories – my time with Project Seahorse has afforded me some amazing opportunities.  If I had to pick one it would be when I received a long distance phone call from Amanda Vincent in the middle of the night telling me that the proposal to list seahorses on CITES had been passed – I get goosebumps even thinking about it.  It was such a landmark decision – fish had finally been recognised as wildlife.  And we had worked so very hard – it was nice to see our efforts pay off.

What are you doing now, and what impact has Project Seahorse made on your career?

Project Seahorse has been my career! So the impact has been huge.  My time here has taught me that policy and plans to protect nature can only be successful if they are accepted and supported by all stakeholder groups.  The experiences gained during my time here have strengthened my understanding of the challenges faced by resource-reliant communities, as well as those faced by scientists and managers collecting and interpreting the data required for sound management.  Such an understanding places me in a better position to work with stakeholders to seek out pragmatic solutions to address marine conservation problems. 

From your professional perspective, what are the most important conservation issues we face as Canadians and/or as global citizens?

In short – overpopulation and overconsumption.  In some places of the world there are too many people, and in others – where there are fewer people – we consume enough to make up for it!  We have to stop seeing resources as infinite – especially those like clean air and clean water.  We have to stop taking the resources on which we depend for granted.

Another important conservation issue is that people do not feel connected to the problems at hand.  The problems we face are huge, but I really believe many small actions can make a big difference.  We all have a responsibility to be stewards of the environment. 

Why are organizations like Project Seahorse important? How do they fit into the bigger picture of marine conservation?

Organisations like Project Seahorse are important because they are focused on finding solutions, not defining problems.  In most cases we know what the problems are – we may not have perfect information but Project Seahorse is not afraid to take action anyway, knowing full well that such actions may have to be revised as we learn more, in the true spirit of adaptive management.