Bernard W.T. Coetzee

About Me

I think the ‘Kings of Leon’ are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I once swam, in the dark, across a shark, hippopotamus and crocodile infested estuary (true story, only in South Africa, and yes, that was scary). I’m a travel nut, so have had a taste of about 10 developed countries and 13 developing countries (if you’re wondering, 15 of those came from working in conservation).
Being a born and bred South African gives me a unique perspective on things – you’ll need to visit here to see what I mean! I’m training to be conservation professional. I’m slowly learning French, love flyfishing, and am fascinated by tiny endemic creatures (and think that, at the scale of the 3rd rock from the sun, everything, including us, is endemic). I’m easily bribed with beer…
 / ©: WWF / Bernard Coetzee
Self-portrait, Nadukuni Village, Fiji. This pic was taken after completing a SevuSevu, a traditional ceremony that includes drinking Kava, a slightly narcotic drink, the purpose of which is to ask permission to enter the chief's land. Like everywhere else, a digital camera produces smiles all round!
© WWF / Bernard Coetzee

Fiji...

Fiji is just about as far away as you can get from wherever you are leaving, without swinging back around the planet again and heading back home.
It is, and I will italicize this for emphasis, Island Paradise! That picture in your head of palm frond beaches and white sand and warm turquoise seas, that’s Fiji!

But I pity the people who only come to the place to experience that; there is just so much more. The culture is phenomenal and diverse. It’s a mix of western, Indian and Fijian influences. The place is a world within itself, with a timeless charm. I think the people made it for me. They are warm and friendly; a total stranger will approach you for a genuine conversation on how your day was. The interior is spectacular: forests, stunning species, water falls, quaint villages. Fiji moves different, works different, just feels different, and that is a learning experience in its own. I kept a blog for friends and family, go see: http://bernard-dot-com.blogspot.com/

But if you want to know more about what I got up to in Fiji, read on!

In a nutshell...

If you're serious about conservation, apply to the 'WWF Youth Volunteer Program', give it your all, and come back enriched beyond measure. It's life changing. It will change your life, and if you work hard enough, it will change the lives of others. Simple as that!

The job...

Remember this quote. Wherever you land, make no mistake, your job description is nothing short of helping to persevere a slice of life on this planet. And that helps people too; the fates of biodiversity and humans are inextricably linked.
WWF projects are spread over a wide focal area, it's no different in Fiji. As a volunteer you (a lucky bastard) can get to jump between the projects. I did dive surveys, interviews, scientific writing, popular writing, proposal writing, fundraising, hiking, whale counts, cut out fish shapes as décor for a dance in benefit of turtle conservation, graphic design layout, Earth Hour, community engagements, government engagements, celebrity engagements, workshops, workshops and workshops (with people from about 10 nations) and I even got buried in sand to represent the endangered leatherback turtle – that's a story for another day. I was particularly lucky to be involved with a project (which unfortunately for you has since ended) with international travel, so I worked in Tuvalu and the Cook Islands too. Specifically, I worked in implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes in the region, to a wide range of stakeholders. I don't think I will ever, in my life, have such a divergent and fulfilling job. The position in Fiji is also unique in that some of the world's major NGOs are all on the same street. You can go have a curry with the head of another NGO, no problem – so you learn about other organizations too.

Make no mistake, some of the work can be challenging, and even worse, sometimes it's not. But I soon realized that all the work was feeding back into and changing my preconceived ideas about conservation, and I had to think, re-assess and mull over things. In more simple terms, I was learning. I was learning about how the world works, about conservation, about the real world and its constraints, about what I wanted to contribute in my career into this world. That's a precious epiphany, and an invaluable gift – and internships helps form that. Doing volunteer work simply leaps your personal and professional development. In four months, you will learn more than any university can squeeze into a year.

And the fun stuff!

Diving, diving, diving!!! If you've never seen an intact coral reef, you've never lived! And there are loads of hikes, and abseils, and white water rafting and fishing and culture stuff to do. You could live here for years and not even come close to seeing and experiencing it all. But for real, the position in Fiji is based within the capital city, Suva. Its a nice place, nice vibe, nice people, FANTASTIC food. But there is plenty of room for travel, and I assure you you'll see things not in any Lonely Planet, and be outdoors and in the wild, but more importantly, you'll experience what I call the real Fiji, away from the strangling tourists and into the heart and soul of a phenomenal country.

Without hyperbole we can truthfully say that we are almost out of time to save much of the diversity of life on Earth.

S. Hubbel

Did this help me in my future career?

I just landed a 4 month position in the Seychelles...
I will dive for 4 months, count birds, corals and turtles, and live on a beach. Learning how to do coral reef surveys in Fiji helped me land that job. Partly due to my involvement with the WWF, I just gave three talks in Barcelona, France and at the WWF head office in Switzerland. The one talk was at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. I put a paper in the scientific journal Science, I made about 7 popular publications. The WWF Office in South Africa is suddenly interested in me, and of course I gave a talk there too. Looks like I'm going to start my dream PhD exactly in my field, which is heavily influenced by the NGO way of thinking, something no university can teach. Jim Leape says he’s happy I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot (if you don’t know who that is, Google him). You tell me if you think being a volunteer has helped my career (and for that matter, my personal development)!? A resounding yes!

Feel free to e-mail me for more info!

And now?

After Seychelles, I began studying for a PhD in Conservation Science at the Centre for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University
© WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee © WWF / Bernard Coetzee

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