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Podcast: Colin Speedie | Marine conservation

In this podcast we speak with yacht skipper, author and marine conservationist Colin Speedie. Colin has had a lifelong involvement with the sea and its inhabitants. He’s an expert on basking sharks in his own boat since childhood.

If you’re interested in marine conservation or like getting out on the high seas, or perhaps just a stand up paddleboard, then you’ll love this episode. Enjoy.

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Audio Transcript

Colin   

My name is Colin Speedie, and I’m 64 and I have been working in the field of marine conservation on and off for most of my adult life, principally aboard boats. And I have worked specifically on a lot of cetacean projects, and particularly basking sharks, which is my own personal interest. And I have started and run a number of different projects, including a project called WiSe, which is about sustainable marine ecotourism and training. 

Nick   

Fabulous and really nice to meet you. Thank you very much for kind of joining our podcast. Just before the chat there, you were saying you’re down in Cornwall, and you’re moving up to the west coast of Scotland. And I’ve only ever seen one basking shark in my life and it’s off the west coast of Scotland. So maybe we should start by talking basking sharks, something very close to your heart and something you’ve been spending a lot of time researching and studying. So tell us a little bit about basking sharks, not everyone understands and knows them. I say I’ve had one very brief, distant glimpse of them. Why are you interested in this charismatic species? 

Colin   

I saw basking shark when I was a very small boy growing up on the South Devon coast, and it had been tangled in nets, and they dragged it in. It was still alive, thrashing around, and they cut it free from the nets and it actually got away. And you know, at some considerable risk to themselves I might add, because they had to go in the water. But it wasn’t even a particularly big one. But to myself and my pals who went out fishing every evening in little boats, it seemed like a vast and very dangerous looking creature. But that became the beginning of a conservation thought in my head. And certainly from the point of view that the you know, these are unique species. They are very much one of Britain’s unique species, because Britain is probably the best place in the world to see them. You’ve got more chance of seeing a basking shark around the Isle of Man or west of Ireland or the west coast of Scotland, and sometimes Cornwall, than pretty much anywhere else. They really are a consistent and impressive feature and of course, the second largest fish in the world. You know they’re 30 feet in length. And there’s something primeval about them. Whenever you see them people who smile and cheer at dolphins playing around boats and say, wow, when a whale comes up and blows alongside you look kind of askance at basking sharks, you know, there’s something rather reptilian about them. But equally, they’re slow and graceful. And, of course, an extraordinary feature, which as I say, is very much part of our native form. 

Nick   

Yeah. Are they a species of conservation concern right now basking sharks? You say we do see them quite commonly off our shores but should we be concerned about them that their decline increased? What’s their status?  

Colin   

Well, they’re classified now globally, as endangered on the Red List. And of course, they were already on the in terms of Northeast Atlantic because they’ve been hunted extensively. I mean, in the period post war up till about 2000, probably something in the order of 105,000, or maybe more, basking sharks were taken in northeast Atlantic alone, principally by Norwegian whales, but equally by some people based in Scotland, and this was from a population of a very, not very numerous animal in the first place, very, very slow, typical shark poor reproductive rates, and therefore, you know, the impact of taking so many big, mature animals is bound to have a serious impact on the overall stock. 

Nick   

And they were taken for meat or for what purpose? 

 Colin   

Principally for the oil. The liver oil is of a very high quality. It was used in the ancient days for curing leather, for example, as an embrocating for injuries, but mainly for lighting. At one stage you know, a mixture of rapeseed oil and basking shark oil was used to light the streets of Dublin and Waterford and Wexford, and was even exported to Britain. And so, you know, that was always the case and post war in the absence of whale oil, basking shark oil was suddenly in huge demand. The shark has a bilobar liver, which is roughly 25-30% body weight. And from that you can gather about from about three sharks roughly, maybe a ton of oil. That could fetch about 5,000 pounds in the period, in today’s terms in the immediate post war era. Therefore, you know, it was a very substantial price on this … heads and the Norwegian fleet was coming all the way to the west of Ireland and the west of Scotland from Norway. And as they say, in some of those remote areas, you don’t bend down to pick up nothing. They actually were coming all that distance because it was a really substantial reward. And with real fleets of boats, very well equipped boats with highly experienced whalers who, they could knock up a shark on the head and have their livers out of it and dumped the rest of the carcass in 10 minutes. 

Nick   

My Word! Yeah. And presumably, they’re quite easy. They’re slow moving fish, are they quite easy to catch?  

