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Ocean focused

International student collects a Memorial master's degree – for the second time

special feature: Class of 2021

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.


By Kelly Foss

When Mostafa El Halimi’s brother convinced him to move to Canada with him to continue their education, he knew exactly where he wanted to go.

As part of his undergraduate studies in Agadir, Morocco, he developed a love of the ocean while completing a bachelor of maritime studies with a specialization in fisheries at L’Institut Supérieur des Pêches Maritimes.

He also spent more than a year at sea working on board multiple vessels and completed mandatory work terms with the Moroccan fisheries department, monitoring fisheries activity in Tangier region where the Mediterranean Sea connects with the Atlantic Ocean.

“I knew when I came to Canada that I was going to study something related to the ocean, because it had become a lifestyle to me,” said Mr. El Halimi, who graduates with a master in environmental science degree this spring.

“When I began looking for ocean-related programs, I discovered the Marine Institute and saw YouTube videos of people talking about Memorial University, and what a great experience it was.”

Starting from scratch

In 2017 he enrolled in the Marine Institute’s master of marine studies (MMS) degree program, specializing in marine spatial planning and management. Mr. El Halimi completed his degree in spring 2019.

“It was challenging because when I came to Memorial, I didn’t know English at all,” he said. “My bachelor’s degree was in French, so I basically started from scratch – with English as a Second Language courses.”

“Geoff Coughlan, the academic director of the MMS program, helped me a lot. He always provided constructive feedback on my assignments and helped me secure an amazing internship.”

The position was marine planning intern with the Council of the Haida Nation in British Columbia.

“That was a very good experience,” he said. “I got to know a lot of people and discover an entirely new culture.”

Building on his skills

However, Mr. El Halimi wanted to continue his learning while improving his English speaking and writing skills to better prepare himself to enter the job market.

So, he returned to Memorial for a second master’s degree. The master’s degree in environmental science is an interdisciplinary program in the Faculty of Science.

“I knew I would get all the support I needed.” — Mostafa El Halimi

“I decided to do a second master’s at Memorial because the professors were very helpful and I really enjoyed the environment and the students,” he said. “I knew I would get all the support I needed.”

Under the supervision of Dr. Iain McGaw in the Department of Ocean Sciences, Mr. El Halimi completed a research project focused on assessing the environmental impacts of oil spills from marine shipping activities in Northern Labrador.

“Dr. McGaw paid a lot of attention to the small details, so when I submitted my report, I didn’t receive any revisions,” he said.

“That meant it was a good paper and I was very happy about that. In fact, Dr. McGaw recently asked me if I would be interested in turning my thesis report into a peer-reviewed article.”

Right place, right time

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Mr. El Halimi had trouble finding a internship, as was required by his program.

“A friend told me about a professor who was hiring students to do research. I applied and ended up working with Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee as a research assistant on Too Big to Ignore, for the Unpacking Legal and Policy Frameworks: A Step Ahead for Implementing the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines project.”

When Dr. Chuenpagdee found out he was unable to find an internship, she offered him one. As part of his work with her, Mr. El Halimi was asked to help write two book chapters.

One has already been accepted for publication, and the second is currently in the research phase with writing scheduled to begin in June.

He also co-authored a peer-reviewed article with Dr. Chuenpagdee and Julia Nakamura, a PhD candidate at the University of Strathclyde in the U.K., and an international legal expert with the Development Law Service of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO is a specialized agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.

Future security

Mr. El Halimi recently secured a position with the HQ Internship Programme of the FAO; he began in his new role this month.

“What I understand from the process is that the internship could turn into a consultancy position in the near future. So, the pandemic, ironically, was very good for me.”


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