An Interview with WiseOceans…Ben Taylor from WiseOceans
This week we talk to our very own Ben Taylor, Manager of WiseOceans Seychelles. Ben describes his experience that has led him to work with us at WiseOceans and has lots of practical (and inspirational) advice for those looking for a career in marine conservation.
Name: Ben Taylor
Job Title: Manager of WiseOceans Seychelles
Organisation: WiseOceans Seychelles
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
As a kid, every chance I could I went rock pooling. I loved it and found nothing more fascinating than discovering all the marine life that lived in these small ecosystems. Especially crabs. Hence my family would say I have always had a passion for the oceans and destined to be a marine biologist. However, it wasn’t until I was 17 that I myself knew I wanted to be a marine biologist after I enrolled on a marine biology field course as part of my applied science A-levels. As part of the field course, we conducted rocky shore surveys, where I found a chiton and my science teacher, the remarkable Sue Tyzack, became so passionate and excited about the discovery, telling the group all of its biology, like what it was and what it was doing! In that moment I felt so engaged and inspired, wanting to learn more not only about chitons, but the ocean in general, that is when I first looked into careers in the marine environment. I still to this day, I am very grateful to Sue for her inspiration and whenever I get the opportunity to teach or engage in outreach, I always try to take that same enthusiasm and passion in the hope that I can do as she did, and inspire future marine biologists or conservationists.
What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I did a BSc in Marine and Freshwater biology at Aberystwyth University and two years later did my MSc in International Marine Environmental Consultancy at Newcastle University. Both were fantastic courses and gave me a great foundation for a career in the marine field. During, before and after university, I volunteered, I read, I took any opportunity and any experience offered, anything was a chance to learn, no matter how much work was involved I always gave it a go. At college, I worked as a volunteer park ranger in Deep Hayes Country Park, which gave me my first opportunity to gain experience in conservation and I learnt about aspects such as British terrestrial flora & fauna, day to day running of a country park, park maintenance, invasive species and breeding programmes.
One of my key experiences was working as an Environmental Educator at the Burton 4-H centre on Tybee Island, USA, which was an incredible experience, including teaching, giving talks at public outreach events, tour guiding, animal husbandry (for snakes, alligators, sharks, turtles, tortoises, lizards) as well as being responsible for curating and maintaining the aquarium. This position gave me such a wide variety of experiences and developed many new skills, but it also developed my incredible passion for science and the marine environment. I also volunteered in Cape Verde for a turtle conservation project, where I worked with tourists and local people to raise awareness and to generate funds needed continue and support the NGOs conservation efforts. After my undergraduate, I took several EIA training courses, which I felt was lacking from my undergraduate course. After one specific training course I was so motivated and wanted to try, I threw myself into the deep end and volunteered for the Staffordshire County Council, conducting phase 1 surveys of local parks, which was like a self taught apprenticeship and learning on the job. It was incredibly challenging but also very rewarding, and who knew there were so many different species of grass in England, and that their compositions can tell so much about the environment! Another really important step in my career was during my master’s thesis, where along with three other colleagues we worked as consultants in Saudi Arabia. We planned, developed and implemented a consultancy project, which assessed the impact of a large aquaculture facility onto the nearby coral reefs, using visual reef censuses and stable isotopic analysis. Which was an incredible experience through which I learnt so much!
There was also non-conservation related work experience that were important steps to achieving a career in the marine environment, none more so than football refereeing. I refereed for over 5 years, which some may say is easy just a bit of fun, running around on the grass, but I would say every match was more like an intensive leadership and team work training programme, that specialised in working under pressure. I feel that being a referee whilst I was young really shaped me and I find the skills still help me today 10 years on. All my previous roles, even the ones that I haven’t mentioned alongside my university education, were fundamental to my career in the marine environment and all in someway have given me skills that are so useful to me now. I really try to push myself to keep challenging myself to achieve more, do better for the marine environment and I believe that this is one of the most important steps to achieving your goals.
How did you land your current job/position?
