Ben-Sullivan-of-Fishtek-Marine-and-previously-BirdLife

Podcast: Ben Sullivan | Fishtek Marine

On average every five minutes an albatross dies accidentally behind a fishing boat. Caught on a hook set for a fish, entangled in a net or striking a tensioned wire. During this episode a number of albatrosses will die needlessly.

Dr Ben Sullivan has dedicated his career to tackling similar marine conservation issues. Starting with a PhD counting koala poo in the Australian Outback, Ben developed a passion for sea birds whilst working in the mighty southern oceans around Antarctica and the Falkland Islands. He went on to manage the hugely successful BirdLife marine programme and helped to establish the famous Albatross Taskforce.

He now works in the enterprise sector for Fishtek Marine helping to innovate new products to tackle old conservation problems. One of which the Hookpod looks set to save countless accidental deaths of albatrosses and other seabirds. 

Ben’s a force of nature; he’s full of passion, dedication and ability and in this episode we talk about his career to date and the challenges and opportunities of enterprise in conservation. We also hear his career advice and explore what it takes to set up a dynamic global team to successfully tackle an issue like seabird bycatch. If you’re interested in seabirds, marine conservation, innovation and more you’ll love this episode.  

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Audio Transcript

BEN: My name’s Ben Sullivan, I live in Hobart, Tasmania. I spent many years working in the UK, I moved back to Tasmania about five years ago and I work for a small company that’s based in the UK called Fishtek Marine. We develop technology to reduce bycatch in fisheries around the world in a range of gear types so we develop… we’ve got devices for gill nets, long lines, I mean a few other things as well. So yeah, we’re very much focused on bycatch reduction, so there’s a real conservation. It’s kind of almost conservation engineering, problem solving, we do all our development manufacturing inhouse, it’s a small team but, you know, pretty talented in terms of you know, got some good skills. It’s all done inhouse in the UK, all the devices that Fishtek develop and sell. My background is working for BirdLife marine programme which we might talk about later but my role there was very much related to seabird bycatch. In my Fishtek role I’m working on sort of wider sort of bycatch issues, so across different taxa and a whole range of different gears and my role is really to kind of look at the present and try and forecast what the next big sort of bycatch issues might be from a conservation perspective. So for example, four, maybe almost five years ago now we sat down and we had been working on a device called hook bug which we’ll talk about later to reduce seabird bycatch and we were thinking, well what’s the next kind of big thing that’s coming up, in terms of conservation what could be the big sort of issue and I… my view at the time was that you know, shark bycatch is becoming a massive issue and so we started looking at developing a device to reduce shark bycatch in long line fisheries. I mean I think most people listening would understand what a massive issue that is, there’s over a billion sharks caught around the world and many of them sort of unintentional bycatch. So sort of forecasting what the next conservation issue might be and whether Fishtek have a role in finding a solution to help solve that bycatch issue. So I’m sort of involved in the forecasting and also the science. Whenever we develop a new device, in many cases… I mean everything we do, we like it to be you know, evidence-based so we like to have some good science behind what we’re doing to prove that it’s effective and it doesn’t reduce target catch in the fisheries, that it’s durable, etc. All these sort of basic needs that we have. To convince fishermen that they can use our devices but also there’s often a regulatory component. You know, you have a regulatory change for fishermen to be able to use some of the devices. For example, the Hookpod to reduce seabird bycatch. You need regulatory support from government decision-makers to say fishermen are actually able to use them. So I kind of let the science sort of drive that and then peer review papers is still a critical part of what we do because if you’re gonna go to a scientific working group for either a… in some sort of fisheries management forum, whether that’s at a national level or an international level, that’s science working groups and without sort of peer review literature it’s very hard to get any traction, which is as it should be, you know. It’s these decision-making bodies need to… should be basing fisheries management decisions on good science so my role is a mix of sort of forecasting and science and then also sales and marketing. So once you’ve sort of developed a new device, you’ve got sort of regulatory support in cases where that’s needed, you then need to actually go out and market and sell this to fishermen and maybe that’s something we could touch on later, that’s been… that’s been a challenge for someone who’s come from a science background. So that’s kind of my role, the mix of those things.  

NICK: That sounds really fascinating. You mentioned there a few times, and it’s obviously been… I need to start that one again. You know, through your career, marine, seabird bycatch issues has kind of been a recurring theme. And we use the word ‘bycatch’ quite a lot in conservation but for someone who’s not really fully familiar with the issue, what do we mean when we talk about bycatch? And you can give us like an example of a bycatch issue within conservation. 

