This week we are with Francesca Trotman who founded the fantastic micro non-profit, Love the Oceans in Mozambique.
Francesca discusses how founding her own non-profit taught her skills that she didn’t know she needed in marine conservation such as understanding legal requirements. Read below to learn more…
Name: Francesca Trotman
Job Title: Managing Director and Founder
Organisation: Love the Oceans
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I’ve been obsessed with sharks since I was 8 years old. I learnt to dive at age 13 and knew I wanted to do something to do with the oceans as a career. When it came to choosing a degree course Marine Biology was the obvious choice for me to pursue this dream.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I learnt to SCUBA dive from a young age, gained my PADI Dive Master when I was 19 and enrolled in an Integrated Masters course at the University of Southampton.
- How did you land your current job/position?
At the end of my second year at university, I went on holiday to Mozambique for diving and saw my first shark killing which was very emotional given my attachment to sharks. I soon realised that it was the shark fin industry as a whole I needed to be angry at, not the individuals doing the killing since the education level is so low in our area, the fishermen have no idea about the damage they’re doing. I went back to uni and found a supervisor who would support me to go back to Mozambique and work out how bad the shark fishing problem is there. I found Ken Collins, who gave me a lecture slot to the year below where I recruited three research assistants to come and spend four months with me and the fishermen over the summer of my 3rd year to collect data for my 4th year (masters) dissertation. When I was writing up the results for my dissertation back in England they were pretty much what you’d expect in terms of sustainability of shark fishing and the potential negative implications for the local marine ecosystem. However, my stats weren’t significant because I didn’t have enough data which meant I couldn’t publish my paper or do anything about the fishing going on. I began to look at how financially I could continue my data collection and build a team to help out. I started researching NGOs and the conservation volunteering space and that is where Love The Oceans was born from, I founded it November 2014. The sole reason we’re not a charity is that I founded it whilst I was still doing my masters and charities are a load more paperwork than non-profits! I recruited my first batch of volunteers whilst finishing my masters and ran the first programs summer 2015. And the rest, they say, is history…
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
It’s an incredibly rewarding line of work. Working with the local community is very uplifting and of course, I get to SCUBA dive and snorkel with some truly amazing animals, including whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. I also am continuously keeping up to date with new scientific studies and methodologies which is also exciting. All the research we do is the first of its kind in the area so it’s incredibly satisfying. I find what we do endlessly interesting and I’m never bored. There are lots of different areas involved in our work so you build a multitude of skills in the field. Since we have zero funding, our motto is always to ‘make a plan’. Something doesn’t work? Make a plan. Car broken down in the middle of nowhere? Make a plan. Ran out of paint? Make a plan. You gain some really great life and survival skills that are incredibly useful in Mozambique but completely useless in a developed country! We meet a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and I love inspiring people to get passionate about marine conservation and pursue their dreams. A perk of the job is that I get to live on a beautiful beach for 70% of the year. Pretty cool. I love my job
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
There are quite a few. Locally, with our community work in the schools we make a very obvious difference – improving learning facilities, building an awesome syllabus, teaching swimming lessons, improving water safety…there are so many positive activities we run in the local area that it is really obvious the difference we make. Internationally, I get a kick when I can see the positive change in someone and they become really passionate about something they perhaps weren’t as interested in before. I’ve have had many early career marine scientists say that our program has helped them choose the area of research they want to work in. I’ve also seen some of our student’s passion for marine biology completely light up as it matures from what was a mild interest before our programs. Doing talks around the country about our work and the importance of marine conservation is so rewarding too – talking at anti-plastics events etc. Even if it’s just one person that ops for a reusable water bottle rather than a plastic, it’s still making a difference!
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I don’t think there’s a whole lot I wish I knew at the start. Obviously there’s a couple of ‘tricks of the trade’ when it comes to marketing and recruitment that I wish I’d known but I’m still learning now. I don’t think I would have wanted to know if anyone had told me how much of an uphill struggle it would be – I knew it would be hard work (any startup is years of overwork and underpay) but we’re constantly ‘clearing our name’ because there’s, unfortunately, a LOT of negativity and keyboard warriors out there for non-profits. There is a lot of online criticism which is a real shame as you would think conservationists should support each other not tear each other down. I certainly didn’t anticipate that part of the job but I’m kind of glad I didn’t.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
So many! Legal stuff like contract work I thought I would never need, but it all comes into play. That’s probably the most tricky one as everything else you can apply yourself to. People management has also been a skill I’ve had to build and I’ve learnt I’m a terrible judge of character!
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Don’t go into conservation science if you want to make money. You won’t. Go into conservation science if you’re extremely passionate about what you do. Find a great team to do it with, make sure you get on with your co-workers. Working in a remote region can get pretty intense. If you want to work in the field, make sure you’re OK living without makeup, straighteners or a hairdryer. We’ve been building a magnificent LTO team over the last three years and we’re now at a point where I feel the individuals that make up our team are so awesome that there is nothing we can’t do. Everyone is so passionate about LTO, making a difference and meeting our goals. It’s awesome. If you’re researching organisations to work with, I would recommend digging. Just digging, digging, digging to get as much info on them as possible and check their ethics. There is SO much legislation in the UK surrounding health and safety abroad but absolutely nothing regarding ethics abroad. Don’t go with organisations that work with animals in captivity, support elephant riding, or let you work for long periods in orphanages. Research the ethics around each activity you’ll be doing. We’ve got some info on ethical volunteering on our website and the questions to be asking if you want more info. When I look at a volunteer or staff’s application, I immediately first go to their qualifications. If you want to work in science you need a degree. A masters will make you much more desirable, a PhD even more so. After this I look at SCUBA diving qualifications and the number of logged
dives they have. I then go and look at how passionate and enthusiastic they are. We only want the most passionate and enthusiastic individuals working for us. It’s really important to get this across in an application. Generally, I’d recommend while you’re at University to grab absolutely every opportunity you can. I built up my CV as much as I could before I left uni and then founded my own organisation anyway. I’d really recommend making every second count.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Right now? Tiger Sharks. But ask me next week and it’ll be different. I love hammerheads too. I’m not entirely sure why sharks are my favourite, I’ve just always felt a bond to them since childhood. Perhaps because they’re arguably the most misunderstood animal on the planet and just so captivating and fascinating to watch. Hammerhead schools and hammerheads hunting are spectacular too. Tigers are just so beautiful, especially juveniles while their stripes are still prominent.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Most recently, probably on a dive when I looked to my left and a baby humpback whale was just chilling there. He was calling to his mum who was somewhere off in the distance. Humpbacks are a close second favourite to sharks, they’re so enchanting with their range of vocalisations.
Thank you, Francesca, for an amazing insight into Love the Oceans’ work and how you channelled your passion for sharks into founding your own non-profit and making a difference in Mozambique.
Fancy joining Francesca and the LTO team in Mozambique? Check out their amazing volunteer programme here.
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