This week we chat to…Nikola Piesinger from Seal Rescue Ireland. Flexibility and adaptability when things don’t quite to plan are crucial skills to have – especially out in the field. Also, building and maintaining relationships is incredibly important in such a competitive and (relatively) small sector.
Name: Nikola Piesinger
Job Title: Education Manager
Organisation: Seal Rescue Ireland
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
During one of my first fish identification tests for an internship I did in the Seychelles, our group spotted a green turtle just hanging out on the edge of the reef during our dive. It was a pivotal moment for me, because I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to study at University and whether or not marine biology was the right choice. I remember thinking in that exact moment “wow, I love this. I really wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my life”, and the rest is history!
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I’m still interested in a lot of different aspects of science and biology in general, so I have tried to take as many opportunities as possible to improve and grow my skill set both within and outside my field of study. I also made the decision to go back to school for a Master’s degree in Marine Biological Resources after having spent five years gaining experience in the field. It was daunting, but it definitely gave me a different perspective on the material that I was learning.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I found out about Seal Rescue Ireland and learned about the vital work that they were doing a few years ago through mutual friends that have worked with them in the past. After I graduated in August, I spent a few months job hunting looking for positions in the conservation, outreach, and education sector. I saw that Seal Rescue Ireland was looking for an Education Manager and I immediately applied, interviewed for the position, and got it!
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I love engaging with members of the public about seals and the importance of marine conservation. We also run Marine Conservation Roadshows, which allow us to spread these messages across the country to audiences of all ages.
I also really love the animal care aspect of this position, it’s hard work to take care of the seals at our centre and it takes a really good team. I’ve enjoyed learning more about our seals, and one of the most rewarding parts of this job is being able to watch them galumph (yes, this is a technical word that they use to describe seal movements!) back into the ocean during their release.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Absolutely. We do a lot of outreach to members of the public, but I really feel the difference when our marine conservation topics resonate with younger audiences and our future generation.
Although Ireland is currently on a nationwide lockdown due to Coronavirus, we normally receive visitors at our centre every single day as we are open seven days a week. It is such a unique opportunity to be able to talk to people about the importance of marine conservation, and for them to see it firsthand when they go out to see our seals.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That this field isn’t always like a David Attenborough documentary. Yes, there are amazing, incredible elements of this field like seeing a turtle for the first time, and getting to dive every day, but it’s also a lot of hard work. Thankfully I learned that quite early on, but the hard work that is done often gets lost in the same way that people only post ‘highlights’ on Instagram and other social media platforms.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to communicate in an efficient manner. I have often worked in remote locations and more often than not, things go wrong and plans change. Being able to take it on the chin and come up with an alternative plan in a quick and efficient manner has been crucial to the success of the work that I have done in the past. Situations can often be stressful, so being able to be a calm voice of reason in difficult and stressful situations was never something that I thought was capable of before I started working in this field.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Keep in touch with your peers, stick with it, and know your worth. I don’t want to sugar coat anything, but marine conservation is a highly competitive and sometimes difficult field to be in especially in the current climate. This field is also really small, so building positive relationships and keeping in touch with your peers and people that you have worked with in the past is vital. Your passion for this field will get you far, but it’s also extremely important to be an advocate for yourself. Make sure that you are getting what you want and what you need from each position that you take on, and don’t be afraid to ask for more.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Mola mola and/or Sunfish. They are the biggest, derpiest, weirdest animals that just float around in the deep and come up to the surface every now and then. No one really knows why they’re there or how they’re still alive, and honestly, I can really relate to that on a very personal level.
That being said, it would be rude not to include my newfound love of seals since working at Seal Rescue Ireland. They truly are the dogs of the sea. They each have unique personalities and are incredibly intelligent animals.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Not including the first time I ever saw a turtle in the Seychelles, the most magical moment I have had in the sea happened when I was in Fiji. It was my last day on our little island, so I was already super emotional. It happened on our way back to the mainland (I was actually with someone else I had met in the Seychelles when I did my internship there!) and the crossing was brutal. The waves were huge, we were in a very small boat with gigantic waterproof ponchos on, and I was very busy trying not to be sick. Out of nowhere, a humpback whale surfaced and full-on breached only a couple hundred metres away from us. We absolutely lost our minds, I sobbed hysterically, it was a very emotional ordeal!
Thank you Nikola – that experience with the humpback whale sounds incredible! Keep in touch with Seal Rescue Ireland through their social media: Facebook (Seal Rescue Ireland)
Read more about Seal Rescue Ireland in their latest guest blog for us.