Colin   

Yeah, they are. And they’re not very easy to disturb either. So sneaked up behind them, it was very easy to put up, and harpoon into them. 

Nick   

Right, okay so huge issues around hunting and sustainable fishing, if you can call it that in the past. 

Colin   

And indeed, then of course, the impetus moved from the liver oil into the fins. Basking shark fins now that appear on the market at all are not going to go necessarily into sharks fin soup, but they are kept as trophies often, you know, complete set of basking shark fins is worth a very considerable amount of money, same issues that afflict animals like whale sharks, so they still have a price in their head. But I mean, they are largely protected in many of the world’s oceans now. But again, very slow reproductive rates. And you have to hope that numbers weren’t depleted to such levels, that recovery is slow. We hope not. There are some positive signs, but we shall see. But Scotland is just fantastic and there’s a whole history around the hunting of basking sharks and some incredible characters who were involved in it as well. And I actually wrote a book about it. So if anybody wants to find out more, please go and look it up. 

Nick   

Absolutely, yeah, so tell us a bit about some of the kind of conservation efforts and maybe some of the research that you’ve been involved with, particularly around the species. It links really nicely to what we are going to discuss in a while, which is almost your yachting career and the importance of that in conservation too. So what sort of things have you done to kind of help the species? 

Colin   

I was a lifelong sailor, I grew up by the sea, and I was in boats from a very, very young age. And that one thing led to another and before I knew what was happening, I was getting involved in taking other people out sailing. And growing up in the South Devon coast, there was some really nice areas to where you would encounter wildlife, probably under most remote areas, around star point, and places of that nature. And I saw basking sharks in some of those areas. And I was already in the Marine Conservation Society from when they were actually had just transitioned from being the Underwater Conservation Society. So I was in touch with the guys at MCS who were actually leading the fight for the basking shark. And so I took some people out on some exploratory cruises. And I said at the time, I, you know, I’m going to take some of the team out, and we’ll find some basking sharks and all the guys MCS laughed. And quite rightly, it was a remarkably stupid thing to say, because people really didn’t have any clue where these supposed hotspots were, or whether they still existed. We perhaps knew they had in the past. And yet we went out, we saw sharks, and everybody thought we were wondrous. I’d seen them regularly in some of these places, and thought, well, they must be there again.  

Nick   

When was this? This is what the 80s 90s or? 

Colin   

Oh 80s, middle of the 80s. And then by the beginning of the 90s, I got involved in working with the great Dr. Peter Evans of Sea Watch Foundation up in the Hebrides, who was looking for professional yacht skipper on a project that he was running in the Hebrides doing whale and dolphin surveys, long line transects, all across the sea of the Hebrides and the Minch. And he and I were in touch anyway, because I was delivering yachts, and I was reporting all the sightings I had for my deliveries. And he said, if you’re interested, I’m looking for a Skipper. And I said, oh, great. Sounds just perfect thing for me. And what I didn’t know is he probably asked about just about every other yacht skipper on the west coast of Scotland and they all said no, notoriously hard work, and long hours and lousy pay. But nonetheless, I thought it was great and really, that was my intro. And I learnt so much from him about how to structure surveys, how to carry them out rigorously and methodically and do it well. The philosophy that you’ve turned everything on its head, because if you normally are a yacht skipper, bad weather strikes, you head for shelter. But if you’re doing this kind of work, and it’s not always that way, you may decide that you’ll use the bad weather to get yourself to somewhere more favourable, so that when the weather improves, you’re in good shape to get going early and make the most of your time. This was something of a shock. I learned the hard way that it, that was the only way that you could make it work. And so I was hooked. 

Nick   

And what did you experience in during these kind of line transect surveys out with Mr. Evans on the boat. 

Colin   

I mean, you’re working every hour, that the weather is good. I mean, if the weather’s fine, you’re up at daybreak. You go and you keep going. And of course, the days can be really long up in the Hebrides, for example, you know, really long summer days and nights but you have to make hay while the sun shines. So you’ve got to work hard when the weather will let you because you can have days and days and days when you’re just banged up somewhere waiting for the weather to improve. So you have to be utterly determined and you have to be prepared to work. Very hard and of course, there are other aspects of working in that way beyond just making sure the boat doesn’t run into anything and that you’re doing everything correct navigationally. You know, boat is a machine, it needs to be serviced, and it needs to be maintained. And you do have to be something of a ringmaster to make sure that all these things actually function. And then you know, there’s an interesting aspect to that, because everybody plays a part. And the guy in charge of driving the boat is of equal importance in that sense.  

