An Interview with WiseOceans…Andrea Marshall from Marine Megafauna Foundation
This week we chat to Andrea Marshall, the Queen of Mantas! Andrea has worked across the globe protecting manta rays and her advice is to work to your strengths – if you do something you love, you will go really far.
Name: Andrea Marshall
Job Title: Co-founder, Principal Scientist for the Global Manta Ray Program
Organisation: Marine Megafauna Foundation & Queen of Mantas
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing in particular that made me want to pursue a career in marine conservation because it truly is something I’ve always been passionate about. Even as young as five I was fascinated by sharks and the ocean and wanted to learn more about them. I’ve never wavered in my passion for the underwater world so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve wanted to work in marine conservation my whole life.
What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
To get into marine conservation, I studied biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, (UCSB) before getting my Masters at the University of Queensland, Australia, and then moved to Africa to do my PhD work aged 23. I’ve had to learn a lot of different things for my projects and I’m always learning new skills!
How did you land your current job/position?
I originally came to Mozambique to help with some exploratory dive expeditions and I was so blown away by the manta rays and other marine life here that I decided to stay and do my research here. Deciding to study manta rays has changed the course of my life and has led me to where I am today: working tirelessly for the protection of manta rays globally.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
It would have to be the fieldwork. While it’s challenging – you will spend long days out on the boat undertaking physically demanding work – it’s also really rewarding. The days when the ocean is my “office” are just amazing. I feel so at home underwater and there’s nothing like interacting with a graceful manta ray.
Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
I’m proud to say that I’ve been involved with local, national and international policies that have truly made a difference in manta ray conservation. Eight years after being forced to list manta rays as “data deficient” on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, I gained enough information from two additional assessments to show that manta rays were a vulnerable species. This listing eventually led to a heightened management of these giant rays globally. I was also involved in listing manta rays on the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which are two of the most important global conservation treaties for wildlife.
I’ve also made it my mission to raise global awareness of the plight of this amazing species and inspiring people around the world to work towards manta ray conservation. When 2.8 million people tuned into the BBC documentary “Andrea: Queen of Mantas”, I was so proud to know there was such a huge, captive audience interested in learning about mantas and how we can protect them.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That it’s OK not to be able to focus on everything. There is so much to be done to conserve manta rays that it’s tempting to try to spread yourself too thin by trying to do everything. But, over time, I’ve learned that it’s better to focus on doing something right rather than trying to have too broad an impact and not being able to achieve everything you set out to.
Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Yes, lots actually! When you start out in marine conservation it’s easy to think that your sole focus will be on fieldwork – but there’s so much more involved. I’ve had to undergo advanced 4×4 training and develop strong negotiation skills – not to mention having to learn or at least be able to understand a huge number of different languages as I spend so much time travelling all over the world.
What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Work to your strengths – if you do something you love, you will go really far. When things get tough, it’s my passion for marine conservation that keeps me going and makes me want to strive to succeed whatever the obstacles.
What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Manta rays, of course. Growing up I was actually always passionate about sharks but, while I still love sharks, when I started to learn about mantas I fell in love with them so quickly. They’re so elegant, intelligent and curious. There really is no experience like diving with a manta ray and having them swim over to you, check you out and even play with you. For anyone who hasn’t dived with a manta, I highly recommend it – it’s a fabulous experience.
What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
There are so many to choose from but I would say the most incredible experiences I’ve had are when rescuing mantas that have become entangled in fishing line. When this happens, unlike other animals who protect themselves by running away from humans when wounded, mantas will actually swim more slowly around us or even come up to us. It’s as if they’re asking us for help. It’s amazing to see such tolerance from them and often when you remove the net or fishing gear, they’ll still hang around you afterwards as if to thank you.
Thanks Andrea, what an incredible insight into manta ray conservation and all your incredible work at Marine Megafauna Foundation.
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