My teaching, research, and community action are deeply intertwined and collaborative. I am motivated by the needs, assets, knowledges, and values of the fishers I work with and learn from, and I am committed to building a more ethical academic future.
Decolonizing Environmental Social Science Research (2021 & 2022) I co-designed and co-taught this field seminar with Palauan colleagues at Ebiil Society to build capacity for environmental social science research among Palauan youth. After a two week in-class intensive, we travel with students across the country of Palau to interview elders on topics of their design. Past topics included: communal fishing, food sharing, and traditional beliefs.
Environmental Social Science Research Methods (2021) I taught this course at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) for majors in Environmental Studies. As we reviewed and practiced common methods in environmental social science (interviewing, surveying, Photovoice, and focus groups), we discussed the ethical implications of each. Additionally, I created a unit on Research Ethics in which we discussed the principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice in an environmental social science context, and a unit on Activism in Research, in which we discussed the topic of objectivity and the ethical obligations of researchers in the field.
"Our research ethics portion was especially insightful in this regard [encouraging respect for different perspectives and backgrounds]. It was clear that respect for all communities was important to Caroline and she went about related conversations appropriately and gracefully!"
"Lessons from Palau to end parachute science in international conservation research" Ann Singeo & Caroline E. Ferguson Conservation Biology (2022)
Conservation science is having a reckoning with “parachute science.” In the parachute science model, scientists drop into a foreign country with preconceived notions, seeking to validate their assumptions without genuine engagement with local people, ideas, epistemologies, methodologies, and knowledges, and leave without giving back to the place from which they extracted. This model lacks integrity and produces dubious results with little value to local populations and can even undermine local efforts. We share five principles for international conservation research beyond the parachute, rooted in Palauan epistemologies. We draw from our firsthand experience with both parachute and non-parachute science in Palau as an Indigenous Palauan researcher and a white American researcher partnering on conservation science. In this alternative approach, to gain knowledge requires cultivating relationships and earning trust from a place of humility in order to borrow knowledge with integrity for communal benefit.
My collaborative research with Ebiil Society has led to many on-the-water projects. For example:
First (and second and third) annual Women's Fishery Forum in Palau, bringing together fisherwomen, policymakers, and traditional leaders to identify and solve problems facing women's fisheries.
Worked with Stanford Business students to assess the financial viability of a sea cucumber farm for local use, export, and conservation. It was determined that a non-profit conservation model was most beneficial to the community.
Secured funding and technical support for a non-profit sea cucumber farm to restore of depleted areas, integrating local knowledge of spawning. Over 30,000 juvenile sea cucumbers have been planted by local fisherwomen and students.
Trained local communities in ecological monitoring of sea cucumbers, integrating their Indigenous and local knowledges.
Mapped sea cucumber abundances with fisherwomen: where species were found in the past and where they are found today.
Expanded government support funds for fishers in Palau to include women as well as men.