Jesse Barnaart

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When his former classmates are asked what they remember most about Jesse Barnaart (ISPP 1995-2006) the first word that usually comes to mind is “snakes.” Jesse developed a fascination with snakes at a very young age when his family lived in Bangladesh. “In our kindergarten classroom we had two snakes, a sand boa and a python. We were allowed to play with the boa during playtime. Also we would have snake charmers come by our house when we had guests and I would often play and get my pictures taken with these snakes.” After moving to Cambodia in 1995 when Jesse was about six years old, he acquired a few of his own Enhydris enhydris, otherwise known as ‘rainbow water snakes’. “I believe I got the snakes from my guard at the time. They were bought at the local market, and I think they are usually eaten. I loved to feed them fish and watch them hunt the fish.” 

Being interested in snakes, Jesse tried to pursue a zoology or animal science degree at university in his native country of the Netherlands, but failed to find a program that studied more than the European cow or pig. Jesse eventually opted for a biology track for his Bachelors of Science at University College Roosevelt (UCR) in Middleburg, Netherlands. It was during a Marine Biology course at UCR that Jesse discovered an interest for the sea. “I covered subjects such as the current whaling discussion, marine debris and plastic pollution, and issues surrounding aquaculture. During this course I came to the conclusion that this is both an interesting field and has decent job potential”.

Jesse is now a Graduate Student at the Wageningen University, Netherlands, pursuing a Masters of Science in Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management. Thinking about it more, Jesse admits that maybe he has always had an interest in fish too. He has his scuba diver certification and has always loved fishing and snorkeling. He even did his Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in high school on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia.

Jesse with his daily catch during a class trip to Norway in 2012.

Today, he is in the thick of writing his thesis on gear selectivity in Malaku, Indonesia. His research investigates whether the Kotania bay community’s choice of fishing gear has a selectivity towards a certain fish and what pressures that may cause on marine life. Jesse’s thesis is based on four months living and working in Indonesia as a research assistant from October 2012 to February 2013. “I was presented with two options by one of my teachers at university: work a statistics desk job in the North Sea or support a study on an island in Indonesia. The choice was obvious!”

During his time in Malaku, Jesse lived in basic accommodation, with no running water and limited electricity and internet connectivity, but enjoyed long days in the sun and surf. Most especially, he took pleasure in getting back to the basics with fishing: “No rods and reels, we only used handlines. We ate what we caught, which meant one less forty-five minute trip to the closest market.” Another major highlight for Jesse was to build up his amateur photography portfolio. Snapping pictures above and below the water, he documents his adventures on his own photography blog.

Getting the perfect shot in one deep breath!

Getting to enjoy the perks of conducting research in a tropical environment has not been without hard work, perseverance, and a good attitude. Today he may be getting his graduate degree at one of the world’s top universities, but he admits “In fact, I did not receive my IB diploma on my first try”. After being unsuccessful in his first attempt, Jesse committed himself to re-sitting his IB exams in Chemistry and Biology. He studied for a full year, receiving special support and encouragement from his teachers from ISPP, namely Janette Fawcett and Brian Webster, and successfully earned his IB diploma in 2007. Reflecting back on this time of his life, Jesse is grateful for having learned more about himself and what he can achieve with hard work:

“Though it’s a shame I had to realize that the hard way, I am happy I proved to myself (and to others) that I can be serious if I want to. But if it wasn’t for the people who supported me, I don’t think I would have been able to do as well as I did the second time round. I learned that it is ok to accept help when necessary and that there are people at [ISPP] who want to see you do well, and are willing to help you do so.”

While studying for his re-sit exams and before going to university, Jesse spent time training with a professional football team and worked as a sports teacher at orphanages and schools in Cambodia. From catching tadpoles in his primary years to playing every sport in high school, it’s clear that Jesse has always enjoyed being active and outdoors. However, one less known fact is that Jesse has also had his own poetry published in an anthology.

[ProfilePhotoJesseB_4] [Caption: Jesse holding up a trophy and being hoisted up by his rugby team during high school at ISPP.]

A person of many talents, there’s no telling where Jesse could end up next! For now we know that Jesse plans to graduate within the next year and wants to avoid a desk job for as long as possible. Continuing with his latest passion, he is specifically interested in pursuing sustainability labels on fish products after graduation. “Our seas and the fishery have become a hot topic in the past decade. As people become more aware of the issues that surround our current fishing industry, the demand for more sustainable seafood is increasing. We are at a pivotal point in balancing nature and man’s needs.”