MSc Graduate In Focus: Catherine Hart

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Catherine Hart, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2009) and now scientific director for the Red Tortguera (Sea Turtle Network) in Mexico!

Hi Catherine! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

I moved to Mexico when I was 19 after having been a volunteer on a sea turtle conservation project in Nayarit state and then undertaking an undergraduate degree there. It had always been my intention to go straight back after the master’s course. On arriving back, I began to run the field conservation work for a small NGO and then when it was low sea turtle season taught secondary school science and did a little gardening/child minding on the side. In 2010 I decided that a PhD would be beneficial and allow me to continue my sea turtle conservation and research activities. The PhD was with the Universidad de Guadalajara in Puerto Vallarta and was supported through a scholarship from the Mexican government. During that period, I increased the number of nesting beach conservation projects that I was managing from one to seven and co-founded an NGO “Red Tortuguera” (sea turtle network). After the PhD I was accepted into the Mexican Researchers System (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores) which allows me to continue my research while conducting sea turtle conservation activities.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I loved being by the sea. I am from Northampton so that’s about as far from the ocean as you can get in the UK. I loved how dynamic the UK tides are and I even loved the seagulls (which are not that popular).

Everyone on the course were amazing and had all done different conservation and research activities either during their undergraduate degrees or as volunteers. It was a great opportunity to learn about different places and conservation issues. The researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation are world class and very approachable. I always felt that I could ask questions and didn’t have to be embarrassed for having no idea about some things that others knew from their undergraduate degrees in the UK.

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

I would say everything I learnt at Exeter has been useful. Firstly, having studied at a university known for its research on sea turtles has opened many doors not to mention that my masters project was on Mexican sea turtles and I was put in contact with some of the top researchers worldwide for East Pacific green sea turtles who I may not have gotten to know so early in my career if it hadn’t been for the introductions made by the Exeter researchers. This is something I am very grateful for as not only has it been great for my research and conservation activities but also for the friendships I have made. On a more academic note the courses on statistics and mapping software have come in very useful! Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt at Exeter is to have the confidence in myself and the experience that I had gained from years of fieldwork in Mexico.

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

It’s great to be able to help study and protect sea turtles and other local wildlife where I live. I like to think that I am making a difference. I have been in the same place long enough to see some of the results of our conservation activities and that is very rewarding.

Never turn down an opportunity to tag along on research trips, learn a second language and perhaps take a course in marketing.

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Just do it.

Thanks Catherine!!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate In Focus: Joana Hanock

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Joana Hancock, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2011) and now working with the Olive Ridley Project as a Sea Turtle Biologist!

 

 

Hi Joana! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

Having graduated from an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity in 2011 well into my career as sea turtle biologist, I decided to slowly move away from previous jobs where I coordinated sea turtle nesting programs, to study and understand other less studied life-stages such as juveniles and males, and their role in sea turtle conservation. For this reason, I initiated my PhD studies in 2014 focusing on sea turtle foraging ecology, genetics and mixed modelling to understand how these life stages link to each other and how we could integrate them in conservation plans. Following on this specific research interest (foraging ecology and genetic connectivity) I am now trying to initiate a research program on Kenya’s south coast coupling sea turtle photo-ID mark-capture-recapture study, habitat mapping and population analyses, focusing on juvenile green turtles in foraging areas.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

The opportunity to study alongside with students from all areas of conservation and different parts of the world. Lectures from people working in different fields of conservation biology and student seminars provided valuable learning and eye-opening opportunities that were as valuable as the MSc program’s modules.

I really enjoyed the teaching system, it is very relaxed, in such way that it was very easy to interact and learn from the experienced lecturers and their support staff, who were always available and very supportive. The location is great, it is a very special campus and lab equipment as well as lecture theatres are top!

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

During the program we learn not only about topics in conservation, but also there are specific modules that teach you how to actually survive in the conservation world: from writing grant proposals, giving oral presentations, writing research papers, attending and preparing job interviews, etc. Extremely important!

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

I choose sea turtle biology and conservation nearly 20 years ago, and there was no turning back. Every day I learn from my interaction with turtles, with people who work with them, and mostly people who live of them. I could not imagine many more careers that can be so inter-disciplinary as working with marine vertebrates such as sea turtles. It can be hard at times, but most of the time it is a pleasure as sea turtle research progresses, turtles become even more fascinating. It is a humbling experience and always extremely rewarding!

This is a career to make your life richer, not necessarily your wallet 😉 With this in mind, keep your expectations low, accept all learning opportunities, but don’t get unmotivated. As you gain more experience things will start falling into place, and it will be a life-changing decision you will never regret!

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Go for it, it is worth it!

Thanks Joana!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate in Focus: Liliana Poggio Colman

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Liliana Colman, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2013) and now a postdoctoral researcher at projeto TAMAR in Brazil and the University of Exeter!

Hi Lili! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since studying your MSc with us?

