How To Be A Marine Conservationist & Ocean Entrepreneur
Do you want a job in marine conservation? We have good news for you. There are more options to go down than just the traditional routes to starting a career in marine conservation! Think outside the box, and you could become an ocean entrepreneur and start up your own business.
Sounds scary? You’re not the only one who thinks so. But Mads St Clair Baker, AKA @mads_ocean is only 24 and has been there and done it!
Read on to find out how she’s made a name for herself as an ocean Insta idol, running a few nonprofits and volunteer-led organisations, as well as having a full time job. She’s made her own career in the ocean industry by becoming an entrepreneur. And you can do it too.
What exactly do you do for a living?
It’s been pretty diverse for the last few years! By academic training, I’m a marine scientist, and the past few years I’ve bounced around the coral reefs of the world working on various conservation projects, diving and photographing the underwater world. These days I tend to consider myself more of an ocean advocate, entrepreneur and science communicator.
At the moment, I’m back in London, working on the digital content side of marine science for eXXpedition, an all-female sailing and microplastics research company. My role helps to disseminate the science that our wonderful crew does onboard and to help raise awareness about the plastics issue, making it more accessible for the general public. This is my first ‘proper’ job (as my parents would call it!), i.e. not being in the field or on expeditions and such like. A lot of people typically think of fieldwork when they think about a marine conservation career. But there’s a lot of other roles out there too – and for me, it’s certainly been interesting to work on ocean conservation from the city, rather than being as hands-on as I’m used to.
One of the things I love most about my current role at eXXpedition is that we’re an all-female team – I’m a huge advocate for supporting women in science. That’s why I started a non-profit organisation Women in Ocean Science (WOS). I’m also a lover of the side hustle and have a few side projects (all ocean-themed, of course) going on as well as my day job! In addition to WOS, I run my own little swimwear brand and content creation company, Nü Wave, and host a light-hearted podcast, Ocean Poddy. I’m running all of my other businesses in pretty much every second of my spare time (my team might say I’m a bit of a workaholic!).
How did all your projects and businesses start?
Prepare yourself for a long story… So I started my first non-profit, The Marine Diaries, during my undergraduate degree (marine science at Exeter). It started off as an online blog for me to document my journey becoming a marine scientist… and then as I met so many other inspiring scientists and conservationists during my master’s degree, I realised it was so much more important to tell the stories of other people and their experiences in ocean science. So, The Marine Diaries was shaped into what it is today by me and co-founder, Rebecca Daniel (who now solely runs it) – a non-profit online science communication initiative to tell the stories of the ocean.
Then there’s Women in Ocean Science, a non-profit and online community, which I founded in 2018. The whole ethos of it is to connect, empower, inspire, and elevate the voices of women in marine sciences – and it’s evolved into this beautiful, global community. I have an awesome team of voluntary editors – we all do it for the love of it. It’s been pretty incredible. In addition to our Facebook network and Instagram page, we have an awesome website with resources for marine scientists and a blog where we share interviews with women in ocean science from across the world!
I also have an online store for ocean apparel, Nü Wave. The prints are inspired by creatures of the ocean, like whale and tiger sharks. I collaborated with some artists to make them. It’s also a content creation company – the initial idea behind it was to support me in being able to go out into the field and be a photojournalist. Most recently, Nü has supported the creation of my podcast, Ocean Poddy, a super chilled podcast where I get to interview different people from the ocean world (with a cheeky glass of wine!).
How did you go about actually creating your own businesses?
It’s actually very easy setting up your own business, in England, anyway. You just go online, register a company – and boom!
I’m kidding. Running and sustaining a business can be quite complex (not to mention time-consuming). When I set up my companies, I had no concept of how to run a business – I’m a scientist! It’s been a learning curve for sure, and I’m still learning every day.
In terms of actually creating them, I did a bit of social media on the side prior, and I guess I had already built communities online. They naturally evolved and the next logical step for me was to register them as companies. It’s not a decision you take lightly, and it involved an immense amount of research.
Do you have a mentor who helped you get to where you are today?
Hmm. I guess I had academic mentors during my studies (who I’m so, so immensely grateful to for helping to shape my thesis) but in terms of my journey as an entrepreneur, I’d say Sarah Richards (founder of Girls That Scuba) has been super influential to me.
We shared a cabin on a liveaboard trip in Komodo a couple of years back. She gave me the inspiration to go out and just do it. She made me realise I already had all the tools I needed.
The most beautiful thing about the ocean science community is that people are willing to help and share their experiences and their skills with you. It’s helped me to pursue what I want to and succeed at it.
It’s notoriously hard to make money in a career in marine conservation – what’s the best way you’ve found?
Ugh – the eternal question. I wish there was a simple answer. The bottom line is, marine science is a chronically underfunded industry – and often comes hand in hand with very expensive hobbies like diving and photography. It’s hard to make money! Personally, I’ve sacrificed a lot, money-wise, to have the experiences I’ve had and to work in the field. I’m in this industry because the wealth is in the work, I do it because I love it.
Realistically I think you have to accept that you’re probably not going to make mega-bucks in marine science. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sometimes keep me up at night wondering if I’ll ever be able to afford kids and a family though…
For me, I found that running your own company can offer an alternative source of income as well as fieldwork. That’s something – if you can have a little side hustle and make some money. And it’s good for the soul! You can make money from social media too, by using products and getting brand sponsorships. But it’s not for everyone.
What steps have you taken to get to where you are in your career?
To be honest, I’m at the very start of my career really and I’m excited to see where I’ll be going next. In terms of steps to get to where I’m at now, it started with my undergraduate degree, then masters. Setting up a non-profit, working in voluntary roles, interning with organisations like Gili Shark Conservation and Manta Trust, working out in the field, getting more dive qualifications, working as a divemaster. Reaching out, networking, collaborating, creating my own opportunities. I’m also a firm believer that we should never stop learning; I always strive to develop my skill set by doing online courses, reading papers and attending workshops.
Start your career in marine conservation now
Mads makes becoming a marine conservationist and entrepreneur sound easy! She definitely makes us realise it’s possible. So, what’re you waiting for?
As always, getting as much experience as possible helps the process. From studying, volunteering, and gaining experience in the field, to getting a full-time job doing something related to the industry.
Read about marine conservation as much as you can to learn from others in the field. If you’re not much of a reader, tune in to podcasts like Ocean Poddy to hear about current issues. Connect with like-minded communities like Women in Ocean Science and The Marine Diaries!
If you’re thinking about a career in marine science or marine conservation, then becoming an entrepreneur could be the answer! Make your ideas become a reality.