Blue Ventures Staff Q&A with Sophie Benbow, Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager, Madagascar

In the eleventh instalment in our series of Q&As with Blue Ventures staff, we ask Sophie Benbow, our Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager, some searching questions about science, conservation and superpowers…

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What is your background?
I originally started, as I think probably about half of wannabe marine biologists do, with a love for cetaceans. I volunteered with projects wherever and whenever I could, and developed research projects for both my undergrad (BSc Zoology) and masters theses around these wonderful creatures. Following my MSc in Conservation I started working as an intern in the London office of Blue Ventures and the rest, as they say, is history!

Why do you do what you do?
Sometimes I do wonder exactly that. There are certainly a huge range of challenges to working in conservation, but what it comes down to is working for something that you believe in. If we could all learn to treat our planet with respect there wouldn’t be a job for people like me, but as long as there are people who value themselves over nature I will be here, trying to put everything right and ensuring that coastal subsistence communities have enough fish to eat and octopus to catch.

What is the best/worst thing about being a conservation scientist/working in conservation?
The worst things about my job are the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracy, the language barriers and the fact that while I live in an amazing place I spend more than 8 hours a day, often 6 days a week behind a desk which is not, I am sure, how my friends and family envision I spend my days!

The best thing about my job are the odd days when I get back to the field and remember why I put up with all the bad things! Spending time with the communities, the fish, coral and octopus. Just an hour in the field slots everything straight back into perspective. This country is amazing, and it needs whatever help we can provide.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Working and supporting students and teaching people new things. The joy of explaining excel pivot tables to Malagasy students is quite brilliant, knowing that if they are going to continue to pursue a career in conservation you have likely changed their working life.… We also work with colleagues and partners who have yet to be introduced to the wonders of track changes in word… I tell you. Life changing…

What is your favourite species or group of species and why?
I still love the cetaceans, that is dolphins and whales to those non-scientists, and my heart always does a little leap when I see these fabulous creatures. I also have minor love affairs with black saddled tobies and ‘wonderful, wonderful slingjaw wrasses’ but if any of you are in doubt about how blummin’ cool the humble octopus is then check them out here. Not only can they change colour to match the substrate, mimic 15 different marine species including the mighty lion fish, escape through tiny cracks and holes and walk on land making them a huge challenge to aquarium owners; last, but by no means least, when the question of who is cooler, stronger and better between an octopus and shark comes up, just watch this movie, it will blow your mind. All hail the octopus!

What would your science superpower be?
The power to put the money in the right place so that it can achieve everything it was destined to achieve. Failing that I would really love to be able to breathe underwater – it would certainly reduce the costs of coral reef monitoring!

What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you while working on conservation?
Being ambushed by a lemur after my morning shower in a remote fishing village about 100 km south of Toliara; when I returned to my room after the shower the lemur was sitting on my bed playing with my toothbrush!

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Sophie Benbow

Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager
Sophie currently manages all aspects of the first regional stock assessment for Octopus cyanea in southwest Madagascar including logistics and financial reporting, staff and data management and final report production. She also works with the Field Scientist team on site to ensure data collection and analysis for the coral reef monitoring programme is of a high standard and to facilitate report production. "The octopus research projects have progressed from strength to strength and represent a truly innovative approach to conservation with impressive and measurable outputs which directly improve the lives of local communities" Sophie was awarded an honours degree in Zoology from Durham University, UK and then went on to complete her Masters in Conservation at University College London. She joined Blue Ventures as a Science Intern in the London Office in 2006 before her first vist to Madagascar as a Field Scientist in February 2007. She re joined the Madagascar team as Marine Science Coordinator in Andavadoaka in May 2009 after a brief stint working as a coral reef biologist in the Philippines. Sophie has held her current position as Manager of the first regional stock assessment for octopus since August 2010
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About Sophie Benbow

Sophie currently manages all aspects of the first regional stock assessment for Octopus cyanea in southwest Madagascar including logistics and financial reporting, staff and data management and final report production. She also works with the Field Scientist team on site to ensure data collection and analysis for the coral reef monitoring programme is of a high standard and to facilitate report production. "The octopus research projects have progressed from strength to strength and represent a truly innovative approach to conservation with impressive and measurable outputs which directly improve the lives of local communities" Sophie was awarded an honours degree in Zoology from Durham University, UK and then went on to complete her Masters in Conservation at University College London. She joined Blue Ventures as a Science Intern in the London Office in 2006 before her first vist to Madagascar as a Field Scientist in February 2007. She re joined the Madagascar team as Marine Science Coordinator in Andavadoaka in May 2009 after a brief stint working as a coral reef biologist in the Philippines. Sophie has held her current position as Manager of the first regional stock assessment for octopus since August 2010