Katherine Short '90
A lifelong nature lover, I am now a passionate marine conservationist. I was one of the few lucky students in my graduating class to go through the whole seven incredible years at UWCSEA. Since completing the IB, I have done a Bachelor of Ecology at Victoria University of Wellington and Masters of Conservation Science at Imperial College London.
I worked with WWF, the conservation organisation for nearly 17 years globally to grow healthy and well-managed fisheries. Returning home to New Zealand in 2011, I created and now own F.L.O.W. Collaborative (Fisheries.Livelihoods.Oceans.Well-being) Ltd as well as co-own Terra Moana Ltd.
My key inspiration for being a professional conservationist is my inherent love of nature. Ecology was a legitimate ‘in’ to that in career terms. Growing up, nature was a big part of my life as in my garden in Singapore, there were big rhinoceros beetles amongst other wondrous tropical wildlife; I dove into tropical waters on the east coast of Malaysia at Pulau Aur, when I was only 6-years-old; David Attenborough was big of course, and my mother always encouraged my love of nature and that girls can do science, too.
I first met WWF when my class visited Endau Rompin. I remember there was a huge panda on the wall in the forest research camp, there because WWF began and ran the national parks in Malaysia for many years. That there was this organisation, caring for the rainforest that I loved in such a practical way, made a massive impression on me when I was 13. I wanted to work for WWF from that moment. It took me another 13 years, but I got there in the end!
Since leaving WWF, in the last five years, I’ve been a business owner and partner in a sustainability consultancy called Terra Moana Ltd. It’s called Terra Moana to deliberately illustrate how we combine earth and sea, and Western and Polynesian paradigms in the our sustainability consulting. We are very fortunate to be sustainability advisors to the largest Māori-owned seafood company, Moana New Zealand. We also have other projects and contracts on fisheries’ and oceans’ sustainability and health in New Zealand and around the world.
Day-to-day, this job includes running projects for Moana, for example, we are doing an ecosystem service review of their oyster operation and its catchment in the far north of New Zealand this year. I’m also the secretary of the sustainability team, so it’s everything from day-to-day implementation to the strategic planning and design of the sustainability strategy.
Moana’s sustainability strategy encompasses all of its business and operations to identify and progress day-to-day improvements that can be made to treat the Earth more lightly as well as working across the bigger picture issues through careful conversations with Māori, civil society and the government.
The most impactful UWCSEA learning experience for me is epitomised in just one event. I learnt self-reliance. We were up in the Himalayas when I was 15 and I got very, very sick from the altitude. The healthy ones were walking in front and the walking wounded were plodding on behind. I was put on a pony, and at the top of the pass, the guide said, ‘Alright, you can walk now!’ They told me to follow the footprints in the snow. Before I knew it, I was up at 16,000 feet, alone, doing just that, following footprints in the snow. I had no other choice but to do so. It was an incredible test of resilience and courage. It’s so clear in my memory, I’ll never forget it.
Studying at UWCSEA had a profound effect on me, shaping me for the seven years I attended and my life ever after. It taught me that peace and international understanding are necessary and possible, and how to live that way. It gave me a strong educational foundation and a phenomenal love for the planet. I am thankful to Mr Gibby who took us on adventures and taught us biology, to Julia Hodgetts who taught me History and Ms Meisel who inspired a lifelong interest in her ceramics class. All have shaped who I have become; I still do pottery as a hobby and it is a great joy. I’m really rather good, having started at age 11!
While UWCSEA helped to fan my interest in a career in conservation, it was also instrumental in shaping my view of a better world, which is one where people understand that caring for the planet and caring for themselves are intertwined; that our healing is inter-dependent and where everyone has access to the peace and tranquillity of nature regularly in their lives. While at the time I attended UWCSEA we weren’t exposed to thinking or discussion around gender and personal relationship choices, it did encourage us to examine the world with a mind primed to be open which helped me onto the path I have followed. I find myself now in a place where, following a 25 year journey through wonderful partnerships with some wonderful women, I understand that the human condition is to heal. Heal our relationships with ourselves, heal our relationships with each other and heal our relationships with those we share the planet with, so that the planet can heal too. And that all of that is a virtuous circle of regeneration, love and, ultimately, peace. I am now a huge fan and proponent of Māori healing approaches.
The better, more sustainable world that the UWC mission aspires to help create is well encapsulated in the WWF mission, “People living in harmony with Nature.” I spent nearly 17 years working for WWF with this ambition in mind. There is a growing body of scientific proof of why and how a healthy environment supports healthy people and healthy communities, and how people caring for the environment helps them and the environment. These intertwined elements are things that indigenous people the world over have known for eons, including indigenous European societies. We’re beginning to creep our way back to those wise roots of how to live more lightly on our Earth. We’re beginning to feel that doing so helps us help ourselves too.
What would I say to a prospective student of UWCSEA? Be prepared to have your eyes opened very wide!