An Interview with WiseOceans… Jess Kalisiak from Atoll Volunteers

This week we’re with Jess Kalisiak, Coordinator at Atoll Volunteers.

Her advice is to persevere, get as much experience as you can and embrace statistics! Oh and don’t forget the importance of networking…

Name: Jess Kalisiak

Job Title: Coordinator

Organisation: Atoll Volunteers

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

I grew up in the middle of England in a region that was completely land locked. At the weekends my Dad would often take me to our local aquarium, I was always mesmerised by the colours of the tropical fish and fascinated by how diverse the marine creatures were. Although I believe now that animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity I’m glad I was taken there as a child and inspired by the sea life otherwise I might not be on the career path I am now.

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

Experience is the key to breaking into the field. I completed a lot of overseas expeditions with volunteer organisations learning survey techniques and species identification but there’s also lots of free resources that I used to bulk up my experience like online courses on coral reef resilience or shark ecology etc.

Local volunteer jobs with organisations like The Wildlife Trusts provided me with great transferable skills even though it wasn’t directly related to marine conservation.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

I applied for the position and a contact recommended me. Networking is really important.

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

Living in the field. Being on a local island in the Maldives I’m so close our Marine Centre, if I don’t fancy a morning in the office I can always get involved with the turtles or go for snorkel and monitor the coral!

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

Getting to inspire others to go into marine conservation is a big part of my role. When volunteers have spent weeks or even months caring for injured turtles and then they get to see a healthy turtle released it’s great. Documenting it on social media for people around the world who aren’t as close to the turtles means that it inspires people to want to come out and help us too!

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

That it takes time and to never give up. Persevere with long hour studying for degrees, the unpaid work, and the countless applications because it will pay off one day when you’re doing what you love.

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

There’s so much you can do in marine conservation when you’re just starting out so try and get as much experience as you can from getting your boat handling licence, first aid training, surveying skills, species ID, diving, report writing, marketing etc. One thing that’s become really important and I didn’t think I would need is computer skills, programmes like ArcGIS and more specific programmes such as CoralPointCount can be difficult to work at first but are so useful once you’ve learnt how to navigate them.

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Embrace statistics, everyone always tries to avoid them but they’re great once you’ve got the hang of them.

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

I love all marine creatures! But if I had to choose, I’d probably say sharks. They’ve been on the planet for longer than trees and are some of the coolest creatures but are so underappreciated by humans!

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

Probably the first time I saw a coral reef. There’s nothing on land comparable, as one of my idols William Beebe described the underwater world ‘it’s a place where plants are animals and rocks are alive’.


Thank you Jess, we agree that it takes time and lots of effort to get the career you want but it is so worth it when you achieve your goals.

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