Nick   

Yeah, I presume you had a team on board that we’re looking for the cetaceans and also other species of interest, other sea birds, sharks other things. What sort of observations were the people recording, and what was the outcome of those surveys?  

Colin   

Well, most of the surveys that we were running, obviously, they were line transects. So we were following straight line tracks between two fixed points or notional points, there might be GPS positions. And you know, you would have at least two observers one port one to starboard, and you would change and rotate the observers on a regular basis, because eye fatigue and boredom are major weaknesses in so far as people, their ability and their capability falls, and then you’re not really performing the surveys correctly. You’ve got to make sure that everybody is keeping up to the mark all the time. So there’s a lot of turnover of the people concerned. People get sea sick, all kinds of things go on. So it’s, whoever is in charge of the survey work must rotate the team. And all of the survey methodology is being followed at 100% accuracy. So there’s a lot of management involved. And then there’s a lot of simple human stuff, making sure people get a cup of tea and making sure that sometimes that people don’t start chatting when they should be observing and teach people proper observation techniques, so that they scan up and down as well as side to side covering a particular area. And then once you spot something you can ask others to home in, you know, visually. And then you get into the stage of identifying what you’re seeing, recording it, how far off the track line it is, and so on and so forth. A great deal of logistic work although much more of that data gathering now is done with apps and electronically. That’s made life very easy. In the days I was in initially working was all paper. 

Nick   

Right, okay, yeah. 

 Colin   

One bit of paper blow out and someone’s out. 

Nick   

Yeah, that’s an interesting angle, actually, that I guess technology has changed the recording of marine data enormously. I’m thinking drones and what that sorts of the view advantage you can get by sending these things up. I mean, maybe, you know, just discuss around that a bit please, yeah. 

 Colin   

Yes, absolutely. I mean, another aspect would be the development of effective acoustic technology. Hydrophones, for example, and then look at the development of aerial surveys, or some of these high speed video transects with very high resolution camera work, you know, they’re expensive, but actually, they’re very effective. 

 Nick   

They’ll pick up a shark, no problem, yeah or other species. Yeah. 

 Colin   

I mean, one of the problems you have is when you’re doing visual surveys from sea level, you’re very dependent on sea state. And then there are effective parameters for different species at different sea states. And, you know, if you’ve got anything about sea state for basking sharks surveys are off. 

 Nick   

That’s rough seas, is it? 

 Colin   

Actually sea state for really isn’t that bad. But there will be enough sea that if a shark was low in the water, you probably wouldn’t see it at an acceptable distance. So at that stage, you would have to can the survey.  

 Nick   

Yeah. Fascinating.  

 Colin   

And that’s one of the things which is good about using, say, aerial surveys is that they make light work at that. 

 Nick   

Yep. They cut out a lot of that. Yeah, and one thing people aren’t quite you don’t think intuitively actually is a strong link between, you know, yachting, really, in your background and part of your passion, but also in wildlife conservation. But I think what you’re painting a picture of quite clearly is that the two are quite interlinked. If you’re out in the sea, you’re observing wildlife. And actually, you could be part of the solution, the conservation effort in terms of collecting data and helping the species that you’re out and enjoying.  

 Colin   

Absolutely no, that’s a really valuable way that yachtsman can play a part in all forms of conservation. And indeed, many, many organisations solicit data from yachtsman on that very basis. The good thing about a yacht is, of course, you can live aboard. It is relatively low cost, environmentally to cover reasonable distances, you’re not that fast, but that actually works quite well with some of the survey techniques that you can use. But you often go if you’ve even viewed it as platforms of opportunity. Lots of yachts go to very remote places that nobody else is going. And let’s not forget, too, that a lot of budgets have been slashed for conventional funded research vessels. So you may be going somewhere that nobody’s been for quite a while. And so, even the boats that go into very remote areas could come away with some very good data, conducting bird counts, all sorts of things. I mean, there are implications, bio security is a problem. You need to be very careful that you’re not bringing anything invasive in. But nonetheless you know, yachts have always been a very good platform. And you can run a crew from them, you can charge laptops. And they’re relatively dry so camera equipment and that kind of thing can be used. A lot of really, really valuable work has been carried out by yachts on the west coast of Scotland. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust had a great boat called the Silurian which conducts surveys all the time, a massive amount of data has been gathered. And indeed, you know, with our own project we were doing everywhere between the English Channel and the western, you know, the Butt of Lewis each year produced reports and for the Scottish Government and other governments as well on hotspots of basking sharks. So yachts can be and remain very, very valuable mechanism for getting out and doing some good survey work. 

