This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with Kyla Smith, Diving Safety Officer and Researcher from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS)
Name: Kyla Smith
Role: Diving Safety Officer
Company: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences
Top Tip: Being a marine biologist is only one cog of the marine conservation wheel – you can pursue so many different fields and still contribute to marine conservation
Quick Fire Questions
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Growing up on an island surround by clear turquoise waters I very quickly became infatuated with the ocean and all of its wondrous inhabitants. I was swimming and snorkelling before I was even out of diapers. I knew from the age of 5 that I wanted to be a marine biologist and never swayed from that desire. Reading books like Eugenie Clarks ‘Shark Lady’ further fuelled this desire. I desperately wanted to follow in her footsteps and become a shark researcher in hope to spread awareness to dispel the fears and hatred many people have for these hugely important and misunderstood creatures
2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?
At a young age I soaked up as much knowledge I could get on our local fish species. Being able to properly ID EVERY fish at the Aquarium was a goal of mine from early on. As soon as I was of age I became a junior volunteer at the Bermuda Aquarium. This continued into a paid weekend job and summer aquarist internships while I was still in school.
I became a certified diver at 14 which allowed me to progress much further with my passion and dive in the large tank and give tourists talks from within using a full face mask. Once I returned to Bermuda with my BSc in environmental science I became a fulltime employee and worked in the Collector of specimens and quarantine technician department. I was only there a short while before I decided to follow my dreams of studying sharks and went off to South Africa for an internship at Oceans Research. Here I helped study the white shark population of Mossel Bay.
Upon my return home finding a paying job in my field was very difficult. I desperately wanted to stay in the field so I ended up applying for job at a local dive shop as a tour guide and divemaster. I received my dive instructor certification whist there which ultimately opened more doors in my career
3. How did you obtain your current position?
My first position at BIOS was as an Ocean Academy marine science educator. I started teaching young students to dive and conduct science whilst on scuba during summer camp programs. I also undertook numerus lectures and excursions looking at the Bermuda’s natural history inspiring local and visiting school students to appreciate and care for island and marine environments. When the opportunity for the Diving Safety Officer position arose I was keen to grab it and get back in the water diving in a great capacity than my previous role.
4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Every day is different which keeps things exciting. I love most when I’m in the field with students diving and teaching science data collection methods. But some days I’m on land teaching first aid courses, organizing and booking boats for research and fieldtrips, working on department budgets, servicing scuba equipment and cylinders. SO many aspects to this position that I’m always kept on my toes. On occasion I also get to go out with our researchers.
5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Absolutely! When I first started in the education department here at BIOS I was worried I wouldn’t make a difference because I wasn’t pursuing research. However, over the years I’ve come to realize just how powerful and important education is for marine conservation. I feel I make a difference every time I have a new group of students and I expose them to the ocean for the first time. I know it is a feeling and memory that will stay with them forever.
In my new position I’ve started teaching the science diving course and I know these young aspiring scientist will go off and make a difference in this world with the tools and skills I’ve instilled in them and that makes me so proud. One of my favourite quotes by Baba Dioum is “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
I like to think that I am also making a difference for women in this profession by helping break down the barriers of sexism in a male dominated profession. Today men still make up the majority of scuba diving professionals. Not only do I think it is important to prove that gender does not matter in this profession but also that anyone is capable of achieving their goals if they work hard. I think diving is the absolute best way to experience the true wonders of our oceans. I believe scuba diving connects us more to the ocean and in turn brings about more awareness of how our actions impact this delicate ecosystem. Ultimately my love for the ocean fostered through adventures on scuba has brought me to my current profession
6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I’d known the true vast scope of marine sciences. I was so interested in studying the charismatic mega fauna and didn’t realize that marine science is all encompassing. With the ever evolving technologies and gadgets, the marine science field is exploding into avenues I had never dreamed possible. The jobs available when I started my journey is miniscule compared to the opportunities now. The future holds so much potential
7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
So many skills I have learned along the way and continue to learn but leadership, communication, organization, and accounting are skills I was not expecting to need when I was in school studying. These skills I am fine tuning in my current profession, but learning never stops if you are doing it right!
8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Take every possible opportunity you can to get the hands on experience needed. Volunteer at your local aquarium, wildlife rescue, or professor’s lab. You must put yourself out there and actively seek opportunities (internships etc.) to make things happen. You won’t get anywhere if you wait for opportunity’s to magically find you. Also, remember setbacks are normal, have thick skin and don’t give up if your path slightly shifts, this field is very competitive. Being a marine biologist is only one cog of the marine conservation wheel. You can pursue so many different fields and still end up making a huge impact in marine conservation
9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?
I always say sharks especially the great hammerhead but in all honestly I love everything under the ocean. From the deep to the intertidal, I am continuously in awe by nature and its beauty. Most recently I’ve been obsessed with macro fauna since I don’t come across sharks that often in Bermuda. I found a Glaucus atlanticus last year and still haven’t come down from that excitement. The most notorious nudibranch that eats Portuguese Man O’War and can repurpose the stinging cells and use them against predators! How cool is that!?
10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Wow tough question, SO many memories come rushing in when I think of my favourite moments underwater. No doubt it is always amazing when you can dive with mega fauna like sharks, mantas and whales but I’d have to confess that some of my most soul fulfilling memories are not these experiences! Instead, they include when I take students out for the first time and I witness a passion ignite within (audible shrills through the regulators and eyes light up) knowing that they have just fallen in love with the ocean and I helped expose them to their new love
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