It’s international day of women and girls in science!

09 February 2023  /  By Angela Clark, ReMEDIES Communications Officer

In celebration of women and girls in science, we’re interviewing Amelia, our Seagrass Cultivation Officer

 

Amelia, what’s the best thing about your job?

The highlight of my job is really when the little shoots start coming through about three weeks after planting in the lab. They’re really cute and you can start counting them. We are on our third round now and the success rate has increased every time.

Amelia with a seagrass seed bag

 

I also love the variety. No month is ever the same. Our techniques are constantly developing – it’s a delicate balancing act to keep the seedlings healthy and growing. Last year was the first time we trialled a new method of deploying seedlings into the sea, and we will be going out diving soon to check on them.

My job can be incredibly challenging and super busy at times, but when I get over the exhaustion I realise how much we have achieved and how important this restoration project is.

 

How did you come to be a seagrass cultivation officer?

I first became interested in Marine Conservation through snorkelling and diving in the Mediterranean as a child. I just wanted to be in the water all the time, watching the fish and being in that environment, where everything is so peaceful.

I did a degree in Ocean Science and Marine Conservation but didn’t go down a traditional conservation route. I wanted to specialise in fisheries, and especially to create a conversation between the fishing industry and science, rather than having these two completely separate worlds.

The dive team is now mostly female

 

So, I started working in a fish market, sorting and grading fish. It was horrible, but also fun – working nights, working very long hours, lifting heavy stuff and constantly stinking of fish. There were times when I wanted to quit, but I’m stubborn, and I felt like having that experience was the only way I was going to get respect in the fishing industry.

 

It must have been a very male-dominated environment?

Yes, completely. Women don’t really work in the fish market, so a lot of men weren’t sure how to respond to me. And it’s still seen as bad luck to have women on the boats, so it wasn’t easy, but I had a really good manager who got me a job working on a boat. Once I had that experience it was easier to get onto different boats.

 

Did you face any barriers because of your gender?

Some of the skippers are not the most modern in their views, but it’s about having the ability to get over that and get through it. I think if I were a man, they would have listened a lot quicker. I could have got to the point a lot quicker. But it’s not just my gender. Understandably, there is also some mistrust of scientists among fishermen, because they have been misrepresented in the past.

 

Did anyone help you on your journey?

Yes, some of the fishermen were not the stereotypical type that I’d heard people talk about on my degree. I met some fishermen who just really wanted to make a difference and get involved in conservation. They were open to change and open to helping.

 

How did you go from commercial fishing boats to the Ocean Conservation Trust?

Baby cuttlefish in a maerl bed – credit: Fiona Crouch

I was interested in the impact of different fishing gear on our ecosystems. Cuttlefish were known as ‘black gold’ in the market as huge numbers were being landed, but suddenly there was a massive drop-off. I found this really intriguing and started looking into it. I consider them a sort of ugly duckling of the marine world. Everyone knows an octopus is really intelligent and beautiful, but the cuttlefish is also really cool.

I used the landing data to produce pieces of research for conservation organisations to highlight that conservation measures were needed. When the job of Seagrass Cultivation Officer came up, I spoke about the importance of involving fishermen and fisheries in this sort of restoration and overcoming the barriers between different people who are using the sea.

 

What advice would you give to women and girls who want to pursue a career in science?

Stick to it, even if there are some barriers in the way. And don’t be afraid to not go down the normal route of looking after dolphins and paying to do an internship – that just seems like madness to me. Do something out of the box and make yourself a very different candidate to everyone else on the course. Even if you have to do some difficult jobs along the way.