An Interview with WiseOceans… Rory Graham from Gili Shark Conservation

Rory knew from a young age that working within marine creatures was what he wanted to do, so he chose the right degree and MSc courses to get him to where he is now.  He also puts it down to getting the right experience to set you apart from others, sticking to it and getting involved in everything that you can.

Name: Rory Graham

Job Title: Lead Marine Biologist

Organisation: Gili Shark Conservation

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

When I was 7 me and my parents took a family holiday to Boston to visit other family and during this we went whale watching off the coast of Massachusetts where I saw several Humpback Whales come to the surface and I will never forget watching their flukes disappear under the waves. From then on it stuck, I wanted to work with the sea, my parents saw this and encouraged it by taking me to aquariums and places like that to stoke the fire that the Humpback Whales had started

  • What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?

Well from then on I knew that going to university would probably help, so I went through school normally but focused on science when I picked my A levels to allow me to get on to the sort of degree I was looking for. I went to the University of Hull to study BSc Aquatic Zoology. This was an all round course which allowed me to gain computer skills for statistics, field work skills and lab skills, I would recommend it to anybody who wants a well rounded marine biology base.

Towards the end of my 3 years there I thought about the future as everyone has to do and when I looked for jobs the majority that interested me wanted either 3 years experience or a Masters degree. Since a Masters takes one year I decided on that route and went to the University of Essex to undertake their MSc Tropical Marine Biology. Part of this course allowed to work with the Galapagos Conservation Trust on their whale shark project. This allowed me to see the office side of conservation which has been an invaluable experience going forward. Once I completed my MSc I then went home to work in a shop for 6 months or so, saving money and applying for jobs. I eventually got hired by Coral Cay Conservation on their Montserrat Site… I was in, it took 15 years but I was in.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

I was working in Montserrat but it was not a paid position (first time conservation jobs rarely are) and I stumbled across this job on the internet and thought I may as well apply though it sounded too good to be true. Had a skype interview and here I am nearly a year later.

  • Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I like meeting all the new people when they come to join the team and the fact that everyone has the same goal in mind.

  • Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

We host weekly community days where we do different projects with the dive shops and the local community. One of my favourites of these is the presentation side where I update the people on Gili Air about how we are doing and how we are getting closer to our goal of Indonesia’s first shark nursery. They are always amazed at how the community has come together to support us with shark data and how through links with the local government we can make change simply by writing down any shark we see within the current marine reserve.

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  

How to best approach governments with the work you have done in order to help them protect their waters. It is not as simple as ‘hey look what we did and doing this should help’

  • Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

Marketing, I was purely a science mind before coming to Gili Shark Conservation but to those that want to be part of a new organisation then your skills need to flexible and match the needs of the group you are working with. I am not saying it is easy, it took some adjustment but its most definitely doable.

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Stick to it, its not always easy and its definitely not always paying but it is worth it. Get involved at school or university in trips that may take you out of your comfort zone, or join in whatever is going on near your home, there will always be beach cleans etc where you can get involved and make a real difference.

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

My personal favourite is the Octopus, they are incredibly intelligent, you only see one when it is on their terms. I could watch Octopus scuttle about and change colour/shape for a whole dive and not get bored.

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

We had this dive towards the end of April in 2017. On site it was referred to as the ‘Attenborough’ dive. Anything with a Sir David Attenborough reference in it is gonna be good. Me and 2 participants were at 30m with a school of 400 or so snappers. Joining us were 3 adult white tip reef sharks circling and going in and out of the school while we watched. To top it all off we had 2 green turtles for company. We stayed there as long as our deco time would let us and left. That dive was the reason that a participant stayed an extra 6 weeks and undertook their PADI Divemaster training.

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Thanks Rory, some really great advice in there.  We tend to agree with you when it comes to octopuses…

Get involved with Gili Shark Conservation, they have great opportunities

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