This week we chat with Jenny Maltby. Her sense of adventure started her on this career path, she has found that although it is a competitive area, sometimes you have to take your head out of the books and into the field to realise why it is always worth it!
Name: Jenny Maltby
Job Title: Conservation Programmes Assistant
Organisation: Blue Ventures
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
When I was 19 I went to university to do a film studies degree, but after three months found that all I really wanted to do was see the world. Little did I know that this was the start of an eight year journey of travel, volunteering and hard work that ended up in the conservation sector.
I’ve always had a great love of wildlife, and this dictated all my travel destinations. I went on a lot of safaris in Africa, trekked to see the mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and saw orangutans in the wild in Sumatra. These were formative experiences for me, and I returned to the UK with a completely different degree in mind.
I got my wish at the University of Salford, where I studied Wildlife and Practical Conservation for four years. During this time, I spent a year working on a remote island off the coast of Kenya as a field scientist and volunteer coordinator. My duties included studying the behaviour of the resident populations of dolphins, whales and sea turtles, and working with local communities on responsible tourism approaches and initiatives. I enjoyed my whole degree, but particularly my time in Kenya, which instilled a passion in me for all things marine.
What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I graduated in 2013 and, after a brief interlude of travelling in Australia, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, I started a masters degree in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. In preparation for my dissertation, I spent six weeks in the forests of Aberdare National Park in Kenya setting up remote camera traps to see whether and what wildlife were present at such high altitudes, as this was unknown at the time. My camera traps captured elephants, hyenas, leopards and even a melanistic serval. These results are helping the Kenyan Wildlife Service create management plans for protecting this habitat, now that they know that a diverse range of species live there, including the critically endangered bongo.
I loved working in the mountains of Kenya, despite the surprising cold weather, but I really missed working in marine conservation.
How did you land your current job/position?
After graduating from my masters I finally got stuck into job hunting in wildlife conservation. Knowing how competitive the sector is, I applied for as many jobs as I could, in the UK and abroad. I also kept volunteering in my spare time, including two weeks with Blue Ventures’ UK team in October 2017. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them, so I signed up for career updates on their website in order to get notified of any new vacancies. When the position of Conservation Programmes Assistant came up, I jumped at the chance and applied the same day. I think my passion must have shone through in my cover letter, because I was hired in what I’ve since discovered was a very competitive recruitment.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
My role with Blue Ventures is to support the Conservation Programmes Manager in grant reporting and management. This role is perfect for me – I’m working for a cause I believe in, I’m writing reports about marine conservation, and I’m working with a team of like minded people, in the UK and abroad, with similar interests to myself.
I look forward to going to work every day because each day is different – I could be talking to colleagues in Madagascar about their progress in mangrove conservation, writing to funders about how their funding is helping communities sustainably manage their fisheries, or hearing about the latest developments in aquaculture and alternative livelihoods.
Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Learning about Blue Ventures’ holistic community led approach to conservation during my induction really confirmed in my mind that I had applied for the right job. I’ve read so much about the failures of top down approaches to conservation, that being involved in an organisation with models for catalysing grassroots conservation is really gratifying, and makes it easy to write engaging reports for our funders.
In my first few months with Blue Ventures I’ve helped to review and write grant reports for funders supporting our work in Madagascar and Timor-Leste. Grant writing isn’t something that you hear much about as an aspiring conservationist, but I now know just how vital it is for charities like Blue Ventures. Our programmes wouldn’t be able to function without the contributions from our funders, and I’m very proud to be part of this process.
Writing grant reports has also helped me quickly get a grip on many of Blue Ventures’ projects. Learning how my colleagues and the communities they work with, from science technicians to health workers, are working together for a sustainable future is both inspiring and very enjoyable.
I think I learnt more in my first two weeks with Blue Ventures about locally managed marine conservation than I did in five years of university life. Scientific knowledge is important, but tackling the complex challenges facing conservation today requires a more interdisciplinary approach. I’ve always been an avid devourer of books, but I now wish that I’d spent more time at university studying or reading about human rights, fisheries policy, environmental law, and sustainable development.
Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Having said that, my background reading has also definitely been one of my hidden strengths. Reading material that was not compulsory for my degrees but was of interest to me has actually proved to be exceptionally useful. After beginning my work with Blue Ventures, I soon found out that a lot of this ‘background information’ was fundamental to understanding conservation as a whole. The sector is vast and full of intricacies, and much of my knowledge of conservation organisations, funding and law comes from reading beyond my university curriculum.
What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
At the risk of contradicting myself, don’t spend all your time with your nose in a book.
The conservation sector is really competitive and therefore it is extremely important to stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough just to have a degree in a conservation subject anymore. Almost everyone I speak to with a career in conservation started out by volunteering, not just for the field experience, but also to prove that you’re able to immerse yourself in new cultures and environments. It really does give you an edge and shows your potential employer that you are serious and passionate about conservation. It may be expensive or difficult to begin with but it will pay off in the long term, and it’s really fun!
What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Dugongs. They are a very mysterious creature. They look a little odd, no one really seems to know much about them, and they are very rare in the Indian Ocean and need protecting.
What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
An afternoon of snorkelling in Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park where I saw green and hawksbill turtles, a wahoo, some blue spotted rays, and a pod of bottlenose dolphins in the distance.
Thank you Jenny for taking part in our interview! If like Jenny, you want to be able to go to work each day knowing you are making a difference then don’t forget to sign up to our weekly job alert emails and keep an eye on our Wise Work pages so you don’t miss your dream opportunity in marine conservation.