Nanushka Mia Bonano Collazo is a microbiologist studying bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. We asked her about her inspirations, her work, and for her thoughts on the future of our marine ecosystems.
What is your name, where are you from, and how did you develop a connection to the ocean?
I’m Nanushka M. Bonano Collazo, I’m 25 years old and all my life I have lived in the smallest coastal town of Puerto Rico in the northern area, in Cataño. My connection with the ocean developed from an early age, living minutes away from the beach I had the opportunity to fall in love with the ocean, but also with its greatness, the sand, the shells, the turtles, the fish (even though I’m afraid of them), but most of all, the peace and happiness that the ocean brings. To this day, I look like a little girl sitting on the shore of the beach, contemplating the water and the sunset, and analyzing how big and beautiful it is.
What is your specific field of marine science and what inspired you to work in this area?
My field of marine sciences is Microbiology, specifically in knowing and analyzing the microbial community of the bioluminescent bays in Lajas and Vieques, Puerto Rico. I was inspired to work in this area, first by the beauty and exclusivity of the BioBays. But above all, to know and obtain important information related to the behavior of bacteria, dinoflagellates and the effect of climate and the relationship between the three, as Soler-Figueroa et al. (2016) demonstrated in their research.
Why is your project important and why should we, as a community, take interest?
My study of the BioBays is important because much is known about the dinoflagellate community in these bays, but not much is known about the bacterial community in these bays. This can help us to communicate to the community what is present in the BioBays, how we can take care of it and preserve it, since they are unique environments. Also, if any novel microorganisms are to be found that were not known to exist or be present, until then. Simply, to create awareness of how these natural reserves can be preserved.
What has been the most difficult aspect of your project and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, the most difficult aspect I have faced has been sitting down to analyze the results in the QIIME2 program, but I’m grateful that my PI has given us the opportunity to learn and guide us to use the program and analyze the data in the correct and real way. At the same time, recognize that we are human beings and remember that challenges and situations arise around us that sometimes we do not know how to respond or act and if we do not work with that can affect us. My graduate studies have been a challenge, I’m very grateful to my PI Dr. Natasha DeLeon, for always reminding me that mental and emotional health is always first and also, to my uncle Toño, who in the midst of his struggle with his health never stopped supporting me, feeling happy and proud of me, but above all telling me "Nanu, mi amor, nunca dejes de estudiar, creer en ti y recuerda que te amo.”
How do you envision the relationship between communities and marine ecosystems in Puerto Rico in the future?
I envision the relationship between the communities and the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico in the future to be a healthy and lasting one. I have seen that little by little the community has created awareness about the care and preservation of the environment and marine ecosystems. Little by little we are understanding that we are in charge of taking care of our home, which belongs to all of us and it is up to all of us to contribute, support and care for it unconditionally.
"Little by little we are understanding that we are in charge of taking care of our home, which belongs to all of us and it is up to all of us to contribute, support and care for it unconditionally"
What do you plan to do with your degree moving forward?
I plan to become a science communicator, to be of help, strength, and support to the environment. It can be in many ways, but I would like to be a university professor, active science communicator and/or educator. But to be a guide, help and example for our Puerto Rican youth and to remind them that despite the circumstances in our environment (personal and environmental) it is possible to move forward. It's okay if you need to take a break and rest, but we never quit, Puerto Rico needs us.
Watch Nanushka's full interview here.
Nanushka’ s Seed Fund project is supported by Medalla Light. Follow along here and on our social media to watch for more updates on her project!