In the twelfth instalment in our series of Q&As with Blue Ventures staff, we ask Charlie Gough, our Senior Marine Scientist, some searching questions about science, conservation and superpowers…
What is your scientific background?
Academically: a BSc in marine and coastal ecology and a Masters in Conservation Biology
Experientially: 25 yrs of rockpooling, 12 years of scuba diving, and an annoying propensity for asking the question Why?
Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because I have an innate love for the ocean, for everything about it, in it, on it and the molecules that comprise it.
Our planet is a blue planet and our (human) relationship with the ocean is one we have very little understanding of, having just scratched the surface.
The ocean is central to our planet’s functioning, and to the existence of humankind yet we exploit, pollute and destroy it because no one is watching, no one can see the destruction we cause beneath the waves. There is so much focus on the terrestrial environment because this is so visual to us. It is easy (as you sit and stare across the blue to the horizon) to understand how we perceive the ocean to be so vast and limitless that there is no way we could overexploit it. But, we can, and we are.
I do what I do to observe and document the changes in the ocean that we are contributing to, and to use the evidence we find to try and affect change that might protect the oceans from being destroyed; to find solutions that make our use of natural resources less damaging so that we can live in balance with the ocean.
What is the best/worst thing about being a conservation scientist?
The best thing is definitely the view…. I think I have the best commute the world has to offer, while you are probably reading this on the tube, train, bus, in the car or on your bike my commute consists of a walk along the beach, followed by a short boat ride out to my office, a beautiful but fragile coral reef in the Western Indian Ocean.
The worst thing is that my office is being destroyed; by you, by our entire civilisation, and by me, and despite the warnings we have refused to listen and now it may be too late to mitigate these effects.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
There are many things I enjoy about my job. Of course I adore the field work, but then there aren’t many who wouldn’t enjoy diving on a coral reef and counting fish.
However, for me one of the most enjoyable, adrenaline pumping, endorphin releasing parts of my job is ……wait for it………..Data analysis… yes I hear you say that is one geeky scientist, but really it is like uncovering a lost treasure when you find that your results really tell a story!
What is your favorite species or group of species and why?
Wow that is a tough question….. I really don’t know there are so many amazing creatures in the sea. But, that’s not a very good answer so perhaps I should pick Fish. Their diversity astounds me; their abundance in most water bodies from fresh to saltwater and everything in between, tropical heat to freezing cold and from the vast expanse of the open ocean to landlocked caves with no light, even being exposed at low tide, to living in the abyssal depths of the deepest oceans is no problem for them. They have evolved to live and breathe almost everywhere there is water.
Their colours too are many and varied from the vivid mandarin dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus) to the amazingly cryptic common sole (Solea solea), and their body shapes range from the seaweed like Leafy Sea dragon (Phycodurus eques) to the largest bony fish the oceanic Sunfish (Mola mola), and your traditional fishy shape of the Fusilier (Caesio xanthonota).
Another reason for fish being awesome is their relationship with humans. We love fish! To eat (yes), fish form an important part of the human food supply – providing employment for millions of people worldwide, but also to watch, with many people owning fish as pets or visiting aquaria, and of course they have been the focus of many TV documentaries, films and cartoons.
What would your science superpower be?
I don’t think there is a scuba diver alive who would not love to have aquaman’s abilities to see and breathe underwater. However, I would also choose to be Marley’s ghost from Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. Taking people to visit the past, present and future to understand how we are affecting our environment, in the hope that they might (like scrooge) make better choices in how they use and misuse the natural resources that are around them.
What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you while working on conservation?
Having dynamite explode in the water while diving in Ghana, we were far enough away from the explosion that we were all unharmed, but the realization that people will put themselves and others in such danger in order to catch a few fish was frightening.