After graduating from my MSc, I returned to Brazil, and whilst working as an environmental consultant there, I applied for a PhD at Exeter to work with TAMAR (the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme). I was granted a scholarship from the Brazilian Government through a programme called Science Without Borders, and I went back to the UK to conduct my PhD studies, investigating the ecology and conservation of leatherback sea turtles in Brazil. I have recently finished my PhD and I am currently starting a postdoctoral research to continue the research with the leatherbacks in Brazil.

Photo with thanks from Henrique Filgueras

We’re glad you are still working with us! How did you find the move to Cornwall from Brazil?

It was my first experience living abroad and from the moment I arrived at the University of Exeter to undertake my MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, I quickly fell in love with the University, the Campus and Cornwall. Discovering all the cutting-edge research being carried out across the University of Exeter has been a definite highlight for me. Being able to continue surfing while conducting my studies was an amazing part of being at the Penryn Campus and I believe it helped me a lot to stay positive and a great way of making new friends.

I had a great experience while living in Cornwall. I loved it so much that I decided to come back and conduct a PhD for four years in Cornwall. I think the University is very committed into ensuring students are well supported. I had English tutors who helped me a lot with the language both in academic and social aspects. The campus surroundings are super calm and easy going. Falmouth has a great student vibe, with lots going on for people to enjoy during their time off.

For me it was a great personal and life experience. I had the chance to live in a different country, experience a new culture and make new friends. I learned how to improve my language skills and be able to communicate in my second language (including making jokes!).

 

We’re glad you had such a great time in Cornwall! How do you think your time here has helped you in your career?

I believe the MSc Conservation and Biodiversity definitely helped me to prepare for my current role. During the MSc I learned I wanted to be a researcher and the programme helped me to gain skills which were key for conducting my PhD. I particularly benefitted from an improved academic English (which is my second language), GIS, statistics and from data analysis during my research project.

The campus is great as it is surrounded by nature. The University has modern facilities (lecture and seminar rooms, laboratories, library). There is a great variety of research being conducted at the University which makes it a place for cutting-edge research with loads of seminars, talks, workshops. And being in Cornwall makes it even better, because it is such a unique place to visit and to live.

Finally, Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying to any of our programmes at the University of Exeter and pursuing a career in conservation?

Do it!

Thanks Lili!

You can follow Lili and Projeto TAMAR on Twitter (@lilipcolman, @Projeto_TAMAR) and Instagram (lilicolman, projeto_tamar_oficial) ! 

 

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

My #ExeterMarine PhD: Marine Turtles of Brazil

Author – Lili Colman (PhD Student) – Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus

From the moment I arrived at the University of Exeter to undertake my MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, I quickly fell in love with the University, the Campus and Cornwall. Discovering all the cutting-edge research being carried out across the University of Exeter has been a definite highlight for me. The opportunity to participate in the Africa field course was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and one I will always cherish, having helped me build a practical understanding of large-scale conservation issues. My MSc research project centred on analysing 30 years of mark-and-recapture data from juvenile green turtles on an isolated tropical archipelago in Brazil, under the supervision of Prof Brendan GodleyThis published work contributes important insights regarding demographic parameters and population trends for this species.

Lili_Kenya
Meeting the Maasai in Kenya

 

Upon my return to Brazil, and whilst working as an environmental consultant there, I applied for a PhD at Exeter to work with TAMAR (the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme). This on-going conservation project illustrates a powerful example of how marine turtles and coastal communities can co-exist in an ever-changing world. Despite a history of over-exploitation, the five different species of marine turtles that nest in Brazil are now fully protected by law. And as a result, recent years have shown very promising signs of population recovery. Perhaps most notably, a major part of this success can be attributed to the active involvement of the surrounding coastal communities in the conservation work. What once started in the direct employment of former egg poachers, now involves a wide range of activities to encourage environmental awareness in the area. This includes environmental campaigns, alongside the support of alternative, sustainable economic opportunities for the communities living near the nesting beaches.

Tamar

Local kids talking turtle in Bahia, Brazil (Banco de imagens Projeto TAMAR)

My PhD research focuses on the highly migratory leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). This species has its major nesting site deep in the southwestern Atlantic ocean in eastern Brazil, on the northern coast of Espirito Santo. Projeto TAMAR has been monitoring the area since 1983 and there are promising signs of population recovery for the species. However, with a small population size and restricted geographical distribution, alongside the emergence of new threats – coastal development, fisheries bycatch, climate change, marine and light pollution – the population continues to be of conservation concern.

(Henrique Filgueiras)
Lili records leatherback sea turtle nesting (Henrique Filgueiras)

As part of the Marine Turtle Research Group (MTRG) at the University of Exeter, we are using a variety of techniques to investigate this population’s ecology, trends and the main impacts they are facing. This research is being done in collaboration with TAMAR in Brazil and Ciência Sem Fronteiras , a scholarship programme from the Brazilian Government. The knowledge obtained in this study will be used to design better and more effective conservation strategies for this species. I was delighted that my PhD project was chosen to feature in one of the films to celebrate TAMAR’s 35th anniversary:

#ExeterMarine is a interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!