Nick   

Yeah. And if there are people listening to this, who have an equal passion of conservation, and also yachting, they like being out on the sea, it doesn’t suit everyone but you know, it suits some people like yourself very well. What advice would you give them in terms of kind of connecting to opportunities or creating opportunities? What should they be doing? 

 Colin   

There are good opportunities to connect with very good organisations. I was involved in doing a lot of bird surveys when we were sailing across the Atlantic and up and down the coast of Brazil and in the Caribbean. There were a lot of yachts reporting, those kind of sightings, quite a lot of organisations looking for that. And there are even yachting groups as well Sailors for the Sea for example is one. And indeed, in the UK, now the …, which is promoting, you know, greener yachting. But equally, you could contact some of the conservation groups. Like for example if you are sailing around UK Sea Watch Foundation who are leading a lot of good whale and dolphin work who would love to get records from yachtsmen of what they see because again, oftentimes you’re are a platform of opportunity. Even casual sightings are valuable. I mean, obviously, if you are able to do some line transect work or some effort corrective work, then that’s even more the case. But even the simple sightings somebody always wants them. If you’re planning a long cruise, do some homework beforehand, find out who’s looking for what kind of information and especially from the areas you’re going into, and start to just collect some simple data.  

Nick   

Yeah, and I guess you could do that just through kind of regular crewing work. If you’re doing that sort of work you know trying to get into a boat, be part of a crew pub team. for other purposes, you can still be collecting these data and sending them in.   

Colin   

Indeed and actually you’re, as I was, you know, skipping boats where you were trying to keep people keeping a good watch. It was another way of keeping boredom at bay. People were looking at recording what they saw. And you get to see some of the most extraordinary things. I’ve lost count of the number of different whales I’ve seen over the years. 

Nick   

When you sort of think back about some of your encounters with wildlife, I mean, you’ve obviously been around the globe on the open seas. Do you have any sort of real memorable experiences that still make the hairs stand up in the back of your neck?  

Colin   

Oh, absolutely, without any question. I think probably the greatest occasion was being out in a very remote part of the sea of the Hebrides near a place called the High Sphere which is in the middle of nowhere. It’s between Rum and Barra. And it sits right out in the main tidal stream up through the sea of the Hebrides and it’s a wild and lonely place and uninhabited lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. And it was September evening, so it was getting a little bit dark and it was flat calm and we can see shark fins as far as the eye could see. Even through binoculars we could still see little black X traveling around and it was the most extraordinary sight.  

Nick   

So you discovered hundreds of basking sharks? 

Colin   

Yeah, absolutely. It was like being in the middle of the Serengeti, surrounded by elephants. It was absolutely amazing. 

Nick   

Wow. And was that an upwelling of plankton, were they feeding or? 

Colin   

The weather had been amazingly calm for days. And there was a very strong pulse of plankton late in the season. And these sharks were just there taking advantage of it. And it was quite remarkable. I mean, I’ve equally been absolutely astonished by killer whales, for example. But oftentimes, I think probably the favourite thing I’ve seen has been leatherback turtles. And I’ve been really lucky to see a few of those, including around the UK, seen about 12 or more around the UK. But they are again primeval and absolutely beautiful and wonderful creatures.   

Nick   

Yeah the sea really is kind of still the frontier, isn’t it? Still a place you can have the unique encounters that you know, really do stand out?   

Colin   

You never know what you’re going to see.  

Nick   

Yeah, that’s exciting. Yeah. And aspects of your work as I was sort of reading around, and we’re discussing again before the recording is around sort of marine ecotourism too. So it’s sort of sharing the wonders of the ocean with people as tourists as sharing experiences and educating people through that. And I guess it’s a good way to educate people about different species to get them out and to connect them to wildlife in a real way. But how can people be sure when they’re kind of choosing tours that this is you know, like a wildlife friendly operation or you know, are there ways in which some operators are perhaps, you know, working to better standards than others, you know? Have you got any advice around, you know how people can kind of make those choices to ensure that their trip and their tour is going to be for the better?  

