This week we chat to…Isabelle Peeters, Tenerife Expeditions Manager at Innoceana. Isabelle turned her love of Scuba diving into something more meaningful and pursued a career in marine conservation. She believes that honesty is the best policy, and also fight for what you want! It is hard to make a living from marine conservation but stay positive and keep trying.
Name: Isabelle Innoceana
Job Title: Tenerife Expeditions Manager
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
My parents have been scuba diving for as long as I can remember. They transmitted me their love for the ocean and taught me to dive carefully, always respecting my surroundings and all forms of life. After studying biology, I worked as a dive professional for three years and realized there was more to it, I wanted my dives to be more meaningful. Teaching scuba diving is an amazing thing to do, protecting the seas while doing so makes even more sense.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I studied Organisms biology and Ecology in Brussels then chose to work more closely with the Chemical Oceanography and Aquatic Ecosystems departments. I trained to become a divemaster then a scuba instructor. When I decided to really get into marine conservation, I started looking for projects around Europe and wrote many emails until I got in touch with Innoceana. Working with Innoceana is actually my first experience in marine conservation and I think I got really lucky to meet the team right when they were looking for someone with my skills.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I volunteered for some time for Innoceana, and I found my way to grants that could support me financially while working with the NGO. I kept looking for new ways to make Innoceana grow and started doing our webinars during the first lockdown, to make sure the NGO remained active and visible during those times. I am now the one in charge of managing them.
I guess being creative, making myself needed while keeping in mind no one is absolutely essential is how I secured my position. And by being very honest; I sat down with the NGO’s founder a couple of times to talk about my work and redefine my implication, my mission. It is essential for the team to know what they can count on me for, and to be 100% reliable when I commit to something.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Being in the water, obviously, is the best. But getting to share my love and passion for the ocean is just as enjoyable and even more rewarding.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
When leading the expeditions in Tenerife, I get to meet people from all kinds of professional backgrounds. So far, an average of 20% of the participants confessed having doubts about their career path and way of living. At least half of them ended up making life-changing decisions after ending the expedition with us. This gives me hope, it shows me just how good many people are and how many of us are aware that we need to start taking care of this world.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I kind of knew it already but when I started working in marine conservation I realized just how hard it really is to make a living out of it. It seems to be generally accepted that people will work for free in this field and it isn’t that easy to get funds for conservation projects when working in a small structure. Again, Innoceana is my first working experience in the field but that’s the impression I get.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
I was never much interested in (underwater) photography but started to really enjoy it and even get good at it when I started working with Innoceana. Pictures are very valuable data! I also am quite good at design and that kind of skill is very helpful when it comes to the dissemination of our work or promoting any activities we are leading.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
No matter how hard you have to fight to get where you want to be, go for it. Doing something you strongly believe in is absolutely worth it. Send those CV’s, write those emails, make those phone calls!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
This is really hard to answer as they all amaze me, each for different reasons. Our main project takes place in the seagrass meadows and I have to say I am now slightly obsessed with pipefishes! Looking for them is just like a game and they are incredible at hiding between the leaves, copying their colors and shape. Good thing they are not as good at mimicking the way the leaves move with the swell, there is my chance to spot them!
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Last winter in the harbour right next to our office in Tenerife, I went for an afternoon snorkel break from the office and ended up calling the whole team; three angel sharks were there, and they were mating. Witnessing that knowing this species is critically endangered was one of the most beautiful and intense moments the ocean offered me, amongst many others.
Thank you Isabelle, don’t forget to check out Innoceana’s Conservation Diving and Yoga programme in Tenerife this summer!