An Interview with WiseOceans… Cliff Benson from Sea Trust
This week we chat to Sea Trust Director Cliff Benson. Cliff has a wealth of experience and a passion for protecting the marine life of the Pembrokeshire Coast.
Name: Cliff Benson
Job Title: Director
Organisation: Sea Trust CIC
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
It was the “Sea Empress” oil tanker that spewed out thousands of tons of oil on the Pembrokeshire Coast, twenty years ago. I realised there was a need for local expertise and knowledge, a need for local people to take responsibility for their marine environment and its wildlife.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I had always been a Wildlife Trust supporter and so I started Sea Trust as a marine section of the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales. After a few years, we reformed as a not for profit Community Interest Company, thereby keeping our local identity.
- How did you land your current job?
I suppose I created it by starting Sea Trust, that is if you can call it a job! Most of the time I work for nothing although now we do employ two people, one full time and one part time.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I guess it’s finding out about and raising awareness of the incredible but poorly understood wildlife here (Pembrokeshire Wales), literally on our doorstep. From great whales to our enigmatic little porpoises, I just love it when someone sees a whale, dolphin or a porpoise for the first time!
- Are there aspects of your role which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
I live in hope and the support we get from our volunteers and supporters keeps us going. A couple of years ago we took BBC TV’s “One Show” presenter Mike Dilger out to see a super-pod of over a thousand common dolphins. Mike was over the moon at the spectacle and raved about it in front of the cameras as the dolphins played all around the boat as far as you could see. Many had small calves and millions of viewers saw them. What more can you do in terms of awareness raising?
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I am glad I didn’t know lots of things as it might have discouraged me!
- Are there any skills you didn’t think you would need but did?
Knowing how to use computers and technology! When I started getting involved in conservation the essentials were some binoculars and a notebook to make notes and sketches. Like most things technology has revolutionized our ability to see and record wildlife particularly marine wildlife. At Sea Trust, we are now able to get photographs of porpoise fins, up to a mile away and are proving that they are at least semi resident. Our paper records are now converted into GIS maps and can be analysed at the push of a button.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Get enthused, get out in the field and study wildlife, make notes, take photographs, use the fantastic resources available on the internet. Volunteer with people like us, you never know it might even lead to a job and as career!
- Which is your favourite marine creature and why?
That’s hard to say, there are so many! I am very fond of Octopuses but if I am honest it’s cetaceans that do it for me! I have been lucky enough to have had close encounters with Fin Whales seen Humpbacks repeatedly breaching and had bowriding dolphins almost bouncing off my feet but at the end of the day it’s those enigmatic little Harbour Porpoises that fascinate me!
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Being surrounded by feeding Fin Whales out in a small boat in the Celtic Sea. One started coming towards our boat and at the last-minute dived beneath us! That’s what I call really rocking the boat!
Thanks Cliff, great advice; get enthused, get out in the field and study wildlife.
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