Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near the end of my journey, I’m not a hugely successful marine conservationist, with a well-known name or academic career (yet) but I have had a hell of a journey so far and learnt a hell of a lot.
Marine biology and conservation is often portrayed as only accessible to well-off people who have the funds to travel to exotic places and pay expedition companies thousands to get any kind of experience, but that just isn’t true – or it wouldn’t be accessible to me. I want to talk about how anybody can be a marine conservationist, if they have the passion and the drive.
How did I know Marine Biology was the right path for me?
Well, I didn’t, until relatively recently!
I spent every holiday during my childhood knee deep in Breton rockpools – and I have my parents to thank for that, and hence my love and passion for the seas.
However, throughout my education, I was pushed by teachers towards medical school, I spent hours volunteering in hospitals, GP surgeries and even French pharmacies because I am driven, and I thought medical school was what I wanted.
But I really hated it, getting in to med school is insanely hard, hospitals smell funny, I’d be trapped inside and wouldn’t have time for the things I love doing… like being by/in/under the sea ~light bulb moment~.
I was lucky to have my epiphany when I did, I had chance to change my UCAS options and pursue a degree in Marine Biology – but I’d spent years gathering medical experience? I was so deeply worried that universities wouldn’t want me because I haven’t had hands on marine biology experience or been diving since I was practically fresh out of the womb like some super lucky people - I envy you all, you know who you are…
When really, after all I only had to prove I was passionate (and then there’s the simple matter of getting the grades).
Brace yourselves for some cheese and some quite deep personal stuff.
The day I found out I got into my FIRST CHOICE university (University of Exeter) to do my dream degree and get my foot in the marine-conservation-door was one of the best days of my now 2 decades on planet Earth.
A-levels nearly killed me, they aren’t for everybody – and really, I don’t think they’re for anybody. During the two years of my A-levels I had tonsillitis eight times, severe flu and was diagnosed with chronic anxiety disorder and stress – which I am still coping with to this day. And the reality is that A-levels are only getting harder, young people are putting stress on themselves that has life-long impacts on their health, all to achieve their dreams. Which I think is wrong. Dreams shouldn’t be handed to you on a plate, because if they were they wouldn’t be dreams - but the affect A-levels had on my health, as well as my peers', made those two years a very dark time.
So, as you can imagine, when I found out I had done it – I was going to UoE, to live in sunny Cornwall and be a marine biologist, there were no words - my dad and I just hugged and cried. After all, it was a hard few years for all of us, and it was over.
That’s the personal bit over so you can all relax – and Dad, I know when you read this you’ll cry so this is when you can go grab a tissue.
Yes, university has been right for me, and I think academia in general will be too – but it isn’t for everybody and you don’t need a degree (and >£70,000 worth of debt to go with it) or tonnes of cash to be a marine conservationist. Moving to Cornwall made me realise it’s on our doorstep – we are an island after all. Long story short, if you have the passion and drive, you can get to your local coast and start making waves. Citizen science surveys, beach cleans and protecting marine wildlife are only a few things that you can do, and that genuinely make a big difference. At Falmouth Marine Conservation we aren’t all biologists, academics and students – our group is dynamic and includes photographers, a single-mum of four, sailors and others from all walks of life. We all form an active community group doing REAL marine conservation, research and outreach – so don’t think it’s not possible.
So, how did I get into doing ‘real’ marine biology and conservation?
The answer is simple but isn’t always the one people want to hear:
Hard work, tenacity, enthusiasm and throwing yourself into situations that might make you a little uncomfortable in order to broaden your skills and get out there!
Yes, I am busy, I am doing a lot compared to the average 20-year-old and I spend a lot of time floating around the Biosciences department at Uni or up to my eyebrows in sand – but it’s who I am, and I might whinge sometimes, but I love it.
What’s next for Jade?
I’m not slowing down, which most of you will not be surprised to hear. I’m recently getting more into scuba diving and hope to use my skills to open some doors into other areas of research. As time goes on I’m realising more and more that research might be the path I want to go down, and I hope to do a Masters by Research if UoE will let me stay! And no, I’m not worrying about how much student dept I’ll have because life’s too short, after you're >£70,000 deep you might as well carry on, right?
In the meantime, I’m continuing my turtle adventures, marine conservation work in Falmouth and diving, while somehow completing my degree…
My mum and dad continue to be incredibly supportive of my choices and my work – and are even embarking on their own marine conservation journey in Kernow!
Click to read a blog I recently wrote for #ExeterMarine on the work of FMC and how I got involved!
Subscribe to stay tuned for how I’ll be prepping for the summer, Turtle countdown is now at 33 days!