“Many things in a career happen by chance. As long as you enjoy your early career, you will have a ball.”
As Principal Specialist in Marine Protected Areas I provide technical and policy advice on all matters to do with UK and overseas Marine Protected Areas, including on designation (where MPAs are and why), and the management that MPAs get. I am also involved in scientific surveys of sites, and law associated with protection for sites.
Did you always want to be a marine biologist?
I always wanted to dive, travel and record marine life – behaviour and ecology (the interactions between species, and habitats and species), principally on coral reefs. I did this for 12 years (20-32), then got involved in policy and conservation on MPAs and building more robust structures around MPAs (enforcement, education, buy-in, regulations and well-resourced management bodies).
How did you get into this role?
Chance. Many things in a career happen by chance. The fact that I moved from an area of being a coral reef ecologist, to a coral reef conservationist, to a UK expert on MPAs and their effectiveness was not predicted. A marine biology degree that succeeded science-based A levels was my track and path into this. Then when leaving university, I used contacts, associations and hard work (for little money) to gain experience to become a useful field biologist.
What would you say was your biggest challenge getting to where you are?
Finance and contacts. The biggest challenge to a career like mine is financial. The early years can be associated with low or no-paid jobs, living out of a bag in dodgy accommodation, getting short-term contracts, and being adaptable, and resilient. A PhD is about application and determination, and often resilience. Using contacts is essential to getting places, and therefore getting ‘in’ with the best professionals helps reputation and job prospects. But as long as you enjoy your early career, you will have a ball.
What’s the best bit about your job?
Long-term results. The current satisfaction comes from the long-term results of conservation from the initial paths we try to put in place. These can be developed through pressure (legal), or by academic means (publishing important reports and papers), or by maintaining good relations with the people who impart conservation (either regulators, or resource users themselves). There is also satisfaction at a greater groundswell of people respecting the environment from our education work on litter, wildlife and fishing, that helps in the long-term with generational attitude change.
What bit of advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy. Don't be rushed. I think that some of the decisions I made in my 20s were a little rushed, and perhaps I needed to bed in and make changes closer to home before the ‘next step’. But – in hindsight, now I’m much less able to be adaptable, and to move to other countries and projects (kids at local school), so I did it when I could.
What’s your favourite sea creature?
At the moment – today, the titan triggerfish.