This week we chat to…Margaux Monfared from Song Saa Foundation. The experience and contacts she amassed through internships and expeditions helped her land her dream job (with the help of the WiseOceans Job Board too!). She now gets to spend plenty of time underwater as well as developing her passion for communication – alongside data input and analysis of course. Get ready for more advice about putting the hours in studying statistics!
Name: Margaux Monfared
Job Title: Marine Scientist
Organisation: Song Saa Foundation (SSF)
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
The ‘unknown’ has always fascinated me and that’s exactly what the ocean is. My mum knew I had a love of the water and when I wasn’t running riot on our local beach in Dubai, she used to put me in in front of the TV to watch Blue Planet. I was hypnotised by the images of an alien world here on earth and I think that truly inspired me. From that moment on I had no doubt that I wanted a career devoted to uncovering the mysteries of the underwater world.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do from a young age. I wanted to obtain as much marine knowledge as I could; therefore, the academic route is where I began chasing my ocean dreams. I studied Marine Biology for my undergraduate degree and then went on to study Applied Aquatic Biology for my Masters. I immersed myself in the field as I personally absorb more information in a practical setting. The ocean faces a multitude of problems and so I really wanted to gain skills to aid in the mitigation of ecosystem decline. Throughout university I volunteered for numerous expeditions refining my underwater research skills and building up my dive qualifications to become a Divemaster. The opportunity to be around like-minded individuals opened me up to a whole new network of people from around the globe. I have built up an extensive background of conducting underwater research from taking part in expeditions around the world including the Maldives, Honduras, Indonesia and Italy. I tend to work for organisations that spend the majority of their time collecting data in the water, as that’s where I thrive. However, It’s not all about the water… although it does make the endless hours of data input and analysis more bearable. I am passionate about science communication, I think it is vitally important and so when I’m not in the water I focus on my writing. I work for Women In Ocean Science (WOS) on the side of my current job at SSF. I truly believe science is incomplete without communication.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I spent numerous hours trawling the internet for a career that combined my passion of working in the water as well as marine communication in a management role. I actually found my last few jobs on WiseOceans! I have been lucky with timing to be honest. Ultimately, years of building up my underwater skills and voluntary writing definitely helped. My current Program Manager previously worked for Operation Wallacea, a company I also spent several summers with. Unexpected links like this help when it comes to landing your dream jobs and it just goes to show how important it is to network!
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I absolutely love the freedom and flexibility in my job. SSF allows me to combine my passions of scientific diving and communication. Some months I teach a Coral Reef Ecology course to volunteers called the Ocean Stewardship Program (OSP). The course aims to refine scientific dive skills whilst learning about the marine ecosystem. When I am not teaching a coral ecology course I conduct scientific research around the Song Saa Reserve. Our biggest project at the moment is the instalment of a ‘coral nursery’ in order to help mitigate ecosystem decline in our reserve! The fact that I get to help provide a world with a healthier ocean and educate people as my job is pretty awesome.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
The OSP allows me to inspire future marine biologists as well as providing them with important marine conservation skills. All biophysical survey data that our volunteers help us to collect is passed onto the Cambodian Fisheries Administration in order to assess the success of the regions first marine protected area, known as the Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA). This data provides important information for community fishermen who rely on their catch for their livelihood, as well as providing us with vital information on the health status and conservation efforts in the Koh Rong Archipelago.
As we all know, Coral reef ecosystems have suffered an unprecedented loss of hard corals globally due to anthropogenic stressors and the intensification of climate change. The house reef in the Song Saa Marine Reserve is no stranger to this phenomenon. I hope that the installment of a new coral nursery will make a difference to areas of our reef that have been degraded, damaged or destroyed. The adoption of this important conservation tool known as ‘coral gardening’ will hopefully reduce ecosystem decline regenerating the reef by increasing habitat complexity, biodiversity and health of our beloved reserve in the years to come.
I am also lucky to work closely with the community in the local traditional fishing village. We hold beach cleanups for the school children and teach them about recycling. Their eagerness to make a change and clean up their local beaches is infectious.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Jobs are scarce and competitive so you should jump at every opportunity that is presented to you. Also statistics are difficult; spend as much time learning useful tools and programs such as R, GIS and Multivariate Analysis!
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Communication and teaching skills. An ability to articulate a complex idea eloquently and emotively allows you to reach a broader audience, a skill that is key to inspire change in people.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in all aspects of marine science, you might be surprised at what interests you. Never pass up an opportunity, marine biology is a massive competitive field and you never know whom you might meet along the way, networking is as important as gaining skills. Ask questions and lots of them!! Lastly, be prepared to work long hard hours, a lot of marine conservation is spent at a computer inputting and analysing data, but it is worth it to spend those amazing moments in the water.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Corals for sure, the fact that they first appeared over 485 million years ago astounds me! Also I love the stealth and elegance of manta rays, they are mesmerising to watch.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Every dive is unexpected and I love the fact I will never know what I am going to see that day. However, The Great Barrier Reef in 2010, before all the bleaching events was truly out of this world. It was my first time on a tropical reef and I will never forget what it felt like to be submerged on a pristine reef with thriving life, from the sheer abundance of sharks to fish and brightly coloured corals. It was literally a jaw dropping moment.
Thank you Margaux. You can find out more about Song Saa Foundation and how you can joining them on their Expedition Page.