An Interview with WiseOceans… Daniel Ponce-Taylor from GVI
This week we hear from Daniel Ponce-Taylor, Director of Programmes for GVI.
Daniel knew early on that in this industry you need hands on, on the ground experience, as well as being flexible, adaptable and resourceful. He spent time considering not only what interested him but also the best path to take to achieve his career goals. He advises that you need to be prepared to work hard, move around the world and that it’s not all about diving!
Name: Daniel Ponce-Taylor
Job Title: Director of Programmes
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Since I was a kid I’ve been passionate about the ocean and wildlife. Growing up in the Mediterranean island of Mallorca I was able to enjoy the ocean and learn how to dive, and from that point onwards I was hooked on it! I then started doing Biology at Uni, but realized I wanted to specialized in marine ecosystems, so transferred the the University of Southampton to pursue my passion.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
From early stages I tried to look at what activities would interest me but also would benefit my career and job opportunities. I started volunteering young and became part of the WWF Spain volunteering network. I took this a step further when at uni I became part of the local chapter of WWF Spain and organized events, awareness campaigns and other activities for WWF. I gained many skills and also received international training at the WWF Blue School. I received my formal training at the University of Southampton (Oceanography and marine biology) and made sure that I did extra courses (like a coral reef ecology course at the Bermuda Biological Research Center). After my degree I did my PADI DM training and worked as a DM at the Great Barrier Reef as a way to gain diving experience, extra skills and also learn more about that environment. I also worked (unpaid) at several conservation projects in Australia, Costa Rica and Mexico as I knew that in this industry you need to hand on, on the ground experience, as well as being flexible, adaptable and resourceful.
- How did you land your current job/position?
After working in London for CCC, coordinating some of their marine conservation projects, I decided London was not for me. I was very lucky that the news spread out quickly and I was contacted by GVI’s CEO, Steve Gwenin, who was at the time looking for a Country Director in Mexico. After learning about the role, responsibilities and the growth potential of the role, I was on my way to the Caribbean coast of Mexico!
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Hard to say as my role is very diverse. I have been part of the GVI team for 12 years, so my role has morphed greatly since I started. I don’t spend as much time as I used it on projects, or diving or driving boats; that’s the not so much fun part. But on the other hand I oversee a range of projects working towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as diverse as marine life, reduce poverty, gender equality or increase education, which means that I get the have a greater impact on creating a more sustainable world but also means I am challenged on a regular basis, having to learn about different topics and focuses.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Many! Obviously the impact of our projects on the ground, and even though I am not on the ground, I hope I have some influence in that impact. But now I would say there are 2 major aspects that I am very proud, and both are linked.
One is our involvement with younger participants. These guys are at the age when are very easily influence (which is good and bad), eager to learn and discover the world, to experiment new things and they are also very competitive and they know they need to make important decisions – we expose them to realities that are very far from their comfort zone, bring up topics that are hard to understand and certainly the solutions are hard define. By doing this not only many of them will probably decide to continue their studies in some sustainability, conservation, marine area, but most imporantly they are now aware of issues, and possible solutions, that were not in their thinking before. As the leaders and CEOs of the very near future, this hands on education is key to ensure the next generation is aware of the most pressing issues, have experienced them and are engaged in coming up with solutions.
My other aspect that I am really enjoying and I think it’s very important is the process that GVI has been carrying out of the last 18 months aligning all the our projects and objectives with the UN SDGs. It’s been a hard project but very interesting. It is key that we can report on our impact and contribution to the SDGs so we can see our global impact but also can see how those individual projects are helping solve key global issues.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Many things! One that it’s a great choice but you need to be prepared to work hard, move around the world and that’s not all about diving! The range of skills and abilities I’ve had to learn and gain is something I was never aware of. be prepare to work with others we do not agree with you, and might come from total different cultural backgrounds than you, but make the effort to understand where each individual of your team is coming from. Only then you would have a cohesive team. Also worth noting that no one tells you how much politics and lack of data sharing there is within the marine conservation world – you would think that everyone is very clear on what the ultimate aim is (conserve and protect marine and coastal ecosystems) but no – there is a lot of not sharing data and knowledge, specially in the more academic side of things!
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
HR and accounting! and logistical coordination.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Be open to all opportunities – all opportunities have the ability to teach you a great skills; maximize all opportunities you have. Be proactive and create a network of professional contacts from early stages. Contact people within the industry and ask them to be your mentor, and seek their advise and opinion
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Very cheesy, but dolphins – free divings with dolphins is incredible. You can feel their intelligence, how inquisitive they are, how playful they can be. It’s very humbling when you are underwater and a pod of dolphins come by.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Diving in the outer great barrier reef, I was guiding a very keen underwater photographer. As all photographers he was not really looking out for time, orientation or anything (all underwater photographers will understand this!), so we went a bit further than expected. I suddenly heard this deep sound, and I thought we were being recalled by the boat. The sound increased in volume and was getting closer and closer, but was hard to point its direction. I called the dive and started ascending. As we were ascending, these 2 huge shapes started approaching us, and with the shapes the sounds too. To our amazement they were two humpback whales! They got super close and it was mind-blowing! Annoyingly I never received any copy of those photos!!
Thanks Daniel, some excellent advice and we totally agree that being proactive in gaining experience and getting a network of contacts to help you along the way is vital.
If you want are looking for experience then take a look at GVI’s page in our Marine Research Expedition section for amazing opportunities and keep an eye on our Wise Work page for paid opportunities too!
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