An Interview with WiseOceans… Catherine Edsell from Reef Check / Biosphere Expeditions

Becoming a Divemaster can open so many doors, find out how being a Divemaster has lead to surveying coral reefs around the globe and much more for Catherine Edsell.

Name: Catherine Edsell

Job Title: Expedition leader, Reef Check Trainer and coral reef ecologist

Organisation: Reef Check / Biosphere Expeditions

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

I actually came to marine conservation quite late, spending my formative years working in terrestrial conservation in rainforests and deserts, but doing my first PADI course in the Red Sea was definitely the start of an adventure into another world. I was bowled over by the beauty and the diversity of this underwater environment, but shocked by its seeming fragility, and sought to learn more about it, diving whenever I could.

  • What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?

I had never really thought about diving as anything more than recreational, as I knew I didn’t want to be a dive instructor, it was only when I was applying for a role as an expedition leader for Biosphere Expeditions, I discovered that if I had my PADI Divemaster certification, I could lead dive expeditions as well as terrestrial ones.  So I promptly went away and trained as a Divemaster.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

All Biosphere Expeditions diving expeditions are in conjunction with Reef Check, a global reef monitoring system which uses standardised and easily duplicated methodology to collect comparable data on any reef anywhere.  I trained on the job, first as a Reef Check Eco Diver, and then as a trainer.  Interspersed with this, and with a huge amount of self-motivated research, I also worked with Operation Wallacea in Indonesia on their coral reef monitoring and coral reef ecology training programme.

  • Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I love it at the end of an expedition when the team reflects back on the first few days, when they were furiously studying to learn all the indicator species, and now how easy and second-nature it has all become, and how much knowledge they have accumulated in a relatively short space of time.  I also love to hear of their newly found appreciation for the complexities of the reef, and how amazing it is to dive slowly, really noticing the environment, rather than rushing past it in a flurry of bubbles and fins.

  • Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

I think the beauty of Reef Check is that it is simple to learn, (with a bit of effort), and it brings coral reef conservation and protection to life in a very real way that anyone can participate in.  You don’t have to be a marine scientist, you just have to be passionate about conservation.  I love teaching the course, and certifying new coral reef ambassadors at the end of it.

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  

That being a Divemaster offers a world of possibilities into coral reef ecology and conservation, it is not simply a pathway to becoming an instructor, or being an assistant to one – you have your own autonomy and skill set and can use them to further your own development in conservation

  • Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?  

Really strong arms!  Winding up 100m transect tapes under water in strong current is not an easy task!

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Explore, volunteer, be a research assistant on someone’s PhD.  Organisations like Operation Wallacea have great links with universities if you are already studying biological sciences, and if you’re not, look out for a Reef Check expedition…. It’s never too late to change direction!

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

It has to be turtles – I have worked with leatherbacks in Costa Rica, protecting their nests from poachers and releasing their hatchlings into the sea, and they are truly awe inspiring animals, so huge, so majestic – it’s horrifying to see what they are up against, just to survive.  I have also swum with many a hawksbill and green, and they always add joy to a dive!

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

In the Musandam peninsula in Oman, whilst leading a Reef Check expedition, we encountered a huge influx of noctiluca scintillans, a bioluminescent dynoflagellate, (sometimes known as a red tide), in such high density that the whole bay was glittering.  We could see firework displays of mackerel swimming in schools, dispersed by needle fish that cut through them like rockets.  It was incredible.  I couldn’t resist going in for a dip, so donning my mask and fins I jumped overboard.  It was as though I had jumped into a special effects movie starring me! – every move I made created a trail of glistening iridescent light, every hair on my body was glowing.  I shook the anchor chain of the boat we were on and it glittered all the way down to the sea-bed.  I swam for over an hour in the warm glowing soup, marvelling at the 3D patterns I, and the fish below me were making, doing somersault after somersault, enjoying the exceptional beauty of nature at its best.  Unforgettable!


Thank you Catherine.  If you would like to join Catherine on a Reef Check expedition with Biosphere Expeditions and the Marine Conservation Society in 2017 then you can!  Read more 

You could also win, yes WIN a place on an expedition!! Biosphere are running a competition for a free place on either the Maldives, Musandam or Malaysia Reef Check expeditions next year, closing date 1st March 2017.

Win a place on a reef conservation expedition!


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