Colin   

When I was working in the very early days with the likes of Peter Evans, and again, I pay tribute to him, you know, because he taught me so much. At that time, we were actually looking at how the animals behave to have a reacted. It was the first time everybody really thought of it like that. Before that you just were lucky enough to see something and you marvelled at it, and you went to have a look at it. But actually, not everything wants to have somebody come up and have a look at it. There are angles that you can approach at which are less disturbing than others. And there are distances and there are numbers of boats involved. So you know, one boat is probably not so much of a problem, whereas three boats almost certainly will be. Certainly that’s true around a lot of cetaceans. So there’s an awful lot has been learned since then. I mean, this, I’m talking about 1992, when I was doing that kind of work. But by the beginning of the 2000s, I’ve done an awful lot of that type of work. And I’ve also made my own, draw my own conclusions, from much of what I’ve seen. And there was beginning to be a move towards trying to understand how the animals felt about people being around them and being observed because it was happening very fast. I mean, marine ecotourism is the fastest growing tourism development globally. And so I thought, well, this is ridiculous, you know, because we don’t really have any kind of training regime for people who want to do this type of thing. And that just seemed to me to be wrong. In no other way of life would we accept that. So I decided with others that we would try and do something about it. And so we developed what is called the WiSe course, which is a training and accreditation program. And we started out with one course that was aimed at boat operators. And we have four modules in each course. One is on basking sharks. This is all UK based, by the way so another one is on cetaceans, whales and dolphins and other ones on seals and other ones on sea birds. And we now have quite a range of courses since back then. This was 2003 when we ran the first course. We just had the one course but now we have a public course, which is about 45 minutes long, which is a kind of distillation. So if you’re a yachtsman, it would be really worth your while to watch this, because you’ve learned pretty much all you need to know commercial boat operator would come to one of my standard courses, which takes over half a day, but then they should know, because they are deliberately going out to try and encounter wildlife. So for ecotourism to be in any way sustainable, it has to pay heed to the needs of the results. And that’s really what we fundamentally work on. We want people to be able to go out and watch wildlife. But if we do that we must accept it as a responsibility to do it well. And that’s really all we’re trying to do is to make sure that people have the information before them. They can judge wisely and learn how to watch wildlife in a sustainable and safe way. We now also have what we call an adventure course, which is for those shore based and very coastal based activities like kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, coast steering, surfing, cliff climbing, where there’s a lot of interaction with sea birds, for example, and seals, which are very vulnerable to disturbance from land based or very, very coastal based sites. So again, we’re trying to address those new developing activities and try and instil ways everybody can minimise impacts. 

Nick   

Yeah and are you seeing a positive movement within the ecotourism industry towards being more sympathetic to animals and their behaviour and reducing disturbance?  

Colin   

Yes, definitely. And I think that most problems that do occur are errors of omission, not errors of commission. You know, let’s remember this, the law depends most of these animals, and it basically states that there needs to be recklessness or intent to disturb or injure or kill. I mean, these are fairly draconian terms. And I don’t think many people think that there’s a lot of that going on around the UK. It’s very, very small scale. That said, People can always do better. And tending something, likewise, is one way of making sure that you understand what you’re likely to encounter, how it’s going to behave and react to you and try and do it well. And we talk about what disturbance actually looks like so people know when it’s gone wrong. We show video clips of animals actually, that have been disturbed. So there is no ambiguity in that sense. We want people to be very well aware and most of the people who do this, let’s not forget actually do it because they love the wildlife. You know, we’re already talking to a fairly converted audience. And we’ve had several thousand people through WiSe course in the various levels. We have a WiSe master course, which is for people who want to learn more about the science behind it and who want to get involved again in cetaceans science. So we encourage and foster those connections to encourage people to take part in and there are a growing number of activities around the UK where there is a research element involved and also to people who are trying to take people out and show them more than just the animals themselves. The narrative is very important, to send people away with something more than just a snapshot. I’ll give you a really interesting example of that was one of the things I always used to do when I was on boats doing wildlife tours, if we saw something spectacular, I’d say, okay, we’re only staying here for 15 minutes, because then the animal will have had enough. But while we’re doing that, you can take pictures for five minutes. But then lets than five minutes, when all you do is you put your camera down, and you watch and say nothing, but ooh and aah. And the difference in terms of the dialogue, the conversations later on in the day around the dinner table, and things and what people actually saw, compared with some lousy picture from the camera was immense. And it’s that business of being a bit of a circus ringleader and sending people away with more than just, you know, a couple of pictures to put on Facebook. 

