Can you share a bit about your background and journey in becoming a marine scientist?
Since as long as I can remember wellies were the footwear of choice, and I am proud to say not much has really changed, except maybe slightly longer wellies in the form of waders (key fieldwork kit for a marine scientist)! I’ve always been fascinated and immersed in the natural world and growing up it cemented my interests in pursuing studies in Geography, I gained my BSc in Geography at Aberystwyth University followed by my MRes in Environmental dynamics and Climatic Change at Swansea University. Working in a disciplinary research team at Swansea University (Marine Biology and Geography) gave me incredible insight to the world of Marine Biology and I found that my skills were very much needed, but also transferable, in this field, and I made the gradual shift from geography into Marine Biology, learning and re-training along the way, and I am so glad that I did!
Can you tell us about your current research projects or areas of focus in marine science?
Currently my research is focussed on UK seagrass restoration; Seagrass (or eelgrass) is the world’s only true marine flowering plant and in the last decade we’ve lost around 90% of this important coastal and marine habitat in the UK. I’m currently the Seagrass restoration lead for The Solent and Isle of Wight for Swansea University and Project Seagrass, a global environmental charity aimed at restoring, protecting, and conserving the world’s seagrass and its associated marine habitats. My job is incredibly varied; one day I could be snorkelling and harvesting seagrass seeds, from undertaking in-field experimental and scientific seagrass planting trials to another day presenting my research at an international conference.
Scientific research as well as public knowledge on seagrass (Zostera marina and Zostera nolteii) is limited, although I’m glad to share in recent years its receiving increasing amounts of attention, both in research and in media, and the benefits it brings to our world. This has driven me to pursue a PhD alongside my job which I’m currently studying to uncover some of the unanswered questions surrounding this fascinating marine habitat.
I also work on a scientific project tagging Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABT) through catch and release practices during the late summer months through autumn in Welsh waters. The programme allows us to understand the migratory pattern and populations of ABT in our waters but also support sustainable management of this species. Being involved in a study of this kind, to be in the depths of the Celtic Sea and see these apex predators up close, whilst also teaching anglers the best and safest ways to record this data is truly remarkable.
A couple of times a year, as a JNCC surveyor and instructor for Voluntary Seabirds at Sea (VSAS), I teach theory and boat practical sessions for others wanting to contribute towards this important UK seabird monitoring scheme. Seabird population data gives us incredibly important information to understand changes in the natural environment and to manage and protect seabirds - evident in the recent government ban on sandeel fishing in Scottish and English waters from 2024. Sand eels are an important food source for many marine species particularly seabirds such as the Atlantic puffin, one of my favourite seabirds with their charismatic nature! This governmental protection will allow a lifeline for many marine species and seabird populations to recover and thrive.
Could you share a memorable experience from your time spent studying marine life or working in the field? How has that shaped your perspective on the importance of ocean conservation?
I am lucky that I regularly experience incredible encounters and events, and choosing a couple to share is quite difficult. An ongoing highlight that consistently surprises me is when I’m planting seagrass seeds or seagrass plants in a bare intertidal or subtidal sediment and return the following year to find it’s become a home and habitat for so many juvenile fish, such as Atlantic cod, pollock and sea bass, crustaceans and gastropods, and netted dog whelk eggs neatly lining blades of seagrass. Seeing the seeds grow from seedlings to an extensive seagrass meadow and find it teaming with life the way it should be, is extremely rewarding and makes the hard work worthwhile.
Snorkelling with blue sharks was also a ‘pinch me’ moment and moment of realisation that the importance of marine conservation is so much bigger than us as humans, which I believe can only be strengthened by seeing it with your own eyes.
With the demands of your busy and varied job as a marine scientist, how do you prioritise maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle?
My job is incredibly active and demands a certain level of fitness to be able to carry out the day-to-day activities, particularly on long fieldwork trips, which is an aspect as a marine scientist I really enjoy.
It can be tricky to balance professional commitments with personal well-being, but I believe that eating nourishing and healthy food, keeping well hydrated, and getting good quality sleep are vitally important to looking after yourself and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I always take time out to do a Pilates class or head to the gym a few times a week as I find that it helps both restore my mind and body.
I also have a cheeky cockapoo called Bertie who also likes to keep me on my toes, so long woodland or beach walks are always a non-negotiable part of my daily habits.
For those aspiring to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you offer?
I believe a conservation and passionate mindset is key for pursuing a career in marine science, understanding that your research and actions make up part of the larger picture for the natural environment and act as a reminder as to why you undertake the work you do. This is important because sometimes the environmental benefits of the work are not always immediately apparent or take some time to emerge.
When students, interns, or younger people ask my advice, I always say to take any opportunities that come your way; it can sometimes show your strengths and weaknesses, aspects you enjoy, or dislike, and you can learn about what you are truly passionate about.