Emma Forbes

Many incredible people have passed through the VACorps internship program since we first hosted interns in 2006. “Oh the places you’ll go” is a series where our alumni share updates about their careers and life accomplishments. In this latest post, Emma Forbes writes to us from paradise in Hawaii. Emma participated in a marine conservation internship in 2012. In addition to being a very talented marine biologist, Emma has always embraced a work-hard, play-hard attitude that continues to drive her success (with a smile on her face)!  

Since leaving my heart in Cape Town, I have since found adventures elsewhere while I bide my time until I can return. I have found myself in graduate school at Hawaii Pacific University working at the Oceanic Institute, which is currently one of the leaders in marine ornamental aquaculture research. My job here gives me the opportunity to work in many different niches. I am involved in the culture of Pacific Threadfin, Mullet, various clown fish species, flame angelfish, yellow tang, as well as the culturing of phytoplankton and algae. I am also involved in DNA and microsatellite work with the shrimp hatchery and monitoring the genetic variation of our shrimp broodstock to guarantee genetic diversity within the population.

Emma Forbes in Hawaii

Emma tagging a juvenile pacific thread fin (while wearing a VAC tee shirt).

The research for my thesis however is to establish the bacterial community present in the live feed (copepods) and the larval fish gut. Hopefully, with this information we can gain insight into the micro flora of the larval gut and improve larval survival.  The eventual goal is to complete the life cycle of the yellow tang, and help reduce pressure on the wild population being removed from the reefs of Hawaii for the aquarium trade.

Emma Forbes during her thesis research

Emma’s first thesis algae experiment. She was really excited.


Upon graduating (hopefully soon) I am looking to continue in the world of aquaculture and help create viable opportunities for fisheries, and remove pressure on decreasing wild populations. With luck, in ten years I will be working on the completion of the Bluefin tuna life cycle and the application of commercially cultured tuna as a means of supplying the world with a more eco-friendly and economical option of tuna. However, one step at a time!

I will tell you, without my internship with VAC I would not be where I am today and everything you just read would be a tall tale I created. My internship gave me so much as a person, a scientist, and as a traveler. While in Cape Town, I was given the opportunity to intern at the Two Oceans Aquarium. There I was given responsibility and was accepted as a trusted part of the team. Any given day would start out with cleaning tanks, while babysitting the penguins, then the afternoon feeds and making sure the turtle was properly sight trained. I looked forward to going in every morning and usually had to be told to go home at the end of the day. My internship taught me to trust my knowledge and skill set and to truly take pride in my work. Confidence and a good work ethic get you farther in life then you know. I will forever be thankful the VAC team and the Two Oceans Aquarium for giving me so much that I can’t even put it all into words.

Emma Forbes

On March 1, 2015, Emma participated in a swim across the Auau channel from Maui Island to Lanai Island. The total journey covered a distance of 13.2 miles and took about 6 hours to complete!

I will say this much, I miss Cape Town everyday. It’s taking me longer to make my back then anticipated but I will get there. And for those who are debating about traveling to South Africa and interning through VAC. Just do it. Inhale really deep, and go. I promise you will have no regrets. Everyone once in a while you are presented an opportunity you can’t pass up, though it may be a bit scary. This is that opportunity. Trust me, a stranger reading this on a computer, this will take you places you never thought you’d go to and open doors you didn’t even know existed. Just go.