Welcome to the final 200 Bar Q&A of the year! Today I speak to Charlie, a marine biologist from the UK who has extensive background in science communication and ocean research. Her work has taken her to some of the most biodiverse underwater environments on our planet. Charlie is passionate about education and I’ve been super lucky to have worked with her on a little project this year.
We’ve got 200 bar of gas. Let’s grab the tanks, gear up and take a giant stride into Charlie’s life.
At what age was your interest in the natural world sparked?
Ever since I can remember I have loved the natural world, but a single moment that really stands out for me was a trip to Bristol Zoo in 1998.
I was 6 years old and remember being completely mesmerized by the wildlife. From that moment onwards I became obsessed and proceeded to make my own A-Z animal dictionary of all my favorite animals. I would use any time I got on a computer to research pictures and information about them using the online Encyclopedia and to this day I still have it!
You studied Conservation Biology (BScHons) & Marine Science (MSc), what did this entail and what were your focus areas?
My undergraduate course gave me a sound introduction to conservation methods and practises. It helped me understand how to conserve species both at local, international and global scales, from on the ground implementation to policy level change.
It was during my degree that my focus centered on our oceans. I completed my dissertation investigating microplastic pollution in marine sediments and have continued researching this topic to this day.
My MSc by research at Glasgow gave me an opportunity to diversify my research background and build skills leading my own independent research. For this I looked at the movement of carbon in coral reef habitats and how community composition affects this. This meant building and maintaining my own mesocosms where I cared for corals and completed my experiments.
Can you tell us a bit about the research on plastic pollution you led in the Coral Triangle?
In 2018 I joined a group of National Geographic photographers, filmmakers and scientists on an expedition to the Coral Triangle as lead plastics scientist. I was in charge of investigating plastic pollution in surface waters throughout our journey.
To do this we completed numerous surface trawls close to or above coral reef habitats and quantified the abundance of plastic in relation to these habitats. We documented the entire journey and produced a short documentary on my work which helped highlight the extent of pollution in this area.
The documentary went on to be picked for Melbourne Zoo’s Outdoor Film Festival 2020. My work and findings were also presented in a 4-part symposium about the expedition across Asia.
Can you give us a sneaky insight into your academic paper that is currently in review?!
Sure can! For the last year I have been collecting all the published data out there documenting plastic pollution in marine sediments from beaches to our deep sea environment to complete a metadata analysis which hopes to answer what the ultimate sink of plastic pollution in our ocean is.
Only 1% of plastic has been accounted for floating in surface waters, and so there is a big debate about where the rest of it is going. For a long time it’s been hypothesised that it is ending up in marine sediments. But no one has been able to confirm that due to the complexities of answering this type of global question. However, our paper gives some pretty convincing evidence to suggest that this is the case. The paper is currently in review so stay tuned!
Where has been your most memorable place to dive and why?
Without a doubt, Raja Ampat. The abundance and diversity of wildlife is second to none. Every dive was packed full of colour and new wildlife firsts. At times I was completely lost in shoals of fish swirling like a hurricane around me. I was even lucky enough to swim with a shiver of 10 hammerheads and a couple of mantas. Two dives I will never forget!
One of the best ways to explore the diving that Raja Ampat has to offer is by spending all your time at sea. Have a read of my Best Raja Ampat Liveaboard: Review & Dive Guide.
We’ve hit 120 bar! It’s time to head back to the boat!
What is Saltwater Britain?
Saltwater Britain is my campaign aimed at raising awareness for marine wildlife on our doorstep. Before COVID I had planned to circumnavigate the UK under my own steam using low impact adventure to go in search of wildlife above and below the waves. However, plans have had to change significantly due to the pandemic! It’s unlikely that I will have the opportunity to complete the circumnavigation anymore, but instead, I will be embarking on a whole year of micro adventures. This summer I was lucky enough to get out on a few, in-between lockdown spells, and have produced a YouTube series all about them! So if you want to keep up with this campaign and my adventures, make sure you check out my channel.
What is your favourite UK marine species?
Oh that’s a toughie! But I think I am going to have to go with grey seals. I recently had the opportunity to dive with these animals off the coast of Northumberland in the Farnes and was blown away by their cheeky and inquisitive nature. I’ve never had an experience like it with a marine mammal before! They also remind me a lot of home.
What would you say to children interested in becoming a marine biologist?
Don’t give up! It is a competitive industry which takes a lot of dedication, but keep at it. A top tip is to get as much practical experience as possible. Whilst good grades are important, what really sets you apart from the crowd is practical experience. And the good news is you don’t have to wait until you are older to do this! Get in touch with your local aquarium, marine conservation charities and rescue centres. Tell them about your passion and ask if there is any way you can help out. This will not only help grow your knowledge of our oceans, but also help you make decisions about what direction to take your career in.
What countries are on your bucket list?
Haha there are SO many! But at the top for diving are the Philippines, Mexico, South Africa, Mozambique and Antarctica. Although I have a wanderlust wishlist the length of my arm which includes nearly every country out there!
If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask?!?
What’s the best ocean fact you know? You always end up learning something new and brilliant when you ask people this! One of my favorite facts is about sunfish. Once born they go through a mind boggling transformation from a teeny-tiny larva to an adult 60 million times their starting weight. That’s comparable to a human baby growing to weigh the equivalent of six Titanics.
Right, we are on 50 bar, it’s time to wrap up the dive and get back onto the boat!
Thank you Charlie – don’t ever stop sharing your passion for the natural world!!
Make sure you subscribe to Charlies amazing YouTube channel to catch up on her Saltwater Britain adventures!