Ancilleno Davis was born and raised in the Bahamas and started conducting research in his home country around 2001. He obtained an Associate of Arts from the College of the Bahamas, followed by a bachelor’s and master’s degree in science from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (USA). After 14 months working for Dolphin Cay at the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas, he joined The Nature Conservancy Caribbean program as a Conservation Coordinator on the Kerzner Marine Foundation’s Blue Project.
In 2012 he went overseas again to obtain his PhD in Ecology Evolution and Environmental Biology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (USA). His scientific work focused on endangered Kirtland's Warblers (Setophaga kirtlandii), endangered endemic Abaco Parrots (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis) and coral reef ecology and coral nursery development. Since 2019, he is working in the tourism industry as the Sustainability Coordinator of Blue Lagoon Island in the Bahamas. Additionally, he is a Director-at-Large of BirdsCaribbean, where he helped coordinate the launch of their mentorship program, and regularly posts on his blog Science and Perspective.
Why did you want to become a scientist?
My interest in science started from when I was a little boy. My mom used to work in the Royal Botanical Gardens, so my little brother and I would walk there after school and hang out inside the big gardens. Sometimes tourists would come in and we would give them tours of the gardens. That is what got me interested in botany, plants and wildlife.
As a kid interested in science in the Bahamas, everyone said that I should become a doctor, dentist or veterinarian. I looked into these career options, but I do not like being inside buildings. Thankfully, the director at the Royal Botanical Gardens introduced me to the Kirtland's Warbler Research and Training Program, which taught students how to identify birds and plants, and provided scholarships to go to university. I was offered a scholarship to do my bachelor’s at the University of Maryland (USA) by a visiting researcher named Dr James Wiley. Until then, I had no idea that people are doing conservation work as a career. I thought this type of work was only done in places other than the Bahamas, by people like David Attenborough, David Suzuki and Steve Irwin.
My focus during my undergraduate studies was on marine biology, because there is a lot of ocean in the Bahamas. However, it was difficult to get a job in my field when I came back home after my master’s degree. I ended up cleaning dolphin pools and vacuuming sea lion poop at the Atlantis Hotel. I think I had to go through this time to gain perspective. Although, I had a Master in Science from the University of Maryland, I was working mostly with people who did not have any college degree and some did not even finish high school. This gave me a lot of respect for all the people behind the scenes. Eventually, I found an opportunity to do my PhD in the US, which I finished in 2018.
Now, I am working in the tourism industry. This field is really interesting as there is a lots of conservation and sustainability work that can be done and I am able to introduce new concepts. It is a great opportunity, but also challenging due to cultural and economic issues.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What advice would you give to aspiring scientists?
Follow your passion! Ignore people who say there is no money to be made from your passion. There is no amount of money that can replace the happiness and freedom that you feel doing something you love. Profit always follows passion, but not necessarily the other way around. There are a lot of unhappy people with lots of money and they are constantly trying to fill that space with material things.
Do not put your identity down to pick up a scientific career. We need your perspective to keep science honest, equitable and ethical.
Who supported you during your career?
My family has always supported me. I remember my grandmother telling me that I should do what I enjoy as long I am not hurting anyone. At first, my brother thought I was wasting my time in school and that I should join the Police Force to pay for a house. Now, he brags about me to his friends and co-workers. They are all proud to see me come back and be the first in country with my degree at the PhD level.
I am also very grateful to Dr James Wiley (1943–2018), who gave students like myself the opportunity to study in the USA.
What is a valuable lesson you learnt from studying overseas?
When I came back to the Bahamas after my master’s degree in the US, I developed a broader perspective that was different from my community’s perspective. There is a saying that you can never go home. It does not mean that you cannot get back to where you come from, but your impression or your idea of home changes while you are away. When you go back and you see it with new eyes - it can be challenging, but really eye-opening too.