An Interview with WiseOceans… Simon McPherson from the World Cetacean Alliance

This week we chat to Simon McPherson from World Cetacean Alliance’s Brighton Dolphin Project. Simon has made the most of every volunteer opportunity that has come his way and this has led to his current position. If you are looking for a volunteer position visit our Wise Work pages – the Brighton Dolphin Project is currently recruiting for volunteers!

Name: Simon McPherson

Job Title: Brighton Dolphin Project Co-Ordinator

Organisation: World Cetacean Alliance

What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

From a young age, I’ve always had an interest in animals (mainly sharks). I remember my parents used to take me to aquariums, and I’ve always been a fan of films such as Finding Nemo (sounds cliché I know!). Growing up near Brighton, I always felt that connection to the seas and the incredible marine life. Now I’m at a stage where I want to do whatever I can to support pioneering organisations and individuals that are actively involved with marine conservation, in particular, the conservation efforts for Elasmobranchs (sharks & rays).

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

I first started out by doing work experience with the Sea Life Aquarium in Brighton, and volunteering as a Sea Champion for the Marine Conservation Society. I’ve been very lucky also to work with the team that set up WhaleFest, as well as the World Cetacean Alliance

After finishing my studies at college, I took some time out to pursue other voluntary opportunities and got myself a part-time job, so I could save up for my degree studies. It was during this time that I successfully completed my Marine Mammal Medic Course with British Divers Marine Life Rescue, as well as the Marine Mammal and Seabird Surveying course with MARINElife (which I would highly recommend to anyone).

From September 2016 to June 2018, I was studying a Foundation Degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation at Sparsholt College in Hampshire. Alongside this, I was pursuing further voluntary opportunities with organisations such as ORCA (Organisation Cetacea) as well as completing their Marine Mammal Surveyor Course and successfully completed my PADI Open Water Diver qualification. This was all achieved alongside my part-time job.

In June 2017, I volunteered with Frontier as part of their Tenerife Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project. This was an incredible experience – I was able to experience seeing these animals in their natural habitat, whilst contributing to conservation efforts of the ocean. It was then I caught the travel bug!

Earlier this year, I travelled to South Africa to volunteer on a great white shark conservation and research project (which was a big tick on my bucket list!), which was a real eye-opener for me as it made me really think about the future possibilities within marine conservation and highlighted the importance of Shark Conservation.

I’m now thinking towards the future, and have got some exciting plans including:
• Completing courses such as RYA Level 2 Powerboat
• More involvement with citizen science projects
• Saving up some funds so I can continue studies in Marine Biology.

My ultimate dream is to pursue a career in Shark Conservation, as they are the inspiration for my career, and I want to do everything I can to safeguard the future of the oceans.

How did you land your current job/position? 

I first got involved with the work of the World Cetacean Alliance when I started volunteering for WhaleFest. I’ve also been helping the organisation with other aspects of their work as well, from educating people about cetaceans becoming entangled in ghost fishing gear, to assisting with organising their conference.

When I heard about the opportunity to volunteer for the Brighton Dolphin Project, I immediately applied. It was an incredible opportunity for me as I got to be involved with a local community project. I took over the position of co-ordinating the project in October 2018, and now really excited to see what happens.

Alongside voluntary duties, I’ve been incredibly lucky to complete their Responsible Whale Watching Guide course and Whale Champion course as well. The CEO, Dylan Walker, has been an incredible mentor for me and I’m really lucky to work alongside someone who has such infectious passion for cetaceans.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I was incredibly fortunate to set up a series of Marine Experts Talks (similar to scientific conservation lectures), which allows marine conservation organisations that work within Sussex to spread awareness about their work. This was a really valuable experience for me as I got to learn about events management. I also set up the social media pages, including Twitter, and the response we’ve received is incredibly positive as it demonstrates the power of social media.

Now that I’m leading the project, it’s incredibly satisfying to take the project into its next stage. I’ve already learnt a lot within a short amount of time about project co-ordination, volunteer recruitment, fundraising etc., is also a worthwhile experience that will develop myself as a person and enhance my CV.

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

Being able to work within a small team of experts from all works of life within the World Cetacean Alliance is incredibly satisfying, as we all feedback from each other’s ideas. Having had time to meet people who are interested in volunteering for the Brighton Dolphin Project, who are from all walks of life, it has really helped me see that marine conservation is open to everyone and we all have the ability to create a ‘voice’ for the oceans. That is one of the most important aspects of our project – we want the volunteer opportunities to be available to everyone.

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

I’ve certainly learnt a lot since I decided to pursue a career in marine conservation back in 2013. I think when I was starting out, I certainly didn’t know about the opportunities that are available within marine conservation. It also never occurred to me how competitive the industry can be, but I’ve learnt how important it is to persevere and develop as much experience as possible. If you persevere, you will get there. Just keep going with those applications for internships/jobs/academic positions and you will get there.

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

Marketing and technical skills. I never thought I would need to anything remotely technical but as the World Cetacean Alliance secretariat is a small office, we all have very varied roles. Evens management and volunteer co-ordination is something I never thought I’d ever need, but it really shows how valuable it is when applying for positions.

What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists? 

The best advice I can really give to any budding marine conservationists is to apply for any volunteering experiences that become available. It makes you stand out and shows your commitment in a very competitive industry. There are so many opportunities out there, and you can either do it in the UK or abroad. It does also help you figure out what path you want to take in marine conservation.

Our opportunities within the World Cetacean Alliance are incredibly worthwhile where you can get valuable experience which may help shape your career. We do definitely encourage everyone who is interested to submit their applications and join us on the next stage of the Brighton Dolphin Project.

I would also recommend that if you are thinking about studying, there are lots of opportunities out there: always look at the modules to see what you are going to learn, and the future career opportunities. This may influence what you decide to pursue in the future. If you can, I would definitely recommend doing a SCUBA diving qualification as it’s a really valuable qualification to have on your CV.

Perhaps the most important advice would be, never be afraid to ask for advice. There are some experienced people out there who are always happy to share their journey with you, and they may know someone who can help with your future career development.

What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

I would say my favourite marine creature would be the whale shark. This is mainly because I’ve always dreamt about swimming alongside these incredible animals, and I’m looking into the possibility of volunteering on a conservation project.

Ultimately, all marine life (whales, dolphins, seahorses, coral reefs) have a part to play in maintaining a healthy balance within the marine ecosystem.

What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

It would have to be having the opportunity to volunteer on marine conservation projects in Tenerife and South Africa. I had an epiphany whilst out on the projects which was ‘if you work hard, ask for advice, put yourself up for all available opportunities out there: good things will happen’.

Thank you for the great advice Simon! World Cetacean Alliance currently have several volunteer positions to apply for – this could be your chance to build up crucial experience on the way to getting your dream job.

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.