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Miquel Mejias: a bird in the hand

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Miquel Mejias is a prime example of a success story in never giving up on your dreams

Miquel Mejias was born in 1987, growing up in the Shelly Bay area. He is the second son of Pedro, a noted local entertainer, and Patty Ann, who was employed at the Bank of Bermuda. While his parents’ jobs kept them busy, they managed to provide a very supportive family environment for their two sons.

Miquel embraced nature from infancy, collecting insects, worms, etc, in bottles and he stored these in a shoebox under his bed. His dad remembers that when the shoebox was accidentally overturned, from time to time, the whole family would join in the “big hunt”. Another memory was of five-year-old Miquel, out in the large, neighbouring garden chasing butterflies while dressed only in rubber boots and underpants.

As a youngster, Miquel experienced a combination of genetically induced health challenges: asthma, eczema and other allergies. As he grew through primary school at Francis Patton, Miquel became self-conscious, as some fellow students teased him.

This teasing became amplified when Miquel moved on to Whitney Institute, where he spent the beginning of adolescence. This became so pronounced that his parents approached the school health visitor, Liz Boden, who with the Whitney administration did a school presentation that helped the circumstances.

While this was a challenging time for the preteen and his family, Miquel maintained his passion for nature. It was as early as age 12 that he approached the staff at the aquarium about helping at the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo and was told that the minimum age was 14. In spite of that, he simply helped when he could before becoming a formal aquarium volunteer at 14.

Joining the team of volunteers at BAMZ prepared the developing teen for a significant transformation in the trajectory of his life. This “second family” at the aquarium helped in overcoming the challenges. Negotiating that difficult period led to some anxiety. However, the BAMZ was a safe space, so Miquel’s tendency to overdo things, which on occasion produced hilarious circumstances, resulted in laughter that was at no one’s expense.

He completed CedarBridge Academy in that context, methodically building his capacity so that when he graduated to the Bermuda College, his instructor, Tracey Harney, met a student who had certain obvious qualities. Miquel was not top of the class, but always keen to fill in any gaps in his understanding of the subject matters at hand. She witnessed the evolution of this somewhat shy student, in which his basic character helped to propel his transformation.

David Wingate and Miquel Mejias with a roseate tern chick (Photograph by Lynn Thorne)

While Miquel’s earlier goal was to pursue marine science, ear problems limited his capacity for diving and he pivoted to land-based science as a mentee of David Wingate. The local icon recalls Miquel’s love for learning and willingness to overcome adversity. David recalls taking him out to tiny islets to band the legs of tern chicks and forgetting to instruct Miquel on how to keep the mothers at bay. When some adult birds seemed to attack the young man, Miquel hit his head badly on a protruding rock, but the budding scientist insisted on continuing.

Just over a decade later, Wingate considers Miquel the “second most knowledgeable” local with expertise of our island’s local and visiting birds.

David Wingate, teen exemplar and mentor to Miquel Mejias

David Wingate grew up with a passion for nature, collecting “Piggly Wigglys” — wood lice — as a three-year-old. As he grew older, he collected diverse insects, but eventually focused on birds, influenced by his older brother.

David’s nickname at Saltus Grammar School was “Bird”. He spent every spare moment either exploring or reading about birds. He began frequenting the aquarium, conversing with curator Louis Mowbray, who sparked young Wingate’s interest in the “extinct” cahow.

As a 15-year-old, he accessed a scientific paper to study the bird’s unique skeletal structure. On a comment from Mowbray, David went to Tom Moore’s jungle, selected one of the many caves and used his flashlight to search for fossilised bones.

His search bore fruit. Wingate recalls this as an epiphany, emerging from the silent darkness of the cave into the bright daylight with rich life around him. As he examined the bones and confirmed that they were those of cahows, David looked across Castle Harbour to the islets and just knew that living cahows were there.

That led him to recruit a few friends, building a canoe in which they unsuccessfully attempted to land on the islets in the harbour. Thankfully, they survived that adventure. Providence stepped in on January 28, 1951, when Mowbray telephoned David, inviting him to join him and an American couple — the Murphys — to explore the Castle Harbour islets.

Over the moon, David rushed to join the three adults on the aquarium boat. After a number of attempts in dangerous waters, they were able to clamber on to an islet and began a search. Eventually, using makeshift tools, Mowbray spotted a “suspect” in a burrow. Through on-site innovation, the bird was gently pulled out and history was made when it was confirmed to be a cahow.

That proved to a life-altering occasion for David. There and then he set as his goal to save the cahow from extinction — the rest is history.

David’s passion for the cahow played a significant role in saving our national bird. As a result, he voluntarily limited his further education, disappointing some. His youngest mentee, Miquel Mejias, recently completed his PhD, an outcome that Wingate rejoicingly sees as serving the whole.

Over that period, Miquel graduated from the Bermuda College, then completed a Bachelor of Science at Trent University before going to Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, to successfully achieve a Master of Science degree and a PhD.

Miquel has demonstrated significant agency from that challenging time as a teen and as an exemplar to young people who may feel that they are in the “out” crowd. Dr Harney reports that when she witnessed a detailed presentation of his work at the Bermuda College Science Week in 2022, it brought tears to her eyes, as she recollected the formerly overly shy student.

Miquel Mejias, PhD has gone on, notwithstanding his earlier challenges in life, to negotiate the rigours of science academia, and we hope the best for him in his career.

Rosemary Matthews is a retired deputy principal of CedarBridge Academy
Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda. He is writing here as part of a series on Young Exemplars in Agency

• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda. He is writing here as part of a series on Young Exemplars in Agency. Rosemary Matthews is a retired deputy principal of CedarBridge Academy

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Published March 20, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated March 20, 2023 at 3:03 pm)

Miquel Mejias: a bird in the hand

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