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Elissa Sursara

Elissa Sursara

Conservationist
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Features — Posted 26/05/15

The raw beauty of the wilderness is something to be cherished and protected. Conservationist Elissa Sursara chats about her relationship with the natural environment.

The beauty of venturing into the wild is the natural escape it offers from the hectic schedules we set ourselves every day. With our pristine wilderness in a constant state of flux, the preservation of its raw beauty relies on education and conservation.

Australian biologist, National Geographic blogger and conservationist Elissa Sursara shares her passion for the environment and her top wilderness wonders everyone should experience once.

How did your passion for the environment and its conservation come about?

I’ve always loved animals and the outdoors. I ate up all the information I could get from TV and environmental icons like David Attenborough, and my hero as a little girl, Ranger Stacey. I wanted to know everything I could. I wasn’t much of a conservationist as a kid and young teenager, or even as a student of biology in high school, since the information I was getting was wholly positive – I was learning about tigers, but not about their plight. What good is it to know about their morphology if I don’t know they’re becoming extinct?

I started to develop an extracurricular interest in biodiversity and began to read reports from National Geographic explorers and university researchers. I learned about dwindling populations of primates, human impact on the acidity of the ocean, on the environment and climate change. I became aware. I started to volunteer where I could, donated what I could, and eventually, as a student of biology at university, I resolved to work on behalf of endangered species and habitats, using science and advocacy to resolve and reverse human impact – and so, I became a conservationist.

Where in the great outdoors do you feel most at home?

I feel my happiest and most content when I’m near the ocean, be it in the sea, by the sea or on the sea. I spent a lot of time living on board a conservation vessel that traveled to Antarctica. Afloat in the Southern Ocean, I felt very connected to the environment, and that’s a feeling of home for me. I learned to predict the weather based on just the colour of the sky, and I learned to read the ripples of the water and guess the knots of the wind. We live on a water planet – perhaps that’s why I feel so connected to the ocean. Wherever the sea is, there’s my home.

As an environmental scientist, what are your biggest areas to focus on?

I’m very passionate about creating a sound awareness of deforestation. Deforestation, or land clearing, is the clearing away of a natural habitat for human use, like development or agricultural farming. At present, it’s one of the largest environmental issues we face and is directly related, and often solely responsible for, the extinction and threatened status of many of our iconic species. Deforestation has atmospheric and hydrological impacts that affect soil, biodiversity and even other farming industries, especially when land clearing is unregulated. Since forests account for 31% of the planet’s coverage and provide oxygen and homes for people and animals, it’s important to make sure we’re carefully maintaining and preserving them.

Places in the wild everyone should experience at least once?

• Patagonia, Argentina – For the daring adventurer and someone who wants to appreciate immaculate habitat like the ice fields, and stunning wildlife like the killer whales who hunt seals on the shorelines. (Image: Miguel Vieira)

• North Queensland – I met two divers in North Queensland who had clocked dives in almost every ocean on the planet, but “none compare to Cairns,” they said. North Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, a listed World Heritage Site and is a great spot for avid divers, snorkelers and adventurers who love the outdoors. It’s my favourite place in the world.

• New York City – Perhaps New York City is wild in a different sense of the word, but it’s a concrete jungle all the same. From SoHo to NoHo and the Museum of Natural History, to the old architecture, New York City is a true melting pot of cultures from all around the world, and a place to truly experience the bustle, grit and chaos of an over-developed world. To me, it’s also a place where dreams come true, and I think every explorer wants that! 

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