This is a true career story as told toÂ AllEnvironmentalJobs.comÂ and is one of many interviews withÂ bilingual professionals, which among others include anÂ ecological design residentÂ and anÂ environmental operations manager.
I work as one of the newest staff membersÂ in a Seawater Biodiversity Research and Conservation program. My job is basically to teach young volunteers, like myself, the basics of data gathering on dives. Before I became part of the staff, I volunteered on and off for two years. The volunteer work just appealed to my curious nature so much that I finally decided to work at it full-time.
Thankfully, as a young lady growing up in the Philippines, I did not have to deal with us much gender discrimination as I would have if I grew up in other Asian countries. If anything, my being a girl works to my advantage because safety measures are always more thorough for girls and all the other divers are looking after us all the time.
An Early Start to the Day
My day starts at 5 am when I have to prepare for a 6 am dive. When we get to the dive site, I lay out a 30 meter transect tape and note down all the fish along that transect line as accurately as possible. At around 7-8 am we go back to shore and at 9am I log in my gathered data onto the database.
The rest of the day will go depending on the schedule the team has agreed upon during the start of the week. Activities can vary from dive training for volunteers to data encoding, community immersion, studying for diving exams, studying various types of aquatic species and planning for the other events of the week.
Learning From the Local Community
The job requires me to be either at the beach, in the community helping educate the locals or in the office hanging out with some of the best people I have ever met. If the scale didnâ€™t end at 10, Iâ€™d probably give this job a 15.
Part of what we do in our organization is working with the local fishermen and trying to teach them safe and sustainable ways of living off the sea. We try to teach them that there is complete abundance in the water, if only we knew how to treat it with respect. Yet, sometimes we get schooled by the locals. I see these people, hear their stories, learn their wisdom and am humbled. I always feel like I learn more from them than they do from me and of all the things I do at work, working with the locals is probably what I love the most. By understanding what its people are like, I feel that I have glimpsed into a part of the sea that I have never seen before.
Curiosity Led to a Career
I grew up around the sea and with an almost furious curiosity about it. The house I grew up in was about a minuteâ€™s walk away from the beach. I spent so much time in the water that I eventually started feeling like I felt more at home in it than I did on land. It was inevitable then, I guess, that I would eventually find a job that would require me to be at sea most of the time.
When I started volunteering 2 years ago, I had just gotten off of a degree in Biology and had no idea what to do with my life. In a country whose government doesnâ€™t feel very concerned with resources and wild life, there werenâ€™t very many job opportunities I could choose from. While waiting for calls and interviews, I decided to find a place to volunteer and maybe gain additional experience with environmental work and research. Here I am two years later, and about 5 shades darker than I used to be, with sand in between my toes about 80% of the time and I think I have just found my heaven on earth.
It was one of the longest work days I have ever had. We had our regular dive in the morning, an exam, a community outreach program, diving lessons, TONS of data encoding to get done and meetings to be finished. We were supposed to go night diving again and were in such a hurry to just do it and go home that we forgot to check the weather forecast.
About an hour and so of diving and data gathering, it started to rain pretty hard so we decided to pack up and go home. Base was still about a 45 minute boat ride away and the winds were getting really strong. It was probably the only time I have ever been terrified at sea in my entire life. Never again am I going out without checking the weather first or neglect safety measures ever again.
Learning From Real Life Experience
My education did not end, nor start, in school. With this in mind, I have learned to keep my eyes peeled for opportunities to learn even more things. The really valuable stuff that I learned about life in the sea, or just life in general, I learned from really unexpected people and places. Nothing strange really happens except when you encounter sea creatures youâ€™ve never seen before. Thatâ€™s always kind of both strange and fantastic.
We go out pretty early in the morning to gather data. This means that I get to witness the sun spread its warmth all over the water surface as it rises on the horizon. I see this almost every day but man, that stuff never gets old. I would probably do anything just to be able to have my mornings like that every day for the rest of my life.
Stress Not a Major Factor Here
The least exciting part of the job is probably the data encoding. Most of the actual research work is done by the researchers but they need help with the gathering and encoding most of the time. Itâ€™s not that exciting but I donâ€™t mind having to do it. Itâ€™s such a small price to pay for all the other stuff I enjoy.
The most stress I have ever had to endure so far was the stress of not being sure if the teeny tiny boat I was in would make it to the shore when it started raining really bad one night. Capsizing boats aside, the job is not really that stressful. You can go to work in flip-flops okay; I canâ€™t imagine how that can be stressful!
There is More to it than Money
I earn 10,000 pesos a month as a part of the staff, which is a long way from not being paid at all as a volunteer. Itâ€™s not so much but it is more than enough. I feel like I get paid more in experience than in cash and I must say that Iâ€™m quite alright with that. Just like I said, I start my day being greeted with sunshine at sea, I spend a great deal of my morning being with the fish in the coral reefs, and I get to go to work in flip flops. My job is practically a vacation. 🙂
A Relevant Degree Always Helps
Although I still had to learn a lot of things in the field, having a degree in Biology was a HUGE advantage. When I started out as a volunteer, like all other volunteers, I was required to memorize around more than 50 species of fish, sea cucumber, corals, etc. This part of the training came relatively easy to me as most of the scientific names were names I had to learn in college and even some of the data gathering skills they trained us for had been previously given to me as training.
It is fantastic, really, that there are endless opportunities if you know how to find them and that whenever I put those goggles on and stare into the beauty of the world below the surface, itâ€™s like I see magic in every crevice of the ocean floor. I would highly encourage anybody who was even just a little bit interested in this line of work.
Iâ€™d probably try and apply to volunteer abroad. In as much as I love my country, Iâ€™d really love to see the world but I want to do it by doing the work I do. Iâ€™ve found some pretty great volunteer programs in Madagascar and Belize, and would really love to be given the opportunity.
Patricia C has a degree in International Relations and enjoys learning from other cultures and traveling.