Sahira Bell’s mantra “people protect what they love, and love what they understand” is the driving force behind her projects, where she takes a novel approach to marine science by combining traditional research with outreach to ensure her work contributes to positive change.
Sahira is a Project Officer at For Blue and a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute where she researches what are arguably the greatest threats to our marine ecosystems: the impacts of climate change and ocean warming on underwater forests. Having witnessed first hand the recent impact of warming oceans and marine heatwaves on Western Australia’s kelp forests, she's passionate and motivated to contribute to meaningful work to try and understand, and reverse these.
And she does it differently to most academics; she believes that there's a serious mismatch to what scientists know and learn, and what they communicate to the public, and thinks this contributes massively to how little we sometimes care for our marine ecosystems. As a result, Sahira tries to keep her research impact broad, and takes a novel approach by being involved with two non-profits and sitting on their boards, sitting on the Scientific Advisory Panel for the Great Southern Reef project, and regularly participating in public lectures and events where she can spread the research word.
And the resulting impact of her work has been impressive! Sahira’s potential was recognised early by professional surfer Layne Beachley, who presented her a scholarship to promote her research. This support saw Sahira lead the project to have the Great Southern Reef recognised as a Mission Blue ‘Hope Spot’ in 2019, in which her efforts were rewarded by making it as a semi-finalist for the WA Young Achievers Award and receiving Runner-Up in the prestigious International Oceans Awards in 2020.
In 2019 as part of the broader Great Southern Reef project, Sahira put together an application to have the Reef nominated as a “Hope Spot”: an initiative driven by Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance that aims to identify and recognise places that are critical to the health of the ocean. Over a period of 12 months she worked closely with Mission Blue producers, marketers and scientists to firstly convince the committee the Reef fulfilled the criteria to be considered as vital to ocean health, and secondly to fine tune the announcement. Sahira wanted to ensure this was announced in a creative but articulate way, with a contemporary visual aesthetic to be as engaging and impactful as possible. The announcement which took place on December 5th, 2019 was a huge success and resulted in multiple news articles, videos and interviews shared across traditional and social media. Conservative estimates see social media reach into the millions! Check out the video of the Hope Spot release, below.