Make a Splash in the World of Marine Conservation Charity
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) is the voice for Australia’s oceans. They’re the sole national charity devoted to defending marine life!
Darren Kindleysides, the CEO, has led the organisation for over 10 years. He’s driven campaigns and worked on many issues. From establishing marine protected areas and the conservation of threatened species to enforcing the sustainable management of fisheries, to name a few!
Read on to hear all about Darren’s journey to working in the marine conservation charity sector, and for career inspiration as you climb the ladder all the way up to CEO! Join Darren and his ocean-loving community who campaign for healthy seas all around Australia.
How does your conservation story start?
It started too many years ago for me to want to recall! Back in the UK. It starts in a cold field or hillside or on a windswept coast.
My family, my mum and dad were nature lovers. Dad was a twitcher – an avid bird watcher. I have a lot of childhood memories out and about with them. Often when it was cold and wet, watching my dad look at birds miles away in a telescope. They’re fond memories on a warm spring day in a bluebell wood sort of thing. It starts with that foundation.
I felt a connection with nature from a very young age. It’s fascinating from the smallest insect up to the biggest whale. There’s stories and interest and fascination and wonder everywhere! I’ve been lucky enough to take that interest and build a career from there. It was that interest and my upbringing that encouraged me to get into this field.
I was brought up in the UK towards the end of the 80s. There was an explosion of concern about environmental issues when I was choosing what to study at university. In the UK, Europe and elsewhere. My interests, married with being exposed to the threats to the natural environment, led me to choose to study environmental science at the University of East Anglia.
Why did you end up in marine conservation?
My studies got me into the ecology and conservation side of things. But there’s something about the oceans – they’ve always spoken to me. I was brought up in Bedford which is geographically as far as possible from any of the coastlines in the UK! I was up in Noosa on the East Coast of Australia this weekend – seeing the sea, the coast, and seabirds – I feel a real connection. There’s always been that interest.
My first work was doing ecological surveying on freshwater plants on the Norfolk broads and in lochs in Scotland. It was a hefty slice of good fortune that led me to marine conservation. I did my masters in nature conservation. The opportunity came up to write a marine biodiversity strategy for the States of Jersey as part of my masters thesis! A friend of mine who was studying octopus’ for his PhD was supposed to do the work. But he got a marine conservation job in Tanzania.
I was in the right place at the right time to pick it up. After I did my masters, I was offered a job working for the government doing marine conservation work. It was that opportunity that got me working in marine conservation in the first place.
What key steps in your conservation career have you taken?
Studying was the first thing. It’s not a prerequisite, but I wouldn’t be in my role without it. Partly with learning, but also it’s about the people you’re meeting, and the networks you’re making.
There’s more to a degree than a qualification. I used the dissertations for both courses to get work experience. That combination was my key step!
The other aspect is volunteering which I did alongside my studies. It’s really important to get that work experience in. There are lots of people with similar qualifications to you – Conservation is a popular degree here in Australia for sure. You have to have something else to offer to employers in addition to qualifications.
What are the main activities in your current role at AMCS?
I came into my career to make a difference to our wildlife and the environment.
I started in ecology writing nature reserve management plants, and ecological surveys, and policy work. Through that, I stepped more into management roles. I’ve worked in conservation for 25 years.
The more I move through my career, I’ve built my skills in leading and managing organisations. That’s everything from communications, fundraising, and even the operational side of things.
I’m the CEO here at AMCS now, which means I’m responsible for everything! Our aim is to make a difference for our oceans. We have conservation teams working on different campaigns. My job is making sure the organisation is running smoothly and keeping on its feet!
As you move into more senior positions, it’s important to keep a slice of your job that speaks to the passions that got you into the field in the first place. I still lead the work of AMCS on whale and dolphin campaigns! I’m still getting a chance to lead and drive the conservation campaigns that I love.
Why whales and dolphins?
I moved to Australia 15 years ago. It’s an incredible part of the world to work in marine conservation.
It has more species of marine life than any other nation on earth. Our oceans span from tropical waters with amazing reefs like Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef, to subantarctic islands with penguins! It’s an incredible sweep of ocean territory. It spans frigid waters in the Southern Ocean to the tropical oceans near the equator. It’s an incredible place to work on marine conservation.
