Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

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Community, From the Field

How WorkingAbroad Got Me a Job in Conservation

April 13th 2024

Tagged: Conservation, Environment, Ethical Volunteering, Volunteering Abroad, wildlife job

As many reading this will know, getting into the wildlife conservation sector in any shape or form is incredibly difficult!

Like many, I had a long and sometimes frustrating journey to arrive where I am today, working in Marine Conservation full-time at Natural England. Getting here took me a lot of personal hard work and determination, but much is owed to WorkingAbroad and the opportunities they have facilitated.

Once I finished my degree in Environmental Geography and International Development, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel particularly inspired by my course. However, aquatic biology had always been a personal interest point.

After completing the first of my WorkingAbroad projects in Mauritius I knew Marine Conservation was the path to go down! But without a directly relevant degree or master’s, I needed to gain a lot of experience, that’s where WorkingAbroad came in.

Over the 4 years since I left university, I worked, saved and travelled, saved and travelled, repeatedly, to go on several WorkingAbroad volunteer projects. This helped me build a repertoire of real-life tangible conservation experience, a far more rewarding journey, than what I’d read in books or heard at university.

For those already in conservation, there’s a part two to this where I will discuss how my volunteering since getting a full-time job has helped me build further in my career – keep an eye out for that one!

Blue Lagoon Coral Reef Project, Mauritius

As mentioned, I did gain a degree in Environmental Geography and International Development before my experiences with WorkingAbroad. Still, this first trip was where I realised marine conservation was the path for me!

Jack Digman at marine conservation projectVolunteering Abroad Team | Working Abroad

Now, realising marine conservation is your goal after university and not having done a marine biology degree is not the best start. But, this will show you that even if you aren’t certain of your path going into university, you can still turn it around afterwards!

The project in Mauritius focuses on Hawksbill sea turtle monitoring. So Mauritius didn’t just ignite my passion for marine biology but for turtles too!

Monitoring Skills are so Important!

This Hawksbill turtle monitoring was one of my first post-university experiences of true, in-field, marine monitoring. Making this was the first stepping stone in building those key survey and monitoring skills that all marine conservationists need, if they wish to work on the ground (or sea in this case I suppose!).

This was built on further through some amazing coral monitoring. This heavily involved learning all the fish species and coral species of the Indian Ocean so that we could accurately survey. A skill that has greatly come in handy when trying to get to terms with the myriad of UK species that I now work with. The survey techniques here, using transects, have also been used in in-house monitoring surveys in my current role, so having this experience in Mauritius was really good!

Seagrass and Human Activity Monitoring were also Valuable Experiences

We also did some really interesting seagrass surveys, with transects, and this has directly helped me in my current role. Seagrass is a big deal in the UK conservation space and one of the most targeted species for restoration projects in Natural England and other UK organisations, particularly the Wildlife Trusts and WWF. Learning about seagrass in Mauritius and how to survey coverage, although a different species, taught me a great deal that is transferrable to my work today.

Another important task we had in Mauritius was Human activity monitoring. This involved getting up at 5 am to go and watch the fishermen in the marine protected area. Now apart from the stunning Mauritius sunrises to enjoy, this also helped me learn a great deal about how marine protected areas work, what an enforcement role might look like for me and what compliance in these areas is truly like.

Today I work heavily on providing fisheries advice in Natural England. Although different in terms of rules, regulations and species, this monitoring gave me a wonderful basis of understand of what marine protected areas were, why they exist and what fishing practices are the most damaging to different habitats.

Ocean Spirits Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Grenada

A year on from Mauritius I had the sea turtle bug and thought why not tick off the biggest – the Leatherback sea turtle!

While Mauritius had focused on in-the-water marine monitoring, Grenada helped build my coastal, land-based monitoring methods for the first time.

Volunteers with turtleVolunteer in Grenada | WorkingAbroad

Here we were volunteering to look at, and protect, the Leatherback sea turtle nesting season. The night shifts were long and tiring, but do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, and I loved it!

Not only did I enjoy it but taking learning all sorts of new skills such as; flipper tagging of unmarked females, data collection – including carapace (shell) measurements, egg counts, nest relocation and nest excavations was amazing. Having to learn so many new skills in such a short space of time, again, is something that I have carried into my current work.

In addition, this project enjoyed a school visit to a local primary school. We taught about local wildlife and created some interactive games indoor and outdoors and this was really amazing and rewarding. We also did a swimming lesson once a week with local children.

This highlighted to me that not only did I enjoy the science side and the in the field monitoring, but engaging people with marine education was also something that I greatly enjoyed. I now work in a role where I do both desk based science work and lead on marine visualisation/engagement in the team, so Grenada may well have been the first step towards that role!