BEN: Sure. That’s a really interesting question because bycatch has like formal definitions under the FAO, Food and Agriculture Organisation. There’s a whole lot of definitions and there’s debate about what bycatch means but when I use the term, I’m referring to species that are caught unintentionally. So they’re non-target species. And from a conservation point of view, I’m talking about – in most cases – sort of some threatened species or protected species, so seabirds, some species… many species of sharks, turtles, whales, bycatch also has, you know, can mean fish species which are not intentionally caught but are actually brought on board and either have a market value or don’t have a market value, but from the conservation side and from where I’m coming, the way I use the word, it’s more about threatened than protected species that are caught unintentionally. 

NICK: Right, I got you, yeah. And you mentioned as well in your introduction a bit about Hookpod as well which is something which, you know, Fishtek have had involvement in developing, it’s something that you’re actively involved in right now, you know. What is the Hookpod? Because that’s seeking to solve a bycatch issue around kind of seabird conservation. Is that right? 

BEN: That’s right, yeah. So the Hookpod started developing in… over… it’s about 11 years ago now so it’s been quite a process. It’s sort of the original thought was to find… currently fishermen are required to use a combination of measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds in long line fisheries. So they’re required to set the lines at night because albatrosses are diurnal so if you set them at night you catch less seabirds generally. It’s not the case for all species but for most species it is, certainly for albatross. So they’re required lines at night, they’re required to add weight to the line to make it sink more quickly when the line leaves the vessel so that takes the hooks away from the diving range of the seabirds more quickly. And they’re required to fly streamers from the stern of the boat and that sort of… the wind, the movement of the streamers deters the seabirds from diving onto the baited hooks as they leave the vessel and before they sink.  

NICK: Sorry but when we talk about that like long line fisheries, we’re talking about a boat with huge long lines out the back, hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks, is that right? Going down to the deep-sea catching species like tuna and other species and the issue is that on each hook is obviously some bait and the seabirds are diving to try and catch that bait as it hits the water. And if an albatross gets hooked it gets dragged down and that’s it, it’s drowned and dies, right? And you’re trying to avoid that. 

BEN: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s a good description. So where the danger period for the most for seabirds is when the baited hooks first leave the vessel before they sink to about 10-20m. When the baited hooks are on the surface. It’s a long line, some of these long lines can stretch as far as… much as sort of 60 or 70km. And there are up to 4,000 hooks. So they’re massive, they cover a huge area and as I say many several thousand hooks so, there’d be 3,000-4,000 baited hooks going into the water on some of these bigger vessels. And each one of those is a potential threat to a seabird that dives down and as I say, can become hooked and dragged under water and drowned. So the idea behind the Hookpod was to simplify operations so rather than a fisherman having to use a combination of measures we were thinking, is it possible to come up with a single thing that fishermen can do which would actually reduce seabird bycatch, you know. Find a solution that’s a one-stop-shop sort of thing. And so we came up with the concept of the Hookpod which is a small polycarbonate capsule, it’s quite complicated, it would be easier to show if we had a visual but basically when the fishermen… they put the bait on the hooks and before they throw the baited hook into the water, they load the point in the barb of the hook so the dangerous part, obviously, into this small polycarbonate capsule which is attached to the long line. They then throw that into the water and that means that the seabirds can’t access the barb or the point of the hook, so they can’t get hooked. And so the baited hook sinks with this Hookpod attached to it. And it has a pressure release mechanism in it so when it reaches 20m depth it opens up and the baited hook falls out and the line fishes as it normally would. But the Hookpod opens up, it remains on the line so it’s reusable over several years, it remains on the line and then when the line is hauled, sort of 8-12 hours later, the fishermen simply close the Hookpod and stores it along with the gear as normal. So it’s a reusable solution, it’s a single-stop solution, it’s operationally easy for fishermen to use and it’s really highly effective, it can reduce with, you know, we’ve got some good science behind it. It can reduce seabird bycatch by you know, greater than 90-95% in some cases.  

NICK: Wow. So it’s a really amazing example of how innovation and enterprise can really solve a specific conservation problem, you know, within set constraints of what it is you’re trying to achieve, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be quite cheap, I’m assuming. It needs to always, you know, release the hook at a certain sort of depth, there’s all sorts of stuff going on there but you solved the problem. It seems to be providing great returns for seabirds around the globe. How is the use of the Hookpod right now, I mean how many fishermen around the globe are using it and what does the future look like? 

