The first few weeks at HFF; Hi I'm AJ!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020 - 7:30am


AJ Mabaka

My name is A.J. Mabaka and I’m a rising junior at Washington and Lee University (W&L), majoring in Environmental studies with a focus on water resources. I was born in Libreville, Gabon and moved to the U.S. when I was 3, then grew up in Long Island/Westchester, New York. Growing up near the beach naturally led to my development of profound interest in the ocean, relationships between marine organisms, and a deep passion for recreational activities such as fishing, crabbing, and clamming. (I actually wrote my college essay about clamming!) Nevertheless, in high school I was fortunate enough to be a Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology intern in the Gobler lab at Stony Brook’s Marine Science Center. My experiences working in the Gobler lab truly nurtured my genuine interest and passion for biology, ecology, and conservation/ management of ecosystems, especially since much of the research was conducted in bays and waterways near home that I frequently enjoyed for recreational activities.  

Fast forwarding to freshman year at W&L, I took a fisheries management course that cemented my interest in studies of fisheries/greater ecosystem conservation and management. Thus, when I saw a flyer that mentioned working at the Henry’s Fork in Idaho doing research on trout in streams, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic! The serendipitous transition to online has been phenomenal and as Zack and the other interns have mentioned, our first two weeks were focused on hydrology and data analysis classes including learning modeling programs. All of which has proven quite beneficial and guiding as we each have begun to delve into our independent projects with our respective mentors. My mentor is PhD candidate Jack McLaren and we intend to assess how different variables of the river (rate of flow, temperature, prey availability, etc.) affect target trout species within the Upper Henry’s Fork River (from Big Springs to Island Park Dam). I am really excited to begin our actual research and wish that I could be alongside Jack collecting data in Ashton. 

Nevertheless, as the weeks continue to fly by, the readings and research have naturally been sparking my interest in freshwater fisheries. One particularly memorable experience that has led to this was an article Jack sent me that talked about the sheer lack of fish diversity in freshwater ecosystems and how so many different lakes, rivers, and other fresh bodies of water can have many of the same fish species. Being raised and spending nearly all my life on the East coast, much of my interaction with the environment has been more of a marine setting. However, the unique complexity of freshwater ecosystems and learning about the hydrologic processes that affect and are part of fish’s natural evolution/life history has been absolutely and genuinely fascinating! 



Doing scuba research on declining corals in Ambergris Caye, Belize.  


Sunset from the sand dunes in Hampton Bays, New York. 


Canoeing the boundary waters in Minnesota on a Voyageur Outward Bounds trip. 


Hiking Cotopaxi volcano in Quito, Ecuador!