Caribbean Reef Buddy Diving Project, Carriacou, West Indies

From Grenada I moved on to one of its idyllic island called Carriacou. Here I built on my photo identification skills, learned more about coral reefs and how to scuba dive!

scuba lionfish huntVolunteer in Carriacou | WorkingAbroad

Scuba diving itself is a wonderful skill to have as someone who loves the ocean. It allows you to explore depths you would normally be able to for prolonged periods of time and becoming immersed in your underwater surroundings. Not only do I recommend it for the enjoyment, but it also allows you to do prolonged underwater monitoring.

Here, I again had to teach myself the fish and coral species of a new ocean. We undertook important coral health surveys under the Coral Watch methodology and really fun photographic identification surveys of the reef fish.

I have gone on to dive in a number of places in the world and this skill has allowed me to partake in a number of research projects. Furthermore, these photo identification skills are something I have directly translated into my work while doing my own biogenic reef surveys in the UK. Here I have recently designed a survey to use photo identification for epifauna, showing how these skills have directly translated.

Blogging can open up your eyes to a career in Wildlife Communications

Something else unique to this experience was that I got the chance to blog for WorkingAbroad while on this trip. This was my first time blogging about wildlife after trying my hand at football reporting straight after university. Diversifying my communication into wildlife blogging, making scientific writing easy for anyone to read and expressing how I felt about my experiences was greatly rewarding.

This blogging led to me becoming a WorkingAbroad intern, which eventually led to a paid role here, but also inspired me to start my own blog. All this blogging was directly used as evidence of my knowledge of marine conservation at interview for my Natural England role and so starting my blogging journey here was truly invaluable.

What I haven’t mentioned above is that all of these projects give you a wonderful insight into working with people from around the world and of all ages and backgrounds. Not only does this mean I now have a cohort of global friends, many of whom are in the marine conservation space too now, but it also gave me that all important know-how when communicating and working with others.

When you’re in the workplace there will be people in your organisation, and outside of it, that you don’ always seeing eye-to-eye with. Knowing how to manage this is a vital skill for anyone in any line of work. Working with people on these volunteer projects gives you that kick start in experience of working with lots of different and difficult people!

Blogging with WorkingAbroad

Covid struck. Now this put a bit of a spanner in the plan to travel and gain experience!

Luckily at this point, from blogging and interning with WorkingAbroad I had their trust and was offered the chance to be paid to manage our blogger team, website manage and run our social media communications.

Diving in CarriacouCaribbean Reef Diving | Volunteer in Carriacou | Working Abroad

Managing my wonderful bloggers has built on my experience to allow me to run teams of people, as well as improved my own editing and writing style. Website management and social media were something new to me. But again, this enjoyable building of new skills is something really valuable when going in to any new career.

Since building confidence in social media I now help run the Natural England socials, and completely my own blog socials, and even for an upcoming wildlife documentary. Staring with that blogging experience was key to allow me to do all this and again build that CV in communications.

You don’t have to be a ‘hard scientist’ in the lab or doing field research. Marketing and communications is also one of the most powerful tools in building a world and community passionate about wildlife conservation and I’m glad WorkingAbroad gave me that opportunity to explore this.

You can also blog for us if you get in touch with me and start directly building these vital skills of your own!

My Personal Advice for Budding Conservationists

One of the best things anyone told me throughout my professional journey to get into conservation was:

“Your passion and determination will take you further than any piece of paper”

Hawksbill turtle swimming in the lagoonCoral Reef Marine Conservation | Volunteer Mauritius | Working Abroad

I still strongly believe this to this day.

For some jobs university and post-graduate education are needed, maybe if you wanted to be a laboratory scientist or lead a globally important research project, then yes you going to need the paper and the skills that come with that learning. But there are so many jobs that just need the experience and passion!

Career sectors such as animal husbandry, wildlife communications, ranger work, wildlife photography, government advice, wildlife artistry, community engagement and so much more – all these types of jobs are looking for passion, drive and experience!

Your desire to go the extra mile, travel and see what is really happening on the ground is so important! Your passion for what you believe in is almost always going to make you stand out from the crowd more than any grade will!

So travel and see what’s happening on the ground to get that real-world experience, maybe you will even do it with WorkingAbroad!

If you would like more advice or general background on my path please reach out on LinkedIn or jack@workingabroad.com

This blog was getting very long so stay tuned for all the trips I have taken since getting my job and how they have helped me build my skills and confidence in the industry!

Written by WorkingAbroad Blog Editor, Marketing and Communications Assistant Jack Digman

About the Author

WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.