In the eighteenth instalment in our series of Q&As with Blue Ventures staff, we ask Frances Humber, our London-based conservation programme manager, some searching questions about science, conservation and superpowers…
What is your professional background?
Despite the cliché, I had decided I wanted to be a marine biologist pretty early on but still held a healthy interest for the terrestrial third of the planet. I chose to study biological sciences at university first so I could gain a wider background knowledge (my particular favourite was studying mammal-like reptiles but entomology was a close second). This was followed by a masters in marine biology and now I’m studying part-time for a PhD looking at the artisanal shark and turtle fisheries in Madagascar.
Why do you do what you do?
Because what else would you do if you have a passion for the environment, science and everything in between?! It’s never been a decision that I consciously made, it’s just always been at the cross-section of everything I’m interested in.
What is the best/worst thing about your job?
The best thing is being able to witness and be privy to things that other people wouldn’t have the opportunity to. Whether it’s the chance to sleep on a deserted island whilst monitoring coral reefs, or training someone in remote Madagascar how to use a smartphone to monitor their village’s fishery, or wading through sea cucumber pens to monitor them in the middle of the night.
The worst is that sometimes you feel like you’ve got a secret that you can’t quite shout loud enough and if you do, then no one’s listening! We know that the state of the planet has degraded significantly, and the future situation looks just as bleak with not enough being done, but on the whole the public perception is that it’s just a bunch of scientists fighting over facts and figures. Too little is done by major media outlets and scientists to communicate effectively what the real issues are and how drastic the situation is, but I think it’s just too overwhelming for people to contemplate.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
All the budgets and logical frameworks of course!
Not really… it’s another cliché! The chance to see that all of the work that you and your colleagues have been doing together can result in positive changes for local communities and the marine environment. Plus a cup of Malagasy coffee at dawn.
What is your favourite species and why?
That’s too difficult. I have a rotating top ten favourite species but you’ll be sure to find an otter on there at any time. My top animal to see would be the blue whale though. With the extinction of terrestrial mammal megafauna, it’s hard for us to imagine such huge creatures still existing on earth.
What would your scientific superpower be?
A quick fix superpower would be to have the ability to reduce CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at a click of the fingers. However, I think ultimately I would prefer my superpower to be the ability to communicate with anyone. Not just to be able to speak any language I wanted, but to also know immediately how I could communicate in a way that would make that person, from their particular background, understand the importance and need for change in our use of the planet. I would also be able to speak to those with the most influence, power and money (CEOs, politicians, and governments) in a language they understood and that would drive them to immediate action!
What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you while working on conservation?
I’m not sure if strange is the right word but you can often find yourself in weird or unusual situations. Some things that come to mind are presenting a lesson on marine ecology to a group of unruly Filipino teachers whilst it being so hot I needed a flannel to constantly wipe the sweat off my face; trying to monitor a coral reef but too many jellyfish in the water meant my buddy (who was not wearing a wetsuit) was clinging like a limpet to the top of the marker buoy and refusing to move, or diving on a reef blown apart by dynamite but seeing the most beautiful spanish dancer sea slug swimming across in front of our path. Still probably one of the best underwater moments I’ve experienced despite the state of the reef.