Nick   

Yeah, this is just, it’s almost like a mindfulness today, like being in the moment, you know, and really absorbing what’s going on whereas the photo is about capturing something from the future actually it’s not being present, isn’t it? 

Colin   

Yeah something that we’re incorporating in the new WiSe courses as well is this question of our common green heritage and also well being. A massive amount of evidence at the moment that people who are able to access green spaces and wild places find it remarkably good for their health and their mental well being, and we want to build that in and that’s much more important to get those kinds of things and then make people, have people to make the connections and see the bigger picture. 

Nick   

Yeah, absolutely. Just turning, changing gears ever so slightly. One thing that I’m quite aware of that you’ve been involved with is helping students and you have had students and research students that you’ve helped with through the years through your connections. We mentioned just actually, before I call that you’ve had some really good standout students, thinking in terms of careers advice, and what makes the students successful, what helps them to kind of lead on into successful careers within conservation and others. When you look back at all the students you’ve supported over the years, what are the kind of things that really stand out and you look at somebody and say this is, you know, this person is going to do well? What characteristics do these people have?  

Colin   

Well indeed, I have a great number of students where I work with a lot of universities and help to oversee their studies, but also too we had once who came on the boat, in fact, one of our best first mates that worked for me for many years did her PhD. And much of that was done on the boat … involved. She’s gone rectory and conservation with Wildlife Trust. So there are a number of things. The first one is that there are always people with good ideas. And there are always people with the determination to follow those ideas through, even if it doesn’t look like it’s the perfect career path. Give me somebody that has a clear vision of something, a question that they really like to see answered. And you’ll find somebody with the kind of intellectual curiosity to see it through even when things get difficult. And I’ve seen that again and again. You must have a strong worth work ethic. And that’s not just from the point of view of getting your work done but being part of the team. Good team players are always good to have around. People who stay after and help to clear up and clean the loo in the boat and all those kinds of things are really, really valuable. Make yourself indispensable. If you get a chance to be on a project make them want to ask you back.  

Nick   

Yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah. 

Colin   

A very clear thing, and be good with people again, but that goes with intellectual curiosity, most of the people who are like that and good at talking about it. And so we had people who would come from, say, Earth Watch, who would be on the boat with us, or volunteers from the Wildlife Trust or other organisations, WWF. And I have an awful lot on my plate, managing the boat, and so many other things, and probably being in charge of the program. And so I relied very much on the people who came as volunteers, students, most of them to actually make up for some of my shortcomings. And really be a good ambassador on the boat and talk to people and make them feel a part of it. Always be ready to answer questions, those kinds of things. There are such people out there, and they’re fantastic to work with. And they always do well. 

Nick   

Yeah, really interesting insights. Yeah. And does it take a certain type of person to enjoy and thrive being on boats and out at sea? It’s not an easy career path for you know, for some people. I mean, I get seasick quite rapidly, so it wouldn’t suit me. But you know, what sort of what do people need to know about working at sea? Like just to make it? 

Colin   

I think you have to have a love for the sea first. But then I think a lot of people discover that when they go out. My wife is one of those people who discovered the first ever trip out in the boat that she actually thought it was the greatest thing ever. I mean, I’m sure she wouldn’t have married me if she thought otherwise. But you know, the thing is that I’ve known people who got seasick and I’ve made it. So many people seasick over the years, never been seasick myself, never even felt vaguely seasick. But I always felt so sorry for them. It looks so miserable, and you know, you clear them up and everything. But you know the following day they’d be up at it and where are we going? And also too now there are medications you can take. And if you take them in a timely way, actually that cures most people are having chronic seasickness. But you know, there is that element that people are determined. I’ve known people who would get sick from time to time, but it never put them off. And I’ve known that with yachtsmen as well. I mean one of the one of the greatest guys I know, is regularly seasick. And I would have thought if it were me, I would have given it up picking up bowls or stamp collecting, you know. But actually no, the sea has, exercises a remarkable hold on people.  

Nick   

It shows the draw doesn’t it? It shows what it brings to people if you can overcome. Yeah. 

