In the fourteenth instalment in our series of Q&As with Blue Ventures staff, we ask Jen Chapman, our Conservation Coordinator in Belize, some searching questions about science, conservation and superpowers…
What is your scientific background?
Being brought-up by a biologist, my fate was sealed from day one! I was lucky enough to start diving as a child, and fell in love with the sea. After completing a BSc in Biology, I volunteered and worked in a few different fields, finally settling comfortably in coral reef ecology and conservation!
Why do you do what you do?
There are so many reasons… Because when I was a child, I used to see big fish and lots of them, but when I revisit these same reefs, they are quiet. Because when I was 10, I found a turtle drowned in a gill net. Because the sea doesn’t have a voice, and few people have the privilege of getting to know it intimately enough to see how it is suffering. Because I have visited communities that have lost their reefs through dynamite fishing, and have seen what happens when a marine resource is not well-managed. Because despite my upbringing and love for the ocean, I ignorantly ate shark fin soup until I was 14. Because we need the sea: for food, cultural identity, to regulate our climate… and just the pure pleasure of it!
What is the best/worst thing about being a conservation scientist?
The best thing is to be doing something that I am totally passionate about and never bored by. There is no such thing as a typical day at work, and you have to learn to wear lots of hats! My least favourite hat is the one I have to wear when doing budgets.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love project planning – it’s so exciting! Talking to different partners about what you hope to achieve, defining your objectives and figuring out how you’re going to get there. It’s a process filled with hope, anticipation, optimism and collaboration.
What is your favourite species and why?
When I’m in Asia, every dive I do is all about finding the tiniest, most beautiful nudibranchs. Given they aren’t quite so abundant in the Caribbean, I’ve had to change my approach – here, diving is really about the big stuff. Bottlenose dolphins, Antillean manatees, goliath grouper and loggerhead turtles… seeing these graceful giants underwater is truly awesome.
What would your scientific superpower be?
I’d like to be able to absorb greenhouse gases and convert them into a usable, clean fuel.
What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you while working on conservation?
I have witnessed too many people getting mounted by male turtles on the prowl!! Fortunately, I am clearly not a very sexy turtle, and have always been able to float there and laugh as my dive buddy attempts to gently remove the confused animal. Not as bad as a friend of mine who was mounted by a dugong whilst doing a seagrass survey, though…