I previously worked at GVI on their Marine Expedition at Cap Ternay, which gave me a great introduction to Seychelles marine life and the opportunity to start building a network within the scientific and NGO community in Seychelles. With this in mind and the fact that I really fell in love with Seychelles and saw there was a scope to do more, I made up my mind that I wanted to stay, I just needed the right opportunity. I had been using the WiseOceans website for the previous 2+ years, checking the job postings on a near weekly basis and through the website, from which I found my previous position at GVI. So, when I saw that there was a job opening on for WiseOceans on the WiseOceans website I knew I had to apply. The position was for Manager of WiseOceans Seychelles, reading through the job description I felt I had nearly all the experience and skills required for the position, and the skills and experience I was lacking or had limited experience in, were all areas I really wanted to develop myself in. Hence, I applied, had the interview and the rest is history.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Toughie, a lot really, I like the networking, I like the development of projects and the project implementation. If I had to choose one thing it would be the engagement, interacting with all stakeholders, the public, private sector and government, understanding their points of view, understanding where they are coming from, the complexity of issues and how things are interlinked. In my previous roles, I focused more on a specific aspect such as the scientific part or on the outreach aspect, whereas in my current role I am getting this holistic overview of Seychelles and engaging with all stakeholders for a true on the ground in-country experience, which I love and I am very thankful for. There is still so much to learn and so much more to experience, but I feel that already being in this position for 1 year has taught me so much and given me great experiences. I am excited to see what we can achieve in the future.
Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Definitely, especially in a country with a small population like Seychelles, you very easily get recognition and feel that you are making a difference. However, I would say I get the “making a difference” feeling the most, when I receive phone calls from teachers asking me for help with a marine education topic, I believe that just being able to support teachers in Seychelles is a real sense of ‘making a difference’. They are the ones who are raising the future generations of this world so by supporting them, giving them the resources to instil the right values into the youth, we are really “making a difference” for the future of Seychelles. I am currently working on a programme which will deliver marine education lessons to schools on the main island of Mahé for both students and teachers. I really hope this programme makes a real lasting difference and we are already seeing some of the positive responses towards the programme.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
My answer is also closely linked to the advice question. For me as a person with dyslexia, I used to feel useless or that I would never be good at any job. Even though I loved science and felt academically capable, my writing would often let me down. Over time, I have since learnt to embrace my weaknesses and try to work around them whilst also trying to continuously tackle and improve on them. I would tell myself, instead of telling yourself what you cannot do, focus on your strengths, what are you good at, then try to find a job which amplifies your strengths. This is not to say if you are not so good at math, pick a job with no math elements, because no matter what your strengths or weakness are, as you climb the professional ladder you will most likely encounter a project or responsibility where you would need to face these elements that you are lacking. For this reason, keep challenging yourself, take opportunities that push you and put you out of your comfort zone, this is the way we grow professionally. Furthermore, be highly motivated and passionate, ability is great but without these two things alongside a hard work ethic, you won’t be half as successful as others.
Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
I wouldn’t say so, but skills such as negotiation, diplomacy, ability to work under pressure and being concise are very useful skills that may not be so obvious. Very specific insight here, but I have learnt through my own experience, if you are going into a career with field work or experiments, you can be prepared for everything, but there will always be an unexpected problem or something that pops up that was not anticipated, and the best skills in these moments is the ability to be flexible, reactive, resourceful and adaptable, whilst keeping a calm head and of course it always helps if you have good humour.
What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Get as much experience as you can, every experience counts. But also relating to the previous answers, believe in yourself, you can do great things if you work hard and are motivated. I have learnt more about my strengths over time, but I have also learnt and better understand my weaknesses. The more you learn, the more you realise that is there so much more to learn, don’t be frustrated by this, use it more as great motivation to keep on learning. Keep reading, stay up to date with environmental news, enrol on free online courses, attend conferences, public workshops and keep networking.
What is your favourite marine creature and why?
This changes on a daily basis, but when I’m teaching I would say an orca, but unfortunately, I have never seen one in the wild. Although this is one of my dreams! So, from my own experience, it would have to be squid. I love how they interact and have such complex behaviours. Whilst conducting a coral survey, I was lucky enough to observe a group of approximately 300 squid mating on the reef for about 40 minutes and it was the most incredible experience and my favourite SCUBA dive to date. Watching them interact with each other, tussle over mating partners and even how they react in advance, as one unit, to an incoming predator, which was not even visible to the human eye, was truly remarkable.
What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Very difficult question. Excluding the squid dive, my next best memory would have to be watching dolphins in Georgia (USA) hunting. Where the dolphins work as a team and through a series of coordinated manoeuvres caused the prey to be washed up and stranded on the banks of the salt marshes. I only got to see this amazing display of animal behaviour a handful of times but it was a truly incredible sight and something I will always remember.
Thanks Ben, for this amazing insight into both your journey to WiseOceans and the amazing work undertaken in Seychelles. We agree that staying up to date with environmental news and publications will help boost your employability skills and knowledge. Why not check out our Facebook and Twitter pages, where we regularly post current news articles and job opportunities.
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