Colin   

One of the great things about being at sea is you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But there’s always something. And one of the good things is you get interested in watching out for wildlife, you see so much more. There’s a world of difference between somebody who just goes out in a boat, and looks around occasionally to make sure they’re not going to run into a drawer or something. Well somebody who is out on deck and just looking around and watching the horizon up and down, maybe sees a little group of birds and gannets going in, looks underneath it and voila, suddenly a minke whale comes up through it. You see so much more when you look. So that curiosity element is critical. If you’re not curious about the world, I don’t understand how people want to have a career in wildlife conservation. I think it’s a given you must have it.  

Nick   

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s across all jobs and across the sector indeed, yeah.  

Colin   

That will sustain you when the tour isn’t going well, or the weather’s bad. Help you keep your eye on the prize.  

Nick   

Absolutely, yeah, great advice. Well, it’s been really interesting to hear your career story and your thoughts on the industry and actually just sort of painting this picture about, you know the importance of yachting and actually being out at sea and opportunities for people too. Normally, we kind of wrap up the podcast by just asking a more open question and a question I quite like asking is, if we were to make you like a global Tsar for the day, so you have control to produce one new law or one new dictate, what single thing would you like to see changed in the world that would have a big positive impact? And for you, it might be, you know, on the marine planet, if you like, a change that you think would really make quite a significant difference? 

Colin   

There are simple answers to that. I mean, I think that in this day and age, I fail to understand whaling. To me, it has always been something of an anomaly that we are such a world of nature lovers and yet, whaling continues. I understand some of the elements of it, you know, people talk about whaling with indigenous populations and the critical importance of people’s social and cultural skills. But I mean, I think there are ways that that can be managed as well, but the kind of global need for whaling seems to me to be something that belongs to the past. 

Nick   

So banning whaling would probably be the…  

Colin   

Well, certainly it would be one thing that you’d need to have an immediate. 

Nick   

And the real tangible, yeah. And also, when we look across wildlife conservation efforts, conservationists are doing a great job. We’re having some real wins in various places basking sharks we talked about today, hopefully, their numbers are rising again. Now a lot of the issues are in the past, but globally, biodiversity is threatened, and numbers are declining at an alarming rate. What do you think conservationists should be doing more of or what should we be better at? 

Colin   

One of the things which has been around for many, many years is this question of raising awareness. And everybody thinks, if only everyone thought like us, and I suspect that there is an element where people aren’t very good at getting their message across in an inclusive way. I think it’s very, very important to play out the positive. And I think it’s always important to look for common ground. And I regret that sometimes and I see this on both sides of the arguments that people are more and more involved in taking stands around non negotiable positions. To me, it’s all about compromise and it’s all about learning to listen to the other side, and understand their perspective as well because that seems to me the way that things actually get done. That was why I was a little reluctant to actually say about banning whaling. I would like to see it negotiated in ways that would protect the most endangered species and still allow cultural differences to exist. I think the most important thing is that we do need to bridge the divide between different points of view and make sure that we each understand each other and try and come up with ways that are mutually beneficial, and that we can all get behind. 

Nick   

Yeah, absolutely. And I couldn’t agree more with that. And it reminds me recently that Sir David Attenborough himself said that saving the planet is now a communications challenge. And I think that really resonates I think with what you’re saying also, yeah. 

Colin   

And I think what he was getting at too was that you know this means really deep dialogue. This means reaching out. And it’s not just about showing the beauty anymore. We’ve done an awful lot of that. And if people haven’t actually cottoned on to what we’re talking about by now, I suspect we need to expand our range of the dialogue. 

Nick   

Yeah, absolutely. Colin it’s been wonderful getting to know you a little bit. Thank you for coming on the podcast and sharing your thoughts, your career and more. If people wanted to find out a bit more about you and the work you’re involved with the WiSe, the Wildlife Safe Scheme, or anything else, where should we send them? 

Colin   

Have a look at our WiSe Scheme website, or else my wife and I run a partnership called Wave Action, which encounters a lot. I do a lot of yachting journalism, and I do a lot of conservation journalism and indeed, my book A Sea Monster’s Tale. If you like basking sharks or you think you might like basking sharks it’s a very good place to start. 

Nick   

And I think you’ll have a purchase quite soon from myself. So I look forward to reading that. Thank you again, Colin. It’s been great to chat.  

Colin   

Great to talk to you too. Thank you. 

Nick   

Okay, well I hope you enjoyed that everyone. If you did then please do hit that subscribe button to get notified when new episodes are live and also give the ratings it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free eBook, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @ConservaCareers. We’d love to hear from you. Okay, till next time, guys, this is Nick signing out. 

 

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