“What do you want to be when you grow up, Macallan?” A question I always had an answer to. “I want to be an artist-biologist-animal rehabilitator-mermaid!!” I would exclaim.
And as the years passed, as much as I dreamed, hoped, and worked, I guess I never really believed that I’d be here today. A 26-year old conservation biologist living on a Caribbean Island. The ocean around every corner where I can snorkel, dive, and swim to my heart’s content!
And every time the saltwater touches my skin, inspiration strikes.
@_.macallan, St. John USVI 2021
I have always loved art. From crayons and markers to charcoal and gouache. Looking through my childhood drawings of mermaids and octopi, it was clear even back then, where my destiny lied.
As a young girl, I have always had a way with animals. I knew my passion for art wasn’t going anywhere, so when it was time to choose a path, I decided to go to college and study Conservation Biology. It’s harder to become a scientist with an art degree than an artist with a science degree, right?
Well, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I realized my niche. During my field courses learning scientific research techniques and data collection, I found my obsession with learning to identify species using my art! I would find the unique and defining characteristics of each plant, insect, fish, you name it - and be able to identify them in the wild!
My scientific journal was beautiful (if I do say so myself). I started using this skill for intricate flashcards, aids in descriptions on my exams, any chance I got to draw for science. Turns out, I have the eye for small details that help you determine if you’ve found a New York Fern or a Hay-scented Fern!
So, what was next? After this self-identifying epiphany?
Naturally, I would go off to study sloths in Costa Rica! Hardcore stuff: hiking for nine hours a night, six nights a week through the jungles chasing sloths with radio telemetry. ...Maybe “chasing” is a relative term… because (would you believe it?), taking behavioural data on two-finger sloths all night resulted in LOTS of free time in between their activities… ya know… “eating mango leaves… sleeping… scratching left leg… sleeping…” So guess what I did in my downtime? That’s right. I drew.
Always alongside my scientific journal, was my sketchbook. This exercised my artistic muscles, while also learning the jungle, the creatures, and the patience that fieldwork requires!
@macallan_durkin_art, “Sleeping Madonna.”
One of the first landscapes during research with The Sloth Institute in Manuel Antonio, Quepos, Costa Rica. The light is illuminating the sloth named Madonna who is also in the drawing. 2018
Now, I am a sea turtle field technician and a coral lab intern. Any chance I get, I am diving and snorkelling. I also volunteer with local outreach groups and work on murals to beautify the island of St Croix, while also bringing awareness to the very urgent issues regarding the ocean and the global environment.
I love to learn about the local wildlife species, on land, and at sea. I think it is important to understand the roles they play in their ecosystem as well as the role in local culture. These two aspects, I’ve found, usually have quite a large gap between them.
I am a unique scientist in the way that I can translate science into something learnable to the general public and, even better, to something as aesthetically pleasing as public art.
@_.macallan, St Croix USVI 2021
Being someone who loves to travel and immerse myself in new cultures, it has always been hard to know where in the world I belong. But after spending the last two years living on St. Croix, this mermaid has finally found her home range and ideal environment.
It has been very rewarding exploring new corners of life. With lots to learn in the marine science world and a community that celebrates my art, I could get used to this beautiful island life while also making a difference in conservation.
Below are a few of my illustrations!
@macallan_durkin_art “Eagle Ray” 2021
@macallan_durkin_art “Pseudodiplora strigosa” 2021
@macallan_durkin_art “cephalopod” 2021
@macallan_durkin_art “trunkfish #2” 2021
Written by Macallan Durkin