BEN: Ah this is when it gets tricky (laughter). It is a great solution, we are only really in the last year sort of started to make sales of Hookpods because of the amount of time it took to develop it and the time to collect the science and publish, and also get our manufacturing in place. It’s been a challenge. We’ve got Hookpods that are fishing in New Zealand, we’ve got some in Brazil, we’re working with a few high seas tuna fisheries, some of the Asian fleets, only on very small numbers at the moment so what we’re finding is that most fleets are wanting to equip vessels are sort of demonstration vessels, effectively. So we’ve got good science and we have information on its durability etc. It’s kind of understandable but fisheries’ managers and also vessel owners who have to actually fork out the money, they want the confidence that it’s gonna work on their boats. So we’re finding it’s still a pretty slow process in terms of uptake. There’s really positive science that, you know, it could take off in the next couple of years but it has been pretty slow and challenging in terms of getting those early sales but we’ve got really good interest from a few key countries, particularly New Zealand, Brazil and also as I mentioned some of the high seas tuna fisheries, which have massive fleets and have a really large impact on seabird bycatch. So the signs are really good for the next three years, it’s just been a really slow build and, you know, to be brutally honest it’s probably been a bit slower than any of us expected or wanted. But that’s kind of the nature of the best, we do all the technical development and then what we’re finding is even though fishermen have confidence that it’s operationally simple to use, it’s that sort of price point, it’s the economics of it that really is the key for us now. 

NICK: Have you had much support from the conservation movement more widely?  

BEN: We’ve had really good support in terms of people sort of assisting us in our advocacy work and lobbying at some fisheries – BirdLife International for example have been a really good supporter of the Hookpod and so have some other sort of NGOs as well. So there’s really good support. There’s also a slight tension sometimes between conservation movement and industry or enterprise. There’s that tension between, you know, do you want to send a missionary or a mercenary to solve the problem. 

NICK: (laughter) Right. 

BEN: It can be quite challenging at times. My view is that, you know, you need a combination of both to really find solutions. I mean we’ve been talking for… I’ve been involved in bycatch for sort of over 20 years now and people have always been talking about, you know, the need to get engineers on board to really find solutions that are effective. And then when that happens, there can also be a slight reluctance because there’s a profit being made, potentially – I mean, we’re donkeys years off making a profit but the concept that there’s a concept being made from conservation is still very challenging for a lot of organisations and individuals. So that’s just another thing that we work with and I understand it, you know. Having worked for an NGO for years I understand that sentiment, I just think for me it’s a little bit like trying to find climate change solutions. Until it makes sense financially to solve climate change, nothing’s gonna happen. We’re all chipping away and there’s been progress made. But until it makes financial sense and there’s financial incentives for industry and government to really sort of make some, you know, some real strive towards, you know, reducing emissions, etc. and meeting targets, then we’re just chipping away at the edges. And I think a lot of conservations sort of issues, and particularly in the marine environment it’s similar because fishing’s a massive, massive international industry. It’s huge. And fishermen and fishing vessel owners and companies, they get it. They’re quite used to spending money, big scale money moving goods around the world, moving crew around the world, you know. So the idea that you have to spend some money to solve a problem is not a concept that the industry struggles with, it’s more a concept sometimes that government and the conservation movement more widely can find tricky. So that’s something we’re working with too. 

NICK: That’s really interesting, and obviously you’ve moved from the charity sector now into the enterprise sector. And it’s something that, you know, I myself have done as well, you know, and it’s been really interesting to explore that change. I mean, someone put it to me quite eloquently recently in terms of the charity movement doing some incredible work around the globe for conservation, and it’s by far the biggest player out there, you know, and plays such an important role. But in some ways it has some limitations regarding how far it can go because it’s all about, you know, the donations it receives, so you know, saving the world on your spare change, if you like, is quite a challenge when the issues are so big and so doing it in partnership with enterprise, seeing enterprises that can actually scale and make money and actually in many ways, the more money it makes, the more Hookpods that are sold in the world, the more albatrosses are gonna be saved. So there’s real kind of scale out there that doesn’t have that glass ceiling that you would see within a charity sector. So it feels like the two could and should be working more closely together and more enterprises should be seeded. 

BEN: Yeah, no I think so. As in a lot of things, I think often it comes down to sort of individuals that you meet along the journey. So sometimes, you know, when you’re trying to sort of get that synergy between enterprise or business and the conservation movement, it’s often about relationships, you know. You meet the right person who kind of gets… understands the solution and understands the economics of it and the drivers, then you can achieve a lot. And then sometimes maybe there’s a more old-school view where, you know, there shouldn’t ever be profit made from conservation. So it’s kind of like finding the right people and getting the right people in the room to sort of talk that stuff through.  

