This summer, I went on a month-long expedition to a marine research and education facility in remote Indonesia with Operation Wallacea. Scuba diving has been a passion of mine for many years now and I wanted to experience life as a marine biologist to explore whether this was a career path I wished to pursue further.
During the first week, we were given an intensive course in reef survey techniques in preparation for our involvement in data gathering. A typical day consisted of two training dives interspersed with three hour-long lectures. Once we had all passed the practical and theoretical exams at the end of week one’s intensive training course, the volunteer group was split between the two onsite research projects: the Global FinPrint Project and local reef monitoring. I was involved initially with local reef surveying; the dataset we contributed to is being used to consolidate appeals to local Government officials to ban harmful local fishing methods (e.g. dynamite fishing – we heard a few of these blasts go off around us during dives) which are causing a statistically significant decline in the diversity of local marine ecosystems. The rest of my time was spent on boats deploying baited cameras to capture footage – which we would also later analyse – of local Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays). This data was going towards FinPrint, the largest global shark and ray survey to date.
Before departing for the expedition, I was worried that I would be under-qualified for this research as – having just graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Psychology – I had no prior experience in marine biology research. But, upon arrival at the research facility, this worry was quickly dismissed as I met many inspiring scientists, educators and students with different skills and at different stages in their lives and careers but all united in our passion for the underwater world. Through time spent learning their stories and the paths that lead them, always, back to the sea, I learnt about my own values by seeing them so authentically reflected in those around me. These interactions helped me realise, not just the epic scale of the threats facing today’s oceans, but my personal wish to contribute to the crucial solutions needed to – very quickly – resolve these huge problems. Marine scientists and their research are crucial components to such solutions, but learning about the complexities and scale of these manmade problems opened my mind to the plethora of other ways in which we can all be involved in making a significant change (e.g. filmmakers, teachers, philanthropists). Given my qualifications and experience, I have returned from this trip with a fresh determination to explore how my skillset can be most efficiently applied to creating effective solutions to oceanic problems and, ultimately, to make the world a better place for my having been in it.