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Ocean Minds Presents Will Notley

Profession: Marine Scientist

Organisation: Operation Wallacea

Will has a calm and professional manner and it is inspiring to watch him teach novice divers. He has an infectious passion for marine science and an incredible ability to network which has led him on some unforgettable trips around the world.

1. How did we meet?

We met during the summer of 2018 in Utila, Honduras where we were both field research assistants for the NGO Operation Wallacea. I was running the 3-D modelling project whilst you led the SVS project.

2. What is one memorable ocean moment from our time together?

Although we had 6 weeks collecting research and were diving almost every day, I think we only did a handful of dives together. One memory does stick out though. It was when we were diving near each other at a site called Sting Ray point. The site was a fringing reef with a steep drop off from about 5m to 35m. I was working shallow and happened to glance down and saw you charging along the wall with your group of students in pursuit of an eagle ray. I could see a huge trail of bubbles following your group as you tried to catch up with it, all the while knowing my students were totally unaware of the excitement going on beneath them. It was still none the less comical and reminded me of a cartoon chase scene.

3. What encouraged you to pursue a career in marine biology/conservation?

I have always had an affinity with the water. My curiosity intensified with the release of the original Blue Planet and I knew I wanted to get involved, even though I was not keen on the science taught at school. I was further encouraged when I learned to dive and became absolutely obsessed with marine life. When I got my first opportunity to get involved in marine biology, which was on an expedition in Mexico, I knew it was something that I had to do. I loved every bit about it, even the 5am and 11pm walks to see the turtle nesting sites and my bed being somewhat akin to a sandpit. The whole week's expedition was equally as exhausting as invigorating and left me wanting to do another trip. The rest as they say is history!

4. How did you land your current job?

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic I am landlocked and I am searching for my next adventure within marine conservation. My current job I gained through a family connection which is super useful! In terms of landing previous jobs in marine work I have always found the best source has been networking, with people I know and companies I would like to work with. Building a wide network across the globe has enabled me to find jobs in unusual scenarios.

5. What is it about your role that makes you feel like you are truly making a difference?

I would say that I know I am making a difference due to one of my research trips work being used to guide the Scottish government into how the strictest form of management, No Take Zones (NTZs), can be beneficial to the whole ecosystem. The work that I was involved in was looking at the only NTZ in Scotland (and one of four in the UK) where no fishing is allowed within its waters. Although extreme levels of degradation had been caused in the region due to overfishing, we found unprecedented levels of recovery of king scallops and a bryozoan species in densities which are almost unheard of globally. My research proved that with effective management, MPAs with the highest level of protection can deliver efficient recovery of a degraded ecosystem. Even in my current job, which is plant based I am looking at alternative ways of producing squalene, instead of sharks.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring ocean warriors?

From my experience, everyone within the marine conservation industry are super friendly people and willing to give advice. Do not feel over-awed and give them a message if you want guidance as we are obliging to help. In terms of experience, I know it can be difficult to balance but volunteering can go a long way, especially as it gets your foot in the front door and may assist you to work for those companies later down the line. I often encounter people who I was volunteering or training with in totally different projects. Be pro-active and positive about your skills and talk to people to find how you can help out!

7. What has been your most unforgettable experience in the ocean and why?

That’s a tough one, but the most unforgettable experience was out in Roatan, Honduras where I worked as a Dive Instructor. I was on a dive site which I had been to at least 50 times and with a group of students at 15m. Above us on the surface was a green sea turtle getting some air and was about to descend back down. Green Turtles are pretty common in the area and I was probably seeing at least one on every dive. I managed to get the group in the right position and with a nice slice of luck, it came down vertically and dived centimetres in front of all of us. It then hung around for about 5 minutes chewing on some soft coral. Even though it was an animal I have had quite a few encounters with it was still able to do something completely unexpected.

8. Who has inspired you to achieve your goals?

Hmm… I would say there are quite a few people that have inspired me to achieve my goals. One of them would be one of my lecturers from my master’s called Bryce Stewart. As a marine biologist, he specialises in scallop fisheries in the UK and is known as Dr Scallop. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions that you can do what you put your mind to and has been supportive in projects I have got involved in. He has also taught me about the importance of being prepared for papers to totally misquote your work to suggest the total opposite of what you initially were saying. Bryce has also managed to convince me that diving in the UK has far more life than you can imagine. All you have to do is be prepared for a bit of cold and less visibility!

9. What do you hope to achieve in the future?

In the long run I would love to work in consultancy where I can provide advice for governments and local authorities on how to manage their marine environment, be it in the UK or further afield. The marine life is in a fragile state and on a bit of a knife edge and needs as much protection as it can get. Unfortunately, the biggest issue seems to be getting the authorities to understand how their ecosystems work and how best to protect them.

Note from Will

I would definitely say be patient and be optimistic. The next adventure is always around the corner! Diving is not the only way you can get involved, and it’s even possible to do work from your own desk miles away from the sea. It may not be as glamorous, but every little helps!

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