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marine biology: a timeline

I have always wanted to be a marine biologist. Well, that's a lie. There was a long period of time when I wanted to be a mermaid. The marine biology thing came shortly after I realised that being a mermaid wasn't genetically realistic for me.

I spent a lot of time researching where I could volunteer, what I could do for work, how I could improve my CV to get every single job ever to fulfil my wildest dreams and I've reached a point where I'm happy and proud of what I have achieved so far.

Sooooo, this is going to be a little essay on the path that led me here, just incase you're interested, or want any ideas for yourself. Like a little brainstorming project.

I started life out as a young wee lassie in a tiny English town somewhere south west of London. It was rather landlocked and my sister and I whinged constantly about the concept of sand, so we rarely went to the beach or did many ocean past times so my love of the sea grew entirely thanks to the little mermaid (and Flounder, what a fish).

Take a sudden time machine forward to 2011 and I had found my way into the University of Portsmouth to study marine biology. I had never tried scuba diving or freediving, infact I hadn't yet dealt with my severe dislike of sand (spoiler alert: the jury is still out) but I was certain that this was my destiny. A fair amount of people tried to convince me otherwise which only served to fuel my passion and determination.

2012 In the first summer, I volunteered with an organisation called Operation Wallacea in Cuba, which is where I first learned to scuba dive and tagged my first ever shark (and my second, too)!!! We lived on a boat for a week at a time, we lived off the sea and we scienced hard every single day. It was perfect. I was so excessively enthusiastic that at the end of the season they offered me a 'leader' role back at Portsmouth which meant if I got enough people to sign up for the following year, I could go for free.

2013 I only went and bloody did it! My own excitement for the ocean was contagious enough that I managed to earn a season with Operation Wallacea, which I used to do my undergraduate thesis research between Utila and Cayos Cochinos, two tiny islands off the east coast of Honduras. I studied the difference in lionfish diets between marine protected areas and unprotected areas and I loved every second.

2014 I got home to discover that actually, the amount of humans I had persuaded to join me in my mission to explore and learn with Operation Wallacea had... actually beaten a world record? AND THEY INVITED ME TO DO IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR!!!! You already know I managed to earn a trip to Indonesia where I got my divemaster qualification, ready to take on the world at this point. I could never have afforded to do this on my own and, to this day, I think I owe the fact that OpWall appreciated my lust for life and science to the career I have now. Without three summers of research assistanting and a PADI divemaster qualification under my belt, I wouldn't have been able to apply for the positions that I did, I wouldn't have been able to afford any other travelling and I've simply got no idea what other path I would have taken.

But there it was. My Indonesian internship ended and I wasted no time. I skipped my graduation ceremony in England and instead headed straight to the Philippines, where I volunteered with La.Ma.Ve in Oslob, Cebu. Here I volunteered for three months with the whale sharks, studying the effects of feeding on the local shark populations. My dream was forming- I was spending every single day in the water with big spotty SHARKS!

2015 Then we skip past through months of travelling and saving, before I found an internship in the Maldives with the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. It was unpaid, but I wouldn't be spending money and the I would get to research sharks and manta rays and corals and turtles and... it was the Maldives.

In four months there, I had been put in charge of the coral propagation programme, I had swum with more sharks than I could count, I had run dolphin and shark and turtle talks every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and I felt more like a Real Marine Biologist than ever.

For the summer of 2015, I went and did another season with OpWall, this time in Greece- and working! I met a girl who had just spent two years in Australia. I was absolutely fascinated and spent most of my time quizzing her. I was so jealous as I couldn't imagine how I'd ever be able to work there. I had spent the summer before university travelling the east coast and it was all the happiness I could imagine and sunshine and oceans and australian accents. I blurted this all to my friend who gave me a pep talk. I had no house, no job, no boyfriend, nothing tying me to any location, so why couldn't I go to Australia? I also had no money. She told me to head to Cairns, and find myself a job ASAP. So I did.

I flew there with no money to my name, couchsurfed for my first three days and then took my CV down to the harbour at 7am. I walked around nervously for about half an hour before I could see that boats were starting to set off, chose the boat with the nicest uniform and nervously headed over. Before I could speak to anyone a little chihuahua ran up to me and starting licking me to say hello and next thing I know, her owner appears and tells me he also owns the boat. He barely looked at my CV. The dog liked me, so he gave me a trial on the spot. I started work the next day, and stayed for six months after that (that's the longest time you can work for one company on a working holiday visa).

2016 The last full day I spent in Cairns was my birthday, January 29th. Then I took a road trip with my best friend down the east coast, met my parents in Melbourne, enjoyed a short holiday, and headed over to Exmouth, Western Australia. This is where Ningaloo Reef is, and I was to work as a whale shark guide for the season. This position somehow morphed into a photographer role and that was my first experience of underwater photography as an 'art' (I say this because we did PLENTY of survey ID photography in literally every country and location I volunteered in- but it's very different than planning a shot for beauty). I loved every second and was considering sponsorship, then all of a sudden BREXIT happened, and a masters course in Portugal that I'd had my eye on suddenly because the most urgent thing in my life- if I didn't start that year, the fees would more than quadruple.

2017 I rushed back to Europe, and headed immediately to Portugal. As a member of the EU (however temporarily), my university fees were $800 a year. That's not a typo. I had my sights set on York in England for so long, but the fees were more than ten times that. So, I started at the University of the Algarve. Most of my friends were french, german and irish, so I barely learnt a word of Portuguese but it was incredible being in a learning environment and a new culture simultaneously- especially as we had a house directly on the beach.

