Thomas Starnes is a dedicated Heart of Borneo Research Associate with a background in biogeography and a firm belief in making a positive difference to the world.
Inspired by the outdoors, Thom talks about his involvement with Heart of Borneo and the benefits to volunteering.
So how did you get involved as a Research Associate with Heart of Borneo, Thom?
Well, I had previously volunteered as an Aquarium Host at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth while I was at university, and I was also helping Bournemouth Natural Science Society database their herbarium collection. I saw the volunteering ad on the website I jumped at the opportunity and now I’ve been volunteering since October, gathering and summarizing research on threats to biodiversity in Borneo. I’ve also been compiling a list of spatial data for use in conservation map resources.
What are the issues, topics and campaigns that interest you most about Borneo?
I’m a biogeographer so I’m interested in speciation through physical isolation, such as happens on an island like Borneo. I think the key to protecting Borneo’s rainforests is foremost to gain the support of its people: first making the case for protecting forest ecosystems and then giving people the tools and resources they need to achieve this. I think there’s a lot to be said for investing economically in these communities to raise the standard of living for Borneo’s people and its natural environment.
What’s your educational background?
I recently graduated from Plymouth University with a BSc in Environmental Science, having also done a 12-month work placement at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I’m now working full time and saving towards a masters in the Netherlands.
And your main skills and qualities?
I’m good at organising, but I don’t brag about that! During my time at university I developed a working knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) which I’ve applied to several conservation problems. I’m fairly experienced in the outdoors and enjoy working with groups of people.
Outside of work, Thom, what are your interests and hobbies?
I love being outdoors, and take advantage of my time off work to go caving, climbing, hiking or surfing. I’m interested in natural history, especially botany, and I enjoy long walks along the coast identifying plants with a field key and hand lens. I enjoy music too. I play ukulele and dabble in music production to relax after work.
You are obviously passionate about your work. What inspires you?
I’m inspired by great landscapes, be it a wide mountain expanse or a giant city – these make me feel small and humble. I’m inspired by people who have done great things with their lives, but most of all I’m inspired by simple acts of generosity and kindness shown between people day-to-day.
What are the best things you’ve discovered about volunteering?
Being able to add skills to your conservation tool belt. It’s great to be able to add things to your CV, but ultimately it’s the experience that counts. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and find out how organisations operate.
And finally, what advice would you give people wanting to volunteer with an organisation like Heart of Borneo?
Be dedicated, and be patient. There’s lots of work to be done, and plenty to discuss. There’s a great volunteer team base at the moment who are really supportive. So be prepared to push yourself, and to feel like you can make a difference!
Interview with Thomas Starnes conducted by Neil Fraser, Communication and Outreach Manager, Heart of Borneo Project