An Interview with WiseOceans…Alissa B Böhm from Marine Conservation Cambodia

This week we chat to…Alissa B Böhm, IUU Fishing Lead Researcher with Marine Conservation Cambodia. Forging a career in marine conservation is hard but Alissa’s advice is not to take rejection personally – rather see it as an opportunity to grow. Also, never be afraid to ask for help.

Name: Alissa B Böhm

Job Title: IUU Fishing Lead Researcher

Organisation: Marine Conservation Cambodia

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

My goal in life always has been to change the world for the better as much as I can and without the ocean life on earth would just not be possible- that said I do have a quite broad conservation background and was generally more interested in helping the environment to help people and fighting IUU-fishing is so important for the livelihood of fishing communities in this area that I could not resist coming here.

  • What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?

I always knew I wanted to work for the greater good and wildlife already fascinated me when I was a child, but these feelings formed more towards what it is now while I was studying. During my bachelor I thought I wanted to achieve that by working on legislation and policies in Europe but soon I realized that being ground-based and working against wildlife crime offences would suit my desire to protect nature to a higher level, so I focused during my MSc. at Chester University on wildlife crime and marine ecosystems. In my opinion you can never learn enough so I stay up to date by following books and publications in my field and I am planning on following online courses and eventually another degree in either environmental law or international relations, but this is more for being better in my job than achieving any other career goals as I am really happy where I am right now. Also, a PhD sounds very appealing to me in combination with my work but this is rather far in the future at this point.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

Originally, I was applying for the position as Head Seagrass Scientist for MCC’s Seagrass Project which was actually posted on WiseOceans’ Job Board, but my boss was more triggered by my wildlife crime background as the IUU fishing issue is quite extreme in the region and together we came up with a proposal for a project which turned out to be the Marine Harvesting Networks Project which I am currently leading. But I really felt for the first time the right click with the organisation and at this point, I was really happy other applications after my bachelor did not work out as this work is just exactly what I was looking for even without knowing about its existence yet.

  • Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I love to see the direct impact we have on the improvement of the ecosystems and also the variety with my tasks. For example, even though I do not run the Seagrass Project I get the chance to brainstorm with the current leader about how we can combine our projects, helping with new methodology approaches or even data collection if I can find the time next to my own responsibilities. This gives me the opportunity to get in the water and carry out scientific diving with interns that are as fascinated as me. Also, and that might be a reason for a lot of people to pursue a career in marine conservation: I live and work in paradise! Our office is a bungalow with the most amazing sea view, we can dive every day if time allows it and for my actual data collection, I am either on a boat enjoying the sea or on viewpoints in the middle of the jungle. An advantage of working for MCC and living on this tiny island is also that we are very close to each other so basically just like a second family away from home.

  • Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

Yes for sure! Marine Conservation Cambodia is the only ground-based marine conservation organisation in the country! We see species coming back constantly, we undertake landscape-scale conservation in a very unique environment and we have a direct impact on law and legislation e.g. creating a marine protected area around the Archipelago. The Marine Harvesting Networks Project aims are more long-term but they are so important like sustaining marine ecosystems, but also the livelihood of small-scale fishermen that highly rely on a healthy marine life. That gives me motivation every day to work at my very best in fulfilling my tasks.

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  

That it is going to be hard, mistakes are the best way of learning and never take rejection personally but rather see it as a chance to grow.

  • Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

I originally did not plan to pursue a career in fieldwork so all the ecology classes and learning about a variety of field techniques really paid off! Honestly, I think everything I ever learned brought me to where I am today and therefore I never regretted any time effort that I invested in learning any type of skill and you will never know in which situation you can actually apply your skillset until you reached that point.

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Grow your network and stay connected and don’t be afraid to ask and reach out. There are always people that know more than you do 😉

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

A sea moth – check them out they are freaky.

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

It is not necessarily mind-blowing for anyone else, but my first time surveying seagrass after gaining all the knowledge and practice by myself made me very proud and also linked me to the sea for forever so I will never forget it.

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Thank you Alissa. We agree seagrass is mindblowing! There are several opportunities to join Alissa and Marine Conservation Cambodia – find out more on our Wise Work pages and get your career in marine conservation off the blocks.

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