This week we chat to…James Greenhalgh, Digital Strategy Manager for The Reef-World Foundation. He made the move to the marine conservation sector from sales and marketing in the private sector. You don’t have to have a degree in marine biology to have a successful marine conservation career – finding that sweet spot where they both meet is the challenge. As ever…never give up!
Name: James Greenhalgh
Job Title: Digital Strategy Manager
Organisation: The Reef-World Foundation
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I learned to dive in 2012 and through scuba diving directly witnessed the impact we are having on our blue planet – particularly in areas with intensive fishing or novice divers.
Biology and Zoology friends in the University of Bristol Underwater Club (UBUC) introduced me to the marine conservation world; spending time with them helped me realise my skills and experience could be useful to the sector and they provided the encouragement I needed to change careers.
This combination inspired me to start researching new third sector opportunities.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
Prior to working for Reef-World, I had been working in the private sector; initially in information systems engineering then transitioning into sales and marketing. My goal was to find a role that married technology with solving conservation challenges, without having to return to university.
Initially, it appeared that to work in marine conservation you needed a minimum of an MSc in marine biology and have completed several internships but, after further research, I started discovering opportunities that matched my skills and experience. Persistence is key!
I also volunteered as Technology Coordinator for Oceans 2019 Festival in Bristol as a way of being able to make a positive contribution while continuing to hunt for a paid conservation job.
- How did you land your current job/position?
While researching conservation jobs, I tried to meet as many people as possible for advice. JJ, one of Reef-World’s Directors, kindly agreed to meet me for a coffee and we not only had a good conversation but he followed up with a helpful summary email including links to resources and organisations we had spoken about. Six months later I saw my current role advertised and didn’t hesitate to apply.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
The Digital Strategy Manager role is my dream job: bringing together technology strategy and programme delivery for a charity working to minimise the environmental impact of my primary sport. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Training new Green Fins assessors is the part I enjoy most because of the direct impact these individuals will have and the close bonds you form with the teams in each country.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
As part of the Green Fins assessment, we conduct a feedback session with the dive centre manager or owner to pass on encouragement and three points of improvement for the upcoming year. I always come away from the sessions feeling fortunate for the opportunity to inspire change; especially so when supervising new assessors who are learning to lead the meeting.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish that I had read The Chimp Paradox much earlier on in my career. I don’t always manage to follow its advice consistently but it has certainly helped my personal development and professional life.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Reef-World places a very strong emphasis on education and at teaching is at the heart of our programmes. I never thought that I would find myself teaching others in a professional environment!
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
You don’t have to have a marine biology background to foster a successful marine conservation career – the sector needs a broad range of skills and private sector experience is prized in the third sector. Think about how your skills and experience could be best applied to solving conservation challenges. Also, don’t be afraid of failure; unless you are David Attenborough, it will likely take a few applications before you land your dream job!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
It’s so hard to pick just one! Every time I’m asked this question I have a different answer. This time it has to be dolphins as a pair joined us during a recent skills review dive in Egypt.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
I did my 100th dive in Gozo in the same place where I learned to dive. Inland Sea to Blue Hole under the Azure Window is a memorable dive in and of itself… even more so without any thermal protection!
I haven’t seen any whale sharks yet so I think my first encounter with one will take the spot for the most unforgettable moment. Fingers crossed!
Thank you James. This blog will certainly be an inspiration for people who are looking to make the leap across to the marine conservation sector.