NICK: So I’m really interested to kind of hear a bit more about your career. I mean we’ve known each other on and off for, I don’t know, 10 years or so? It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. It would be really interesting just to kind of talk through, you know, your life before Fishtek and how you got to where you are now. What were your key steps in your career that kind of led to where you are now? Looking back, you know, what have you done? 

BEN: Going right back sort of at uni I studied marine zoology and botany etc. sort of heading in the marine path and then I went somewhere completely different and I went worked in the… I did my PhD in sort of Outback Queensland sort of in desert country on koalas out in the desert. 

NICK: Couldn’t get more dry. 

BEN: Picking koala poo, I was literally counting koala poo for three years. And then I got a… I was sort of really interested in rangeland management, those sort of issues and water and fresh water, which is a massive issue in Australia obviously, and I got a job which was just really didn’t work out for me and a really critical step was that at one point about two or three years into that, my first job after finishing my PhD I just had to get out. I needed a break cause the guy I worked for was driving me crazy and the job was driving me crazy. And I went to Antarctica, I volunteered to go to Antarctica for a summer. And that just kind of changed everything in a way, I just thought, yeah that’s right, this is what I studied. This is kinda where it all started, you know. So I quit my job, I was actually in Antarctica when I quit my job and I met a guy down there who told me about a job coming up in the Falkland Islands and applied for a job down there and kind of while I was away and that’s how my sort of marine sort of fisheries sort of life career started really. I came back and then moved to the Falklands for a few years and worked for a… the BirdLife partner down there actually, Falklands Conservation.  

NICK: Yeah, you were the Seabirds at Sea Manager, is that right?  

BEN: Yeah, yeah, Seabirds at Sea Manager. So it was a combination of doing seabird counts for the oil industry, was funded by the oil industry, and also you know, fisheries bycatch issues, there’s quite a big fishery down around the Falklands as well. Falklands Conservation that I worked for were a BirdLife partner so that sort of gave me links to BirdLife and I started to understand how they worked and got to know a few people and moved from that job in the Falklands to coordinating the BirdLife marine programme. So I moved from the Falklands straight to the UK. 

NICK: Right ok, and that’s where we met and for people on the line who don’t know BirdLife International, BirdLife International is an international partnership of conservation charities, 120 or so, one in each country so about 120 countries around the globe and one of the major themes of work was, and still is, you know, the marine programme, the marine seabird programme which you were the coordinator of based out of our UK partner the RSPB. That’s right? 

BEN: That’s correct, yeah. 

NICK: Right, ok. What I saw through my kind of work a little bit with you guys, I say a little bit because I only worked, you know, on and off a little bit through the marine programme, was what such a great team that you had there, and probably still is there. You had people based all around the globe, all working on similar themes of work around seabirds, seabird issues. But you were incredibly tight, you were really unique, you know, you were driven forward as a team and you were really kind of, you know, creating great impact in the globe. What do you think were the keys to kind of setting up and establishing a successful team like that, you know? What were the principles you brought in? How did you hire people? You know, how did you keep that dynamic really fresh and really vibrant? 

BEN: We’ve thought about sort of trying to write this up as a case study, because I think it was a pretty unique team. I mean we worked across… the marine team in itself had people working directly for the marine team in sort of a dozen countries, you know, three or four different languages. But yet there was a real sense of, like you say, there was a real team, there was a real sense of team, and I think it’s a tricky one. It was kind of organic, I think at the beginning we didn’t have a lot of the systems and processes in place, it was more… it was really strongly driven by personalities. John Croxhall who some people may have heard of who’s, you know, worked for many years and been one of the world’s sort of leading seabird conservation people, him and Euan Dunn who worked at the RSPB drove the establishment of the marine programme and I think because of their personalities and because of the leadership that they showed, they were really big at bringing people in and then giving them sort of, not free reign but really supporting them to make decisions and to sort of take a lot of responsibility. So there was really good communication, there was a lot of trust and I think that leadership kind of flowed on so then myself and other people were employed in sort of coordination management roles and I think that we were employing people that, you know, as I say, in most cases having English as a second language but I think that style of management, that style of leadership where you really take people on and you trust them and you give them… there’s a lot of confidence in the team, there was a lot of confidence that people were free to make decisions and if they got it wrong, that was alright too because, you know, I think there was a lot of… kind of brave decisions made by BirdLife, the management of BirdLife to let us sort of have that sort of way of working. I think as we got bigger, so that was in the early days, I think that was sort of the initial sort of, how that sense of team and the effectiveness really grew, but I think and as we got bigger obviously we got more systems and processes in place in terms of, you know, regular communication and meetings etc and strategies. And I think that was critical because as we got bigger you know, if you don’t have those systems in place, it was, you know, very complicated pretty quickly. But yeah, I think it’s that initial kind of, that initial sort of leadership from the people who set the programmes up and the support from both BirdLife and RSPB, that built relationships that made it all work. And you know, really passionate people. Everyone we worked with in Brazil, a range of south American countries, southern African countries, in Asia, they were all young, and they were all really passionate about marine conservation so they didn’t really take much management. We’re all kind of working to a common strategy or a common goal and you just kind of yeah, let people go. And we achieved, you know, quite a bit, in the ten years I was there I think we, you know, we had some pretty… pretty major successes.  