I did internships in South Africa and the Azores through the university contacts I met at UAlg, working with catsharks (where my online pseudonym originated!), great white sharks and bioluminescence in South Africa, then blue sharks and mobula rays in the Azores. Between planning all of this, I managed to organised my master's thesis subject. I would be studying how drones could be used to study shark ecology in shallow tropical ecosystems. A friend of mine from Indonesia put me in contact with Prof. Euan Harvey at Curtin University, Western Australia and after only two phonecalls, I was set to move back to Australia, based between Perth and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to carry out my data collection.

By 2018, I was still in Australia. I celebrated New Years and my birthday (end of Jan) in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where I was starting to truly feel like a happy little marine biologist. Not sure what to do when the thesis was complete, and running extremely low on funds (somewhere during my time I ended up doing a clinical trial, where you basically volunteer to be a guinea pig and get paid a lot of money to sit in a hospital bed being a pincushion for a few days), so I began to research well paid marine biology jobs. This led me to Iceland, one of the countries with the highest minimum wage in the world. I worked for six months as a whale watching guide, enough time to save up a good amount of money, finish my thesis write up, and then spend the rest of the year travelling (Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama).

In 2019, I started the year with a little bit of career development. Having always put 'freediver' on my CV, I had no substance to back it up, so I travelled to Egypt and completed my SSI Freediving Level 1&2 at the Blue Hole in Dahab. This enabled me to get a job on a liveaboard in the Socorro Islands in Mexico. The owners turned out to be...not so nice... so I didn't stay there very long at all. In a panic, I ended up flying to French Polynesia to volunteer. I worked as a videographer for a small yoga company, a whale swim company (my first humpback whales underwater!) and a company that did tiger shark tourism and research. I was unpaid that whole time, but my food and rent were covered, and the little money I had saved in Mexico was enough to cover the rest of my expenses (of which most were the flights in the first place). Working so much with underwater megafauna, I had to really utilise those diving courses I had taken in Egypt, and I was loving it.

When my time was up in French Polynesia, I was inspired to travel back to the Philippines, where I completed my freediving instructor course in Panglao, Bohol, and dove to 52m for the first time. I was completely in love with the sport, and would spend hours a day in the ocean, armed with a little GoPro capturing the turtles and coral and other freedivers around me.

2020 was supposed to be the best year yet. During my time in the Philippines, I had sent out CV's left right and centre, and I managed to nab first an internship in the Dominican Republic with Conscious Breath Adventures, a liveaboard running whale swims in the Silver Bank, where the whales migrate to give birth and mate from January to April every year. After that I was supposed to travel to Tonga to work that migration of humpback whales between July and November. This was going to be my year of stalking gentle giants. Except, everyone's favourite pandemic had other ideas.

I managed three perfect weeks on board the UnderSea Hunter, swimming with humpback whales every day. Then the world fell apart. I ended up home in England for four months, staying with my parents, completely unsure of what to do. And then I did something completely rogue, and snuck off to Kenya to visit a friend for three weeks. This three weeks, well, to cut a long story short- it turned into nine months. I ran the social media for four different companies and invested in my first- and then second- Sony camera with real lenses and started photographing wildlife, going on safari for madly discounted rates at least once a month. It was magical. I couldn't have asked for anything better to happen to me.

Of course, those nine months took me into mid- 2021, by which point I was very happy but very much missing the water. And just about that time, the Manta Trust posted an internship in the Maldives, working with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay. As a bonus, two of my best friends in the world already worked there. By June, I was on a plane and preparing to spend two weeks in quarantine. Once I was free, we jumped right into some of the best months of my life. We would very regularly spend eight hours a day in the water, ID'ing the manta rays of the Maldives and sciencing. This was supposed to be a 3-month internship, but somehow magically turned into six months of pure happiness, research and freediving. I had invested in my first underwater camera housing for this opportunity, so the extra 3 months really justified that very expensive decision.

Then came 2022, where of course I ran back into the open arms of Conscious Breath Adventures, but this time for the full 11 weeks, with no pandemic to ruin it, and as a full time in-water guide and videographer. Job satisfaction doesn't even begin to cover it, it's the best job I've ever had. I get to introduce people to the most beautiful animals on the most beautiful remote waters, and spend nearly three months straight swimming alongside some of the worlds biggest and most intelligent animals. The humpback whales of the Silver Bank show curiosity I could never have imagined, and I hope that I'll be spending January- April in the Dominican Republic for many many years to come. Feel free to reach out if you're interested in joining one of our trips!

As for the rest of this year, I spent one month travelling, one month in Dominica as an underwater videographer for Blue Element, some time in Iceland and six weeks in Turkey where I worked as an underwater photographer for Life Aquatic Freediving, and then the last few months I've been hustling and developing my online entrepreneurialness (I'm coining that word). Which brings us to today.

I don't know exactly what the future has in store for me, and I don't even know if writing this will be as helpful as I hope to anyone. But I know when I've been searching for jobs far and wide across the planet, I'd have loved a little inspiration and to know what opportunities are out there if you look hard enough. If you're someone who read this article for advice, please do feel very very welcome to reach out. Either through the contact form on this website, or a little message on @catsharks instagram.

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