An Interview with WiseOceans… Daniel Fernando from Blue Resources Trust
There are so many different careers within marine conservation from surveying, data collection, consultancy, diving and much more. We’ve been lucky enough to chat to Daniel who’s work among other things has involved developing policy and legislation to further the conservation of elasmobranchs and includes representing the Government of Sri Lanka at international conservation conventions.
Name: Daniel Fernando
Job Title: Co-Founder of Blue Resources Trust; Associate Director of The Manta Trust
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I always had an interest in the marine environment, however the turning point for me was when I started scuba diving in the Maldives. It was at this moment that I decided to do something marine related, whether it be becoming a dive instructor or a marine biologist. It also did help that I saw quite a few manta rays and sharks during my first few dives which probably subconsciously led me to study and conserve these species.
What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I suppose I could answer this better once I know what my career goals are! Right now I am keen on improving national and global protections for sharks and rays, and encouraging other Sri Lankans to study the marine environment. In order to accomplish these two goals, I have helped establish a marine research and consultancy organisation in Sri Lanka called Blue Resources Trust. On a national level, we act as a research platform aiding students and researchers to study the marine environment while providing them with assistance to develop their career. On an international level, we play a role along with partner organisations such as The Manta Trust, in developing policy and legislation to further the conservation of elasmobranchs. This also includes my role as an advisor to the Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife of Sri Lanka which includes representing the Government of Sri Lanka at international conservation conventions such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and CMS (Convention of Migratory Species).
- How did you land your current job/position?
Being in the right place at the right time? Well that and also having a keen interest in my subject (sharks and rays), taking the initiative to do more than what is required or expected, and always ready to learn something new and different! And perhaps the most important tip – maintain a large network of contacts all across the world.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
There are two aspects I enjoy the most – the first is certainly spending time collecting data in the field whether it be at a fish market or out at sea. The second is transferring available scientific data into effective policy that can actually better manage fisheries and the marine environment.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Some of the policy work I have been involved in has resulted in additional protective measures for sharks and rays at an international scale. While such advances are encouraging, we are still nowhere near the protections or level of implementation required to ensure sustainable shark and ray fisheries. But I am also a strong believer that every person can make a difference – after all we are living in a world with an expanding population and limited resources – so if each and every one of us increases our awareness of the threats faced by the environment, and takes the right steps to reduce our carbon footprint, we can make a significant global impact.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
You can never collect too much data when doing fieldwork even if you think it is not directly applicable to your current project. It is only later, when working on another project or dataset that you will regret it!
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Some useful skills came from my experience working in laboratories, both in my undergrad as a biomedical student and later in my masters in marine resources management. Such skills helped me in collecting genetic samples in the field while also understanding and appreciating the requirement for both sides of research (i.e. fieldwork and lab-work).
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Persevere! Marine conservation can be extremely challenging, however if you are committed and driven, there is much to be achieved not just for the environment but for yourself as well.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Just one? I would probably say mobula rays, which although are often overshadowed by the larger manta rays, in my opinion are even more incredible given that less is known about them.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Cruising across remote oceans at night, gently rocking while looking at the stars that shine far brighter when not obscured by the smog or light pollution found on land! And the time I was scuba diving with around 45 bull-sharks.
Thanks Daniel. You are certainly doing a great job helping get international protection in places for sharks and rays. We also totally agree that every person can make a difference. Great advice. And wow, what an amazing unforgettable moment!