An Interview with WiseOceans… Christophe Mason Parker from GVI
His many years of experience provides a great insight into getting your dream career. His advice is to gain a solid foundation across various areas including education, management, policy and research. Having a broader skill set can increase your chances of focusing on your particular interest when the right position becomes available.
Name: Christophe Mason Parker
Job Title: Regional Director of Africa and Europe
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
As a young boy growing up in Hong Kong, the ocean always fascinated me. I spent many happy weekends searching through rock pools at the seaside, where I was always amazed by the diversity of marine life trapped by the receding tide. I was a bit of ‘fish nerd’ at a young age and used to buy field guides to learn the names of the coral reef fish. Not much has changed.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I studied Aquatic Biology at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, before eventually deciding to leave the UK in search of warmer waters, where I could learn to dive and gain experience in tropical coral reef research. I decided to join a volunteer program in the Philippines where I spent 3 months learning coral reef monitoring techniques. I was immediately hooked and made the conscious decision not to return to the UK anytime soon. In order to increase my employability I completed various courses such as the PADI Dive Master, EFR Instructor and RYA II powerboat, and twelve years later I am still living and working overseas.
I started working with GVI as field staff on their Marine Conservation Expedition in Mexico back in 2009. A year later I transferred to their marine project in Seychelles, before taking on the role of Country Director responsible for all of the Seychelles in-country operations, and subsequently Regional Director for Africa and Europe. GVI are a fantastic organisation to work for and with so many projects around the world there are plenty of opportunities for staff looking to advance their careers.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy the variety that my current role offers, as no two days are the same. One day I might be talking to partner organisations about a new research proposal, and the next day I can be visiting one of our expedition bases to see how the programs are running. I have the opportunity to meet people with different backgrounds, from all over the world and it is really inspiring to see how committed many of them are to helping to make the world a better place.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Yes every day. The work that GVI is undertaking around the world is helping to protect endangered species and critical habitats. The data collected by our volunteers is being used for research that is improving our understanding of marine and coastal ecology, while simultaneously improving our volunteers’ employability and access to higher education. In addition we are striving to build in-country capacity by providing training for our local counterparts.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I had known how competitive the conservation sector is and what opportunities were out there. Marine conservation is a very broad subject and includes education, research, management, policy and many other specialisations. By gaining a solid foundation across the various areas, you can increase your chances of focusing on your particular interest when the right position becomes available.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
My role is a multidisciplinary one and I never anticipated needing many of the skills that I use today. I am still learning all the time and I believe the key to being a success is to keep developing and improving your skills and knowledge.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Keep yourself up to date with the latest developments as far as marine conservation is concerned. The sector is constantly evolving and it pays to be informed as much as possible. Most of all, my advice would be to go out there and make it happen. A lot of people are held back by the fear of failure, but you can’t succeed at something if you don’t give it a try in the first place. Take a chance, make connections with people in the marine conservation community and most importantly, don’t give up!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
This is such a difficult question as the oceans are home to so many amazing marine creatures. I suppose if I have to choose, I would say marine turtles. These incredible animals have been around for millions of years. They spend most of their life at sea with the females only coming ashore to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, three of the seven species of marine turtle are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’, which is one of the reasons why I helped set up the Sea Turtle Friends Seychelles, an NGO looking to provide education and promote awareness of issues surrounding sea turtle conservation.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
I always think the most unforgettable moments in the ocean tend to be those that are completely unexpected, unlike say going on a shark dive to see a particular species of shark. The memory that sticks in my mind more than any other, is one of the many times I was snorkelling within the Baie Ternay Marine National Park on Mahé Island in Seychelles. I had been snorkelling alone over the reef when a manta ray approached me out of nowhere (it is rare to see mantas in the Seychelles inner islands). The manta spent the next ten minutes swimming right alongside me. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Check out some of my experiences by visiting my website here.
Thank you Christophe, for an incredible interview detailing your journey to getting your dream career. Why not start your own journey to your future career by signing up for a GVI expedition today to gain experience in marine conservation?
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