This week we chat to… Melissa Hobson from The Reef-World Foundation. You may have read Melissa’s guest blog recently about getting into the marine conservation sector as a non-marine scientist. We thought we’d ask her to expand a little more and share her advice on how she made the leap – something we know lots of our readers want to do too! “You don’t have to be a scientist to make a difference!”
Name: Melissa Hobson
Job Title: Communications Manager
Organisation: The Reef-World Foundation
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
There’s nothing like being underwater and I’ve seen so many awesome – and often rare – species while diving. So much damage is being done to the ocean and it would be so sad to lose these spectacular creatures. The hope that all is not lost is what’s drawn me to working in marine conservation and trying to make a positive difference.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I started working in Public Relations and Communications in London around 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had clients across the charity, travel, consumer, corporate and tech sectors. At the time, I didn’t realise working with such a wide range of brands and organisations – from tourist boards and ice creams to back-end travel reservation systems and everything in between – would give me such a solid grounding in all aspects of communications strategies. In this way, my time in “the rat race” taught me how to craft an effective campaign, whatever your target audience. So, when I started working in the marine conservation sector, I was already armed with much of the knowledge and tools that would help charities and causes refine their message and the best way to get it across to influence positive change. Now, my focus is learning as much as possible about what businesses and consumers want and need to know about sustainability – so we can be sure Reef-World’s messages are as relevant and impactful as possible – as well as keeping up with the latest developments in the ever-changing world of social media.
- How did you land your current job/position?
While I’ve been fascinated by the ocean since qualifying as a diver, it was a long journey before marine conservation became my career. After nearly a decade working for busy PR agencies in The Big Smoke, I decided I needed a change. In what, on paper, might seem like a slightly extreme move, I quit my job, left everything behind and moved to Mozambique to volunteer with the Marine Megafauna Foundation where I spent eight months looking after their communications. Of course, unpaid placements inevitably have a time limit and, before I knew it, it was time to move on. I’d just started looking for permanent comms jobs in the marine conservation sector when my friend forwarded me a job advert he’d seen to become the Comms Manager at Reef-World. I applied and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
It might sound like a cliché but – because we’re a small, tight-knit team where everyone is very hands-on – every day really is different and I’ve always thrived on a varied role. As Communications Manager, I could be writing a press release about one of our key developments, speaking to a journalist about a sustainable tourism feature they’re writing, running Comms training sessions for the team, liaising with the UN Environment Programme around Green Fins’ communication strategy or replying to questions and comments on social media. As a published journalist outside my role at Reef-World, one of my favourite parts of the role is when I have the opportunity to spend time writing. It’s particularly gratifying when the feature or piece of content resonates with people and you can see, from shares and comments, that your message is getting through and helping to raise awareness and begin changing behaviours.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Some aspects of communications can often seem very unmeasurable so it’s really motivating when you see comms outputs contributing to a tangible conservation impact. For example, a recent guest post we wrote for UN Environment Programme has been shared widely across social media and helped us gain many new followers. Although it’s a small win, every time we can raise awareness of the threats faced by coral reefs in this way, the closer we are to positive behavioural change.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Looking back, I wish I’d known more about sustainability earlier. We’ve learned so much in recent years about how to minimise harmful practices and, while it’s great to see the dive industry switching its mindset to embrace sustainability, I would have loved for this change to have come sooner. It’s exciting to think of a day – hopefully not too far off – when people learning to dive for the first time are taught about environmental standards in the same way health and safety is drilled into new divers!
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Diving: When I started out in my Communications career, I never thought diving would turn from a hobby into my profession!
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
You don’t have to be a scientist to make a difference! There are lots of roles in marine conservation that don’t require a scientific background and it can be beneficial to have a totally different skill set. Organisations and charities working in the field will likely already attract many marine biologists but they’ll still need support from skilled professionals in other fields: comms, IT, strategy development, design etc. Think about what makes you stand out from the crowd and where you can add the most value. I’ve actually written a blog post about it!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
I love manta rays – I’d wanted to see one since qualifying as a diver, but it was many years before I saw my first one. Living in Tofo, Mozambique, I was lucky enough not only to spend time in the water with many mantas but also help MMF taking identification photos (the pattern on each manta’s belly is as unique as a human fingerprint). I’ve also been lucky enough to spend two humpback whale seasons in Mozambique; during which time I’ve developed quite a soft spot for humpbacks too – so I’d say humpbacks and mantas are probably tied!
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Unexpectedly coming across three scalloped hammerhead sharks after we’d just finished our safety stop was pretty insane. They were super chilled and came pretty close so we just hung around while they circled us for a few minutes. I’d love to see a huge school of hammerheads one day!
Thank you Melissa. We are sure that will help inspire people who are looking to get into this sector via a less traditional route!