The role I moved here for was marine species conservation. Focussing on whales and dolphins in particular, and also turtles and other migratory species. That was with the International Fund for Animal Welfare in the Asia Pacific region. One of their main programs in this part of the world is the marine part which I was leading for a long time. Whale and dolphin conservation was at the core of that, so it’s something I’ve worked on for at least 15 years.
The recovery of humpback whales is one of Australia’s recent success stories. They were hunted to the brink of extinction. Hunting humpbacks was banned in the 60s and slowly the species has recovered. To the extent that on both the East and West coast of Australia, we’re in the best seat to see whale migrations each year.
It’s a great conservation success story. We need as many of those as we can get at the moment!
How do you have real-world effects with your campaigns?
Conserving part of the ocean is different from conserving part of the land. You can’t buy a piece of the ocean and put a fence around it and create a reserve.
It’s important that we campaign and we advocate to secure big ocean conservation protections. Working out how we manage fisheries, stop pollution, establish nature reserves or National Parks in the ocean. There’s a range of ways to do these.
My career – and this reflects the ethos of AMCS – is making the most change we can, as fast as we can, with limited resources. That means giving a voice to the ocean and advocating for its protection. And building public support. Working with people who make decisions – politicians, governments, stakeholders, the fishing industry, etc. It’s something Australia’s made significant progress in.
Australia’s a world leader at making marine parks in our ocean – ⅓ of the ocean is in a marine park although it took more than 15 years to get to fruition. It’s about making the case and showing persistence. Showing that protecting the oceans is popular People support it.
How can people who’re looking to get into marine conservation get started?
There are many paths in. Having a view about what part of marine conservation you want to work in helps. Ask yourself, where do you want to work? There are jobs working for conservation charities, like us at AMCS, or WWF. You can work for governments or for businesses, or consultancy. There’s also research. It’s all about working out which part of that equation you want to be.
There are many different paths into marine conservation. Studying marine biology is just one way. Someone may have a law background and we’re crying out for environmental lawyers! There aren’t many people with a specialism in marine conservation law.
You have to be quite intentional to work out what your path is. Environmental science is so broad – there are so many different aspects to it. There’s ecology, chemistry, energy, conservation, and politics. There are so many aspects. Even in conservation – you could be an ecological surveyor, writing management plans for nature reserves, or be a warden. I went from being an ecologist, then back to study my masters which were more around the policy aspects which was the field I wanted to go into. There was a bit of luck, but I put myself in the position with my study choices.
You could come into it with community engagement experience or communications skills. We have a shark campaigner on our team. Which is an awesome job title. He studied marine biology and has a PhD in shark science.
However, our plastic campaigner came through communications and outreach background. So there are different ways to get into it. Studying is great. Then there’s volunteering. Then being intentional and having a plan.
Volunteering is really important. We host final year students and placement students – if you want to work in a charity, it’s good to get experience first. It’s never too late to change direction too. For AMCS and many organisations in the charity sector, we often end up employing people who have volunteered. You get your foot in the door and can prove yourself which is a great advantage!
What can people do to help your cause?
You can find out about AMCS on our website. It all starts with believing that you as a person can make a difference!
You can support us in so many ways. Donations are of course always awesome. We encourage people to volunteer. It can be as simple as coming to the office to help out, but we also had someone come and volunteer on a very detailed project researching the shark fin trade in and out of Australia over half a year. Shark finning is where you catch a shark, cut its fins off and then throw it overboard. It’s not nice. It’s banned in Australia, but actually, there’s still a lot of shark fins produced by Australia and exported. We encourage people to take action!
It could be signing a petition, sending emails. Believing you have an impact! People don’t often contact their MPs. Contact them – it can actually make a difference!
For people seeking jobs in the charity sector – it can be challenging. Charities don’t have as many resources as governments or businesses. But you can make a huge difference. Charities punch above their weight! You can work with a great team and work with like-minded people – you can’t underestimate the value of that. At AMCS, we recruit people whose values match with ours. People who have a commitment to the cause and a passion will fit well.
Make a splash in marine conservation join the charity movement
Marine conservation charity jobs are a way you can have a huge impact on the health of the world’s oceans and marine life!
There are hundreds of nonprofits with paid positions, however, the competition can be steep. If you’re committed to the cause and have a passion for the ocean, the rewards are totally worth it.
Start by researching, and working out what conservation job is for you. Watch documentaries to learn about the industry. Get experience and volunteer. Learn from people in the field. Find your perfect marine conservation job!