Case study

Founder of Project Seagrass and biology teacher — Rich Lilley

Rich reflects on his tropical fieldwork and how opportunism led him into the impactful world of education and outreach

How did you get your job?

My work is twofold. I'm a co-founder of Project Seagrass and a biology teacher.

Project Seagrass is a marine conservation charity, which educates the wider community on the importance of seagrass ecosystems as fish nurseries and carbon stores. We set it up just over four years ago when I started my PhD in Sustainable Fisheries at Cardiff University. Prior to this, I'd spent time doing field work in Australia, Mexico and Thailand.

I developed a passion for seagrass meadows during my MRes in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation at Swansea University, while I was researching the role of seagrass as a nursery habitat for the Atlantic cod and realised that seagrass ecosystems were under threat and were frequently ignored in conservation agendas.

Alongside Project Seagrass, I teach secondary school biology. 

How relevant are your qualifications to your job?

Studying a BSc in Natural Sciences at Durham University gave me a broad scientific understanding, which opened a variety of doors from research to teaching.

I then narrowed my interests down with a Tropical Marine Ecology module from Stockholm University, an MRes in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation from Swansea University, an MSc in Social Science Research Methods (with a seagrass focus) and a PhD in Sustainable Fisheries from Cardiff University.

My Swedish studies opened the door to marine ecology and my MRes provided me with the practical skills to carry out scientific research on the ecological issues underpinning the conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems.

The latter has been vital to my work with Project Seagrass as my study focused on a cross-sectional study of nearshore seagrass meadows in The Turks and Caicos Islands.

My PGCE at Warwick University was the pre-cursor to teaching but it's also enhanced my work with Project Seagrass, deepening my teaching skills so I'm better placed to educate both school children and the general public on the importance of seagrass ecosystems.

How has your role developed?

I've moved from general science and conservation towards marine ecology, education and outreach.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy making a difference at a grass-roots level whether raising the profile of science in schools or increasing awareness of seagrass globally. Being able to create programmes that link into primary education and being able to integrate this into secondary teaching is pretty awesome.

It's also rewarding to see an increasing number of publications on seagrass and a growing recognition of the ecosystem in government documentation.

What are the most challenging parts?

Teaching requires you to give your all, so trying to run a charity alongside it is certainly a challenge.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Marine biology is competitive and the jobs that some young people dream about, like working with dolphins and turtles, are hard to get. You really need to prove yourself and be proactive.

There's also no traditional path into marine biology per se - you need to think about the skills you have and carve your own path.

To solve the world's marine problems, we need an interdisciplinary approach, which combines socio-economic and ecological perspectives.

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