This week we chat to…Jessica Haines, MMRP Project Manager for the Manta Trust. Aside from developing relevant academic qualifications and practical experience, Jessica points out the importance of gaining Divemaster/Instructor diving qualifications. Both directly and indirectly, these have been crucial for her in landing jobs and opportunities.
Name: Jessica Haines
Job Title: MMRP Project Manager
Organisation: Manta Trust
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
When I was 8 years old my family took me on vacation to the Maldives. At this time I took my first breath underwater, saw dolphins for the first time and completely fell in love with the underwater world. I left that holiday adamant that one day I was going to work with ocean animals. As my passion grew as I got older, I began to learn more and more about what the underwater world has to offer and what impacts we as humans are making. Growing up in a small village in Oxfordshire, England I had to rely on my ocean fix during family holidays, but through my fascination, with marine life I used every chance I could to tailor my high school classes into marine-focused projects if given the freedom to do so.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
- Studied Biology and Mathematics during A-levels at sixth form (Thankfully for me the degree I was aiming for accepted mathematics as a second science subject, I always struggled with chemistry).
- Attained a Zoology Bachelor’s degree from the University of Exeter.
- Through the University, attended a field course in the Bahamas, studying at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.
- Volunteered with IVHQ for The Turtle Conservation Project in Ambalangoda, Sri Lankan for 2 months.
- Completed my PADI Divemaster whilst studying at University.
- Became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor in the Cayman Islands.
- Volunteered with Guy Harvey on a stingray population census at the infamous stingray city whilst working in the Cayman Islands.
- Completed a 6-month Internship as the Education and Outreach Assistant for CCMI (Central Caribbean Marine Institute).
- Whilst working at CCMI, volunteered for the Cayman Department of Environment to protect turtle nests on Little Cayman.
- Took on employment as a Marine Biologist / Diving Instructor at a 5* resort within the Maldives. During which time reached out to NGOs to contribute data to their research projects (Manta Trust being one of them).
- Began working as a Project Manager for Manta Trust in 2018.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I was working in the Maldives as a Resort Marine Biologist / Diving Instructor and contributed survey data and photographic IDs to the Manta Trusts Database. Through this connection I learnt that they were hiring for a new permanent position; Project Manager for Malé Atoll where I have worked for the previous year. After this year I moved to a brand-new resort (InterContinental Maamunagau) to help set up and run a brand-new Manta Trust project base and partnership in Ra Atoll, Maldives.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Being out in the field. I love being amongst the ocean wildlife and when I am snorkelling amongst feeding manta rays I get completely lost in their world. Our main method of research is to free dive under the bellies of manta rays in order to capture photographic IDs of their unique belly spots. I love that in one single breath you can capture an image that will tell us so much about the populations of these enigmatic creatures.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Manta Rays are a fairly understudied animal, not so much is known about them and their life-history and why we should work on protecting this vulnerable species. I love contributing to this realm of research.
Educating the local community. One of the most inspiring projects I have worked on as part of the Manta Trust is the Marine Education Program “Moodhu Madharusa”. Joining the students of Dhiffushi School in Malé Atoll, engaging them about the importance and beauty of our oceans as well as raising awareness on ocean pollution was an amazing experience. As part of the program I took the students snorkelling and a few scuba diving, for some it was their first time ever even swimming in the water, so to achieve snorkelling at ease was a huge achievement for them as individuals.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I had known what damage my daily choices can make to impact our oceans. Growing up and even through University I was always naïve to how much plastic I use on a daily basis from shampoo bottles, to plastic food wrappers it is a part of our daily lives. Coming to islands where the plastic gets washed up onto the beaches and seeing photo-degradation and micro-plastics for myself was a real eye-opener.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
I thought that being an Open Water or Advanced Open Water diver would be enough to be a Marine Biologist. But becoming a Divemaster/Instructor was the best choice I ever made in order to pursue a career in Marine Conservation.
Teaching Skills. I never thought about the idea of teaching people as part of my career however, marine education is a vital part in engaging local communities and sharing wisdom on marine conservation and the work that we do.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Stick at it. No matter how many jobs you apply for even if it feels like hundreds, you only need one to reply and give you a chance of employment. Don’t be defeated if you don’t receive replies, something will work out eventually.
Becoming a dive instructor was not something I ever considered as a career, but I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Sometimes Marine Biologist jobs come in short term contracts, but instructors are constantly needed around the world, every day there are job openings. Every Marine Biologist position I have had is because I was working in that particular country as a Dive Instructor temporarily.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Manta Rays of course. I only saw my first manta ray when I moved to the Maldives, and that initial sighting of something so large yet so graceful underwater is a feeling that never goes away, even two years later. I love their curiosity towards humans which make for amazing encounters, I love learning about their ways, habits and determining each one’s personality the more I get to know them (I definitely have favourites!)
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
The first time I saw a cyclone feeding manta rays. From having worked in an atoll where the manta rays tend to clean rather than feed, I was not used to seeing them in particularly large numbers. The first time I saw more than 100 manta rays coming up from the deep in a huge feeding frenzy my breath was taken away. I forgot all about the fact I should be getting belly IDs, I just watched the madness unfold! What was even more amazing was it was only me and my colleague in the water, so 100+ mantas to 2 snorkellers is not something you come across often!
Thank you Jessica. Seeing 100+ manta rays must be on every marine biologist’s wish list!