I also do
a lot of underwater photography, both stills and video – the
resulting images are useful to show people just how our projects
work. I’m not exactly Peter Scoones, but I have captured some
unique footage of langoustine and razorfish!
My own specialist field is crustaceans, and lobsters and crabs in
particular. One of my recent projects involved lobster larvae –
we wanted to see if we could get them to grow in a hatchery to a
size where they’d survive in the wild. It was previously considered
impossible, but we thought that if we could make it work, lobster
populations could be boosted or even completely regenerated in areas
where they were in decline.
We started by bringing female lobsters in from the wild and taking
them to our onshore hatcheries, where they laid their eggs. Three
months after hatching, the larvae were 25mm long, at which point
we tagged and released them into the wild.
The experiment was extremely successful – after a few years,
the lobsters had grown large enough to be of commercial value and
caught for consumption in lobster pots. As a result, I’m now
working with the Italian government to help them set up hatcheries
to boost the population of lobsters in the northern Adriatic Sea,
where numbers have reached an all-time low.
Releasing the lobsters was the best part of the project, as they
have to be taken right down to the sea bed (if you simply drop them
into the water, they’ll probably get eaten before they manage
to find a safe place to hide). So, we had the pleasure of diving
down to set the lobsters free in waters off Ardtoe, as well as Scapa
Flow in the north. (I must be the only person who’s been diving
for years in Scapa Flow and never seen a German wreck!)
One of the downsides to the job is the remoteness of the location
(despite its beauty). Although, saying that, I previously had a job
with the Nature Conservancy Council [now the Joint Nature Conservancy
Commission], conducting sea-bird surveys, which meant I was away at
sea for about three weeks every month – I don’t think
you can get much more remote than that!
Another part of the job I’m not crazy about is removing dead
creatures from sea cages, as we had to do for a project in which
we were experimenting with breeding halibut and cod off the coast
from Ardtoe. We wear full-face masks to protect us from disease,
but it can still be quite unpleasant.
Those minor points aside, mine really is an extremely satisfying
job. I feel incredibly lucky to get paid to go diving, and I’m
sure there are lots of people who’d like to do the same. If
someone was interested in my line of work, I’d recommend that
they get as much work experience with science-related organisations
as possible – it gives you a good idea of what’s involved.
And I spend a lot of my time talking to people, explaining how to
set up projects similar to ours, so if you’re personable and
outgoing, and able to translate complex concepts into everyday language,
it makes things a lot easier.
I do still manage to fit in some recreational diving in the UK,
and I’ve done a fair amount around the rest of Europe, including
in the Mediterranean. Last year, I had my first taste of tropical
diving, with a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It does feel funny
to go diving without having a job to do, though.
Interview by Siski Green