An Interview with WiseOceans… Victoria Stoneman from Zeehondencentrum Seal Care
This week we chat to… Victoria, She may not have taken the most conventional route into marine conservation, but once she began down the path she knew it was a role she wanted to continue
Name: Victoria Stoneman
Job Title: Head Of Volunteers
Organisation: Zeehondencentrum Seal Care
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Let me introduce myself, my name is Vicky Stoneman, I am 37 years old and I am originally from Romford, Essex, in England.
I have been always fascinated by nature, plant life especially from the beginning. Every Sunday as a child we used to go walking through forests in all weather conditions. It was always comforting to me, to walk amongst the plants and trees, especially with the smell of the earth when it rained.
In relation to marine life, actually I was always afraid of the sea, I had repetitive fears during swimming lessons that I was being chased by an Orca… not so nice but it did make me one of the fastest swimmers in my class!
It was in my early 20s that I got lucky with a job at a specialised aquatics centre in Rayleigh Essex, this was where I learnt up-close how unbelievably amazing marine life is, I liked to watch how they interacted with each other and how they flourished with specific care and attention to detail.
As the years past, I became more and more protective of everything I cared for there, and felt more and more uneasy about their lives away from their natural environment.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
It was at this point that a friend recommended me a centre in the Netherlands that rescued and rehabilitated seals.
Zeehondencentrum, an international education and research centre and specialised hospital for seals. Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) I had never really thought about seals specifically but I was intrigued by her opportunity to volunteer there and to assist within a hospital environment. I also applied, a year in advance as I had no experience with seals or any specialised background, but it turns out not many people do, and in the Seal Care they give practical and theoretical training and support.
I was offered a position, for 12 weeks from 9th January 2009. In order to do this, I took preapproved unpaid leave from my then current management position.
- How did you land your current job/position?
At the end of my volunteering time many of the other international volunteers I had worked and lived within the campus with were extending their stay, but unfortunately, I couldn’t due to my management position waiting for me back in England.
A few weeks later, back in the reality of my normal life in Essex, I received a phone call from Zeehondencentrum, the person informed me that the centre wanted to train a few previous volunteers to become staff nurses and that I was one of them!
I was shocked and overjoyed. I hadn’t had any intention of getting a job from this experience, I had just enjoyed to help with anything needed, around the patients, or cleaning fish bins, or stocking supplies, laundry, any task that was important for the hospital/centre. I accepted the 6-month contract, quit my job, and moved to the Netherlands in June 2009. From a nurse in training, to nurse, to a ‘Responsible’ nurse by 2011.
In 2012 I went back to England for some time, (in the end, only a year as I had ‘withdrawal symptoms’ from the centre). It was towards the end of that year that a staff member pointed out an interesting job opening maybe for me, Head of the Volunteers.
I had been a volunteer, I knew the working tasks, I had lived onsite, I used to assist the volunteers when I was a nurse anyway, I applied, and they were willing to give me a shot, 6 months again firstly, that was in May 2013 and I still hold that position today.
As well as my work at Zeehondencentrum, I am also volunteering! 1 day a week at a local plant nursery and gardens, this is to satisfy my everlasting love of plants.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Working together with the volunteers in the Seal Care (hospital). This is something I always liked when I was a nurse, to be in a team and help to improve someone. When I accepted the position as the Head of the Volunteers I chose specifically to split my week between the necessary administration duties as well as being a nurse, because of this specific point. I think it is actually an important part of my job, to keep my feet on the ground, and to show that I am (still) willing to do every task that is needed, show pride in my workplace, and to try to consistently set an example for those I intend to represent.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
With the volunteers: To see that the training/tips that my colleagues and I have instilled in them, and seeing them progress from the training week till the end of their stay, People are different, so each person has a different level of progression, and it is great to see each person improve to any level, and that they are proud of themselves too.
With the Seals: Working in the Intensive Care areas, where the patients that are in the poorest condition. Being careful and respectful for them, attention to detail, reporting even the smallest of changes in order to give them the utmost care. It is always satisfying to try to do the best for each patient
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That it is possible to gain valuable experience/knowledge in something that you like by being a volunteer. I wish I had known this when I was leaving college, like many people I was unsure what to do, I had studied Fine Art, and had decided that I was not prolific enough with my artwork to make a career out of it. In any case, I do not regret any of my previous working experience, as I believe that everything taught me something and was essential for bringing me to where I am today.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Before the aquatics centre, (where I worked for 5 years), I was the Bar Manager in a 2,000 capacity nightclub for 2 years. There I worked on the bar also, stocked it, cleaned it and the whole club together with the team. I learnt skills like consistency and quality under pressure, and although it wasn’t cleaning quarantine areas it still prepared me for attention to detail, to keep health and hygiene of the utmost importance. Before the nightclub, I was working in London for an American law firm as an assistant to the legal secretaries, this was for 1.5 years. Here I learnt detail and precision on an administrative front, which I believe has helped me in this part of my work with the volunteers.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Volunteering is a good way to start your career, if you know already what you want to do it will help to concrete your decision and future path, and if you don’t know you can try a variety of different areas: Lab, Care, Research, Education…and feel what is right for you, and besides this you can build an interesting CV and have a lot of fun along the way, meeting great people with a passion for a working life with purpose.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Frog/anglerfish and porcupine puffer, both have a lot of personality, one reminds me of an old man/troll very slow moving but interesting creature, and the other is very inquisitive and doglike.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Indonesia, snorkelling off the coast between Java and Bali, seeing all the green chromis and different types of damselfish and triggerfish swimming around me, the hard corals an inverts amongst them, and in the distance 3 large barracuda. I had spent 1 month there with our aquatics centre’s main marine fish supplier. It was a very eye-opening experience and certainly, everything is not as black and white as what you might think, but it did make me more heavily consider what my place in this field should be. Eight months later I started my volunteer time at Zeehondencentrum.
Thank you, Victoria for taking the time to share your journey with us. Zeehondencentrum Seal Care are currently looking for volunteers, if you would be interested in helping them with the incredible work they do, please take a look at their volunteer post.
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