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A mindset of hope: staying positive for ocean conservation with Emily Wagdin

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Emily Wagdin (pronouns: she/her) is a Masters student studying Island Biodiversity and Conservation with a focus on the impacts of changing ocean conditions on crustaceans. Originally from Manchester in England, Emily lives on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands where her study species, the Brown Crab, Spider Crab and European Lobster, also live. Emily shares her experience pursuing a career in wildlife conservation, as well as her efforts to stay optimistic and make a positive difference in the face of widespread climate change, pollution and other challenges worldwide that threaten the ocean and its inhabitants.

A mindset of hope: staying positive for ocean conservation with Emily Wagdin | #itsawildlife

EMILY’S JOURNEY

From a young age, Emily was fascinated by the natural world, an interest that has stuck with her to this day.

“I think I’ve always had that love of animals, nature and which I think most kids do… As you grow older, you find you’re drawn to other things, but I feel like I’ve always kept that interest in animals and the ocean”

All through school, Emily loved biology, and when she was older choosing her degree, she managed to find one that focused on biology and nature, the best of everything.

“That’s the path I followed. Ecology just drew me in and ticked everything I really enjoy.”

After completing her undergraduate degree in ecology, Emily has embarked on her Masters in the marine components of island biodiversity and conservation. Islands are unique and dynamic environments thanks to their isolation and often act as refuge places for species and host higher levels of endemism than the mainland.

While sea surface temperature is often used as an indicator of climate change, Emily is investigating whether or not sea benthic temperature is also changing, and if so, what impact will this have on local crustaceans like the Brown Crab, the European Lobster and the Spider Crab, all of which are also important commercially-caught species.

“Our biggest fishery in Jersey is crustaceans so it’s really important for the economy to safeguard this fishery, especially in the context of changing oceanic conditions”

As parts of their life history are determined by depth and temperature, rises in sea level and sea temperature can potentially have a huge impact on crabs and lobsters. Many crustaceans mature and grow in response to temperature constraints so Emily (and the local fisheries!) are interested in understanding if the abundance and distribution of local populations shifts in response to changing conditions.

STAYING CALM AMID THE STORM

When you speak to Emily, she is a passionate and optimistic advocate for ocean conservation. And yet, when it comes to our oceans in particular, we are too-often reminded of the devastating impacts of climate change, acidification, coral bleaching, pollution and over-fishing on the sea, without a clear idea of whether or not this damage can be reversed. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed and dissociated by this negativity.

For so many of us, the ocean remains a sanctuary – a place we love to experience. It can feel hard to balance these two perspectives, to enjoy it when we see first-hand the marks humans have made on it. We asked Emily how she focuses on the positive and uses our powers for good.

“I think it’s really difficult. I definitely have days where I’m negative, contemplating what life will be like on the planet in the future. But just the other day, I went out to survey the crustaceans in a no-take-zone and we saw so many… which fills me with relief and happiness, knowing they’re still there and that we’re working to keep it that way”

“And today, my mindset is hopeful. I think it’s the only way to be and if you can, find something that makes you feel hopeful: science, policies, nature and we will be successful in the long-term.”

Doing something (however small!) is still something.

Emily says even if we can’t solve the problem by ourselves, we can mitigate it and make a difference. Whether we’re consciously consuming, reducing our waste or making other sustainable choices – every little bit counts.

FINDING YOUR PATH IN NATURE CONSERVATION

Emily was always extremely clear on her pathway into ecology and pursuing her passions for wildlife and the natural world. But Emily reminds us that everyone feels moments of uncertainty and anxiety while pursuing such a niche career option. It is really important to stay confident in your own strengths and the hard work you’re putting in to forging your own pathway.

“Some days I have no idea if what I’m doing is going to lead me to what I want. But as long as the general trend is moving forward, I find myself looking down new avenues, then I cross my fingers that I’ll still really enjoy what I’m doing.”

It can certainly be scary taking opportunities or committing to projects you’re not sure if you’ll like. But the braver you can be in this process, the more experience it can give you towards ultimately narrowing your niche.

And speaking of niches, while there are certainly recommendations you take on your journey to work with nature or wildlife, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do anything! There are so many jobs listed on environmental job boards that ask for a background in marketing, administration, business, engineering or even communication and the arts – wherever your existing passions and talents lie.

“As I begin to job search, I’m realizing that to work with the environment, you don’t necessarily need a science background. For the conservation issues we face, that passion for nature is really important in every industry. Whatever your strengths, even if it’s not a biology degree, you can always find a way to tailor them towards the environment.”

Social media, especially Facebook groups, have been a way that Emily has found lots of opportunities advertised, both voluntary and paid in wildlife conservation. She explains:

“Facebook for me has been a huge platform for finding different opportunities available. It’s a great place to share things, ask questions and chat with a like-minded community which is so important.”

And when it comes to applying, Emily suggests going for anything that you’re interested in doing.

“I think if you see an opportunity that you’re interested in, go for it, even if you don’t tick every box on the application, 9 of 10 people won’t have either!”

In so many cases, your self-confidence to apply in the first place and persistence in the process can be the difference between whether you get it or miss out – so don’t let imposter syndrome stand in your way!

Failure is part of the process – but reframing failures as lessons will strengthen you and guide you towards the perfect opportunity for you. Emily says:

“For my undergrad, I applied to lots of universities and then eventually settled on one that was right for me. I had failures as well: internships I applied for and didn’t get, maybe because it just wasn’t right for me at the time and probably wouldn’t have coincided with me being where I’m at now.”

Reframing failure can be really challenging and picking yourself up won’t be easy. But choosing to tell yourself that something better for you is coming will certainly help you and your motivation in the long-term.

“You won’t be motivated 100% of the time. It’s very de-motivating when you miss out on an opportunity you really wanted but cross your fingers as something more suited to you will come along so keep going for it!”

Do you feel inspired? Just listening to Emily speak was motivating for me!

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Emily? Tune into the podcast to listen to our conversation. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @emmyinthewild or check out her website to find out more about Emily’s field experiences and advice for aspiring biologists.

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