This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke to Meaghan McDonald, a Marine Naturalist and Entrepreneur
Name: Meaghan McDonald
Role: Marine Naturalist / Entrepreneur
Company: Eagle Wing Tours / Salt Legacy
Top Tip: There are many ways you can contribute to marine conservation
Quick Fire Questions
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Growing up in landlocked Alberta, I found my true calling for the ocean when I started traveling. I realized my true passion for the marine environment through scuba diving. Witnessing multiple ecosystems interacting in a foreign world is what initially shaped the rest of my life.
Three years ago I took the leap and bought my sailboat; Spyhop. Despite having zero knowledge of sailing, and purchasing my boat within 24 hours of viewing, I have been living full-time on it since. I have a love/hate relationship with my boat, that runs purely on trial and error, but have grown to love the lifestyle and the deep feeling of connection to the sea it embodies.
I have wanted to create a project for a while that would connect my interests and passions together. Sailing, the ocean, species conservation and more sustainable alternatives are especially important to me. This was how my business Salt Legacy was born
2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?
Formally, I studied Marine and Coastal Ecology, while contributing to multiple marine conservation initiatives on and under the water over the years. In addition, I was also lucky to participate in marine conservation internships in the Seychelles, Philippines and other areas of the world. These trips gave me valuable experience in the marine sector. Through these experiences, I became obsessed with spending hundreds of hours underwater via scuba diving. Consequently, I dedicated many years researching and studying coral reefs in some of the best diving destinations around the globe. This gave me the classic nickname of Mermaid Meaghan; due to the little air I would consume on a typical dive.
When I moved back to Canada, I moved to working on the water. As a Marine Naturalist I get to educate people all over the world about the wonders of the Salish Sea and all the species that encompass it
3. How did you obtain your current position?
Currently, I work on the water as a Marine Naturalist and Program Coordinator for a local education program that educates younger generations about the importance of our fragile ocean ecosystems in the Salish Sea.
I am extremely fortunate in where I live and work as I get to be in the presence of large whales such as humpbacks, and the largest member of the dolphin family, the Killer Whale (Orca) on a regular basis.
I secured my current job by obtaining certifications to work on the water, learning about the Salish Sea and having a passion for the marine environment
4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy interacting with people from all over the world about the amazing biodiversity we have on our coastline. British Columbia, Canada is home to 31 species of marine mammals, equalling 25% of known marine mammals in the world. With the education program I help facilitate, it gives students an opportunity to experience and gain knowledge of our local marine ecosystems. Connection to place is key in conservation and we build those connections through experiences and a deeper understanding. We hope to inspire and empower them to protect the ocean in their everyday lives, and perhaps their future careers
5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Being able to share knowledge with people daily is extremely rewarding. My connection with the ocean did not start until I was a teenager as this is when I had my first real experience, exploring the Great Barrier Reef. I hope that I can inspire individuals to gain their own connection to the marine environment and educate them on the means to protect it.
With my business Salt Legacy, I collect worn out sails (from sailboats) that were otherwise heading for the landfill. After collection, these sails are then upcycled into new products such as backpacks, fanny packs and surfboard carriers. My venture contributes to the circular economy by offering the local sailing community a sustainable option for the disposal of “dead sails” and encourage individuals to donate their journeyed sailcloth to become new products.
The new upcycled product will inform consumers on its history, to develop a connection to place, adding a personal value to the product. Therefore, owning a piece of Sail Legacy’s product is like owning a little piece of ocean history. Every sail has a story to tell, returning full circle to creating new salty experiences while reducing the potential of marine debris re-entering our oceans
6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I knew how broad the field of marine sciences/ conservation was. Whilst the opportunities are endless, it can be quite competitive to find a paying position. Consequently, it would have been great to know how reliant on funding you would be. Because of this, being comfortable with grant writing is a great skill to develop
7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Having certifications to work and drive boats (of all types) is important if you are thinking of pursuing a role on or under the water. Having the knowledge of fixing boats is also a great skill, boats are constantly needing maintenance, it also makes you a more desirable candidate for hire
8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Volunteer, partake in internships and network as much as you can. Take advantage of free information sessions or presentations in your community or online. There is a wealth of knowledge to gain and great connections through networking
9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Coral has always been my number one love. When I first learned that corals are animals powered by tiny photosynthetic algal plants within their cells, I was blown away! Even now, I love spending hours looking at the delicate and intricate cities that they naturally create
10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
I have been lucky to have had many unforgettable moments at sea. One such moment is when I got to look into the eyes of a humpback whale. Witnessing something as large as a school bus in its natural habitat that consciously chooses to invest its energy and interact with you is extremely special
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