An Interview with WiseOceans…Sarah Tubbs from Marine Conservation Cambodia

This week we chat to…Sarah Tubbs from Marine Conservation Cambodia. While at university Sarah knew that gaining practical experience through volunteering and internships was important but she didn’t realise quite how important until getting out into the real world. In fact, demonstrating this in practice, it was via an internship that she landed her current role.

Name: Sarah Tubbs

Job Title: Founder and Coordinator of The Cambodian Marine Mammal Conservation Project

Organisation: Marine Conservation Cambodia

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

I have been in love with the ocean for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I wanted to visit the ocean and be in the water all the time. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible about the marine world, so I could use my passion and knowledge to protect it. So, when it was time to apply for university, there was no question about what I wanted to study – Marine Biology.

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

Although I had undertaken a couple of internships during my undergraduate degree, I knew that in order to get the job I wanted, I needed to get more experience under my belt. Shortly after graduating, I started an internship with the DMAD Marine Mammals Research Association (DMAD), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working for the conservation of marine mammals around Europe. Here, I built skills in field research, scientific writing, scientific and mapping softwares, teamwork, team management, stakeholder engagement and outreach. Although I had worked on many of these skills during my degree, putting them to use in “the real world”, was invaluable.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

I landed my current job in a somewhat unusual way. Like many NGOs, DMAD is always trying to expand and increase their conservation impact. During my internship, DMAD reached out to Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), to see if they wanted to start a marine mammal research and conservation project. Luckily – they said yes!  It was then my mission to go out to MCC and launch this project. At that time, I did not know a lot about project planning, management, or grant writing, but it was time to learn if this new project was going to be a success.

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

It is the variety of my job that I enjoy the most. Obviously I love the sunrise boat surveys where we get to watch endangered Irrawaddy dolphins feeding and socialising. Then being able to use our data to reveal the most up-to-date information on the species that can be directly used for their conservation. I enjoy working in close collaboration with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration, as I get to witness our data having a direct impact on the way the county’s marine environment is managed. Finally, I really enjoy grant writing, because it is the first step of putting my wildest conservation ideas into action, despite the fact that they are not always successful.

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

Completely. Before I arrived in Cambodia, very little was known about the country’s marine mammals, and there was no current research being done. Today, my project (The Cambodian Marine Mammal Conservation Project), is Cambodia’s longest-running marine mammal research project. We are collecting data through field research and social science, and working with local communities and schools to try to build relationships between the people and their marine mammals. We are working in close collaboration with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration, so our results can be incorporated into designing the most tailored management plans for the country’s marine mammals.

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

I wish I knew more about the importance of experience and internships. Although I knew it was useful, I did not realise the significance of the importance.

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

I didn’t think I would need as many practical skills as I do. For example, skills in knot tying, scuba diving and heavy lifting. These are all skills that end up being very useful in field research. For example, one of our research techniques involves C-PODs (Continuous POrpoise Detectors), which are acoustic recording devices that are permanently moored on the seafloor of our study site, to record dolphin clicks and investigate occurrence patterns. Currently, we have four C-PODs. Each month, we must scuba dive to collect the pods, replace the batteries and SD card, and redeploy them. I also find that physical fitness and stamina is very useful. For example, we are often on the boat for a full day, searching for dolphins in the blazing sun, for days at a time, without a sighting. Here, being fit with high endurance levels means you can focus better and for longer.

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Do as many relevant internships and/or short courses as possible. This will allow you to gain skills across a multitude of disciplines, giving you the opportunity to understand what aspect of marine conservation you are most interested in, as well as increasing your employability. If a placement year is an option, it is a great way to get experience and make connections that may be useful in the future.

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba). They really are like kids of the dolphin world. So carefree, enjoying life in the open ocean.

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

Once, when conducting scuba diving reef surveys during an internship in Belize, a manatee stumbled upon our survey team. I remember it so vividly.  I rose to a vertical position in the water column, and the manatee did too. He was looking at me so inquisitively, and I was almost paralysed, looking back at him. I felt that this animal was sentient, for sure, with so much going on behind his eyes. He circled me, then swam with our team for a good 5 minutes before disappearing into the distance.  It really was an unforgettable experience, and to this day, I really wonder what he was thinking.

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Thank you Sarah, it is wonderful to read how well your project is going. Keep an eye on our Wise Work pages for opportunities with Marine Conservation Cambodia and don’t forget to sign up to our weekly job alert emails there

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