Nature: A Life Spent Fighting For It

Amanda Hodgson on the Mekong in nature

Not everyone gets to be proud of their siblings, but when yours has dedicated her life to fighting to protect nature it’s pretty easy to find yourself feeling that way. Here’s her story.

A Childhood in Nature

Amanda Hodgson is one person living her life’s mission.  She, like me obviously, was born in a low socio-ecomomic area and went to a high school more renowned for it’s toughness than it’s academic achievements.  We were blessed however, by having wonderful friends, and even more so with parents who instilled great core values in us that have shaped our approach to life.  One of those core values was a deep appreciation for nature and the environment.

We were fortunate to grow up in one of the greatest states in the world (Western Australia) in regards to accessing nature.  WA is full of untouched wilderness that is as diverse a landscape as one could imagine. From the great Karri & Jarrah forests of the South, to the hot, red dirt of the North; from the gold country in the East to the stunning white beaches of the West, we traveled them all with our parents.  These places were our playgrounds and are the places that inspired our thirst for travel and a sense that the world is our oyster.  In fact there is not a continent on earth that our collective four feet haven’t set foot on.

Dedication to Learning

While I chose to explore and take photos of the environment, Amanda chose to research it and protect it.  Actually she was driven to do that by some force I have marveled at many times over the years.  As a teenager her bedroom was painted half under water and half out, dolphins swam around her room, resided on her furniture and hung from her ears.  When she graduated high school she had but one single minded mission, to study dolphins.  She topped her class and got into Environmental Science at Edith Cowan University, graduating top of that year’s intake as well, then got first class honors to gain entry into her doctorate, completing her PhD with a mark of over 90%.

Did I mention she was driven?  But amongst all the hard work to achieve these results, Amanda had moved from her childhood dream of focusing on dolphins to specializing in dugongs, the southern hemisphere’s equivalent to the manatee.  She spent years using unmanned and manned aerial vehicles to gather information about their habits, in doing so, aiding a number of government policies that apply to areas where these amazing animals exist.

Amanda Hodgson with a Dugong researching nature

A Life of Research

Since completing her PhD, sis has traveled the world and become a specialist in aerial population surveys, not just confined to dugongs but for whales as well.  This work has taken her to places like Antarctica where she spent a month and a half researching Minke whales (pic below, Amanda third from right), to Bahrain in the Middle East where she flew in US Navy Black Hawk helicopters to study the dugong population, to the Mekong River in Vietnam looking for fresh water dolphins. And that all with a simple issued couple days before trip Vietnam online visa.  She has been published in many journals and given speeches at conferences all over the world.

Amanda Hodgson in Antarctica researching nature

Back in 2010 she won the Bill Dawbin Postdoctoral Fellowship in cetacean research, a three year fellowship to research the application of unmanned aerial vehicles to get a deeper and more valuable understanding of the passages and activities of dugongs and whales. This was major recognition.  There is only one fellowship granted each year. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, mentioned her in a speech and the then Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Peter Garrett (yes the former lead singer of Midnight Oil), released a press release announcing sis had won it!

Amanda Hodgson with US Army drone

As a big brother I still see the little girl with piggy tails and a patch over one eye after she had an eye operation at four years old!  But I can also see an independent woman who has knocked down every wall in front of her to achieve her life goals and to do work that will help generations to come.  For those of you who know and love the movie Rudy, there is a scene when Rudy gives his acceptance letter to his dad and then leaves.

The dad, overcome with emotion, folds the letter like it is made of gold, and gently puts it back in the envelope.  It is a scene I have lived time and time again in relation to my sister’s achievements.   Private scenes where someone else’s success means far more to you than any success you could ever have yourself.  They are moments beyond joyful.

And to top it all off,  Amanda is married a guy so suited to her that I could not have hand picked him myself, a whale researcher as driven as she is to learn and to gain knowledge to help our fragile environment.  Two champions of nature!

You can follow the research being done by sis and her team at Aquatic Megafauna Research Unit – AMRU’s Facebook page.

Written by Ryan Hodgson