An Interview with WiseOceans… Nick Mackay-Roberts from St Abbs Marine Station

This week we’re with Nick from St Abbs Marine station here in the UK. Nick’s job as Conservation Research is incredibly diverse which he loves. This does show, as Nick highlights, that experience is everything and he encourages you to try your hand at everything you can as you never know when it might come in useful.

Name: Nick Mackay-Roberts

Job Title: Conservation Researcher

Organisation: St Abbs Marine Station

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

I have always been drawn to the ocean and the life it contains. I never lost the curiosity but was made aware that this seemingly infinite body of water was under an ever increasing amount of anthropogenic pressure and needed protection.

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

I completed a BSc and MSc in Marine Biology, and then gained as much broad experience as I could in all manner of marine resource related jobs, including with the government, conservation, fisheries, academia and research. This gave me an understanding of the different users of the sea, and enabled me to better understand the nature of the threats they pose and potential solutions.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

I was made aware of the position through a contact and applied. Networking should never be underestimated.

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

I think that would have to be the sheer diversity of my job. No two days are same and being part of a small organisation means that I have many roles. One day I’m a microbiologist, another day a plumber, the next a schoolteacher, then a lab technician.

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

There are many aspects that make me feel that way, from working on novel conservation research topics, to introducing children to the marine life found on their local shores and seeing the same fascinated look on their faces as I had as a child.

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

Experience is everything. Try your hand at everything you can as you never know when it might come in useful.

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

So many, from photography and graphical design, to practical skills using power saws and drills. You really never know what you might need so don’t overlook anything.

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Idealism is for philosophers. Real world conservation can only succeed if you understand the threats that the marine environment faces from a human aspect and provide solutions without disregarding the lives of those who might be responsible. Understanding people is as important as understanding the marine environment when it comes to conservation.

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

I might be on my own here, but my favourite creature is Larus argentatus, the Herring Gull. To me they embody the essence of freedom, resilience and adaptability. Sadly even these birds are under threat.

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

Helping the SSPCA Seal Rescue Unit to capture an injured female grey seal that had beached herself at the back door of our facility. She was removed, treated and returned to the sea in full health. A small win but a memorable one.


Thanks Nick, so much brilliant advice, from gaining a wide range of experiences and never underestimating the value of networking. We also totally agree with you that understanding people is key when understanding the Marne environment and how we can conserve it.

St Abbs Marine Station are currently looking for volunteers, find out more and get involved and gain some vital experience along the way.

Don’t forget to sign up to our weekly job alert emails and keep an eye on our Wise Work pages so you don’t miss your dream opportunity in more marine conservation.