NICK: Tell us about some of them. 

BEN: One of the projects we set up was called the Albatross Taskforce, so that was a team of people which we had around the world, particularly focused in south American countries and also in Namibia and South Africa. And that was about putting people out on boats, so guys and girls, to work directly with fishermen. It was about actually demonstrating to fishermen how they can use mitigation measures so they’re just basically devices to reduce seabird bycatch in fisheries. So we were putting these people out on the boats to work with fishermen and actually equipping them with mitigation measures, equipping them with educational material in multiple languages, and actually demonstrating what could be done to reduce seabird bycatch in these fisheries, and also collecting science to sort of have a baseline. So when we started working in these fisheries, what does the seabird bycatch problem look like? What’s the scale of it? And then once we got that we worked very hard to sort of demonstrate the mitigation measures, we then worked with government to get regulatory change, to support the uptake of these measures. And then sort of you see a very… quite dramatic sort of reduction in seabird bycatch in quite a few of the, well most of the target fisheries we were working in in south America and southern Africa had really significant reduction. So it didn’t happen overnight, it took several years from sort of first setting up a team in country to actually getting tangible results but yeah, it was a really exciting project to work with. It was about… when we were at our maximum there was about 20 different instructors working across eight countries. And made some really, really… pretty amazing achievements in terms of you know, tangible sort of reductions in bycatch for seabirds. 

NICK: Yeah. And it’s amazing what 20 people out on boats can achieve, if you like, for seabirds when the issues are so great but you can actually really see significant change, you know, from relatively few number of people out on boats. 

Students-celebrating-graduation-in-the-search-for-the-Top-Conservation-Training-Opportunities

BEN: Yeah, no absolutely. We targeted our effort pretty carefully because we had limited… although we were really well supported from BirdLife and RSPB we still had like, you know, we had to really focus our efforts, so what were the… we picked our fisheries based on, you know, conservation need but also where we thought we had the chance of… so where the seabird bycatch rates highest and, you know, in terms of threatened species, what did that look like? But then also where did we think we had a chance of success in terms of the traction we could get with, as you say, you know, relatively few people really. 20 people is a tiny team when you think you’re working across eight countries. Again I went back to that issue that you kind of raised Nick, about that… there was an amazing sense of camaraderie in that team. Most of the instructors we hired for the Albatross Taskforce were really young people straight out of uni so in their early twenties. Some were a couple of years older but most of them were really young and just had a fire in their belly, you know, and it was a really good opportunity to work for an international conservation organisation, because BirdLife International was sort of overseeing the project. It just really drew really high calibre of people, you know, really passionate and also sort of highly skilled people who just got on with their work, you know, just did amazing things. 

NICK: Yeah. I mean it’s interesting, a lot of people that listen to this podcast and come to Conservation Careers are looking to start their career in conservation, many of them are coming out of university or, you know, planning for coming out of university quite soon, we’ve also got people mid-career looking to switch in from an unrelated sector. When you were employing people for say the Albatross Taskforce or you were part of that decision process, what were you looking for in people? How were you choosing, you know, what were the skills or the attributes that you were looking to kind of bring into the team? 

BEN: There was a few things, I mean, I guess the key things would have been, it was critical they had some sort of science background because, you know, we needed data collection and management was really critical. Not so much in terms of an analytical sort of perspective but just in terms of the ability to collect data and manage it. That was really importantAlso the ability to spend large amount of times at sea. So it’s not an easy job in terms of being at sea on a fishing boat, it can be pretty challenging at times, and the guys and girls were spending, you know, up to several weeks at a time on some of their trips and maybe, you know, anything up to four or five months a year at sea. So you’ve got to have the time in your life actually, and also be comfortable at sea and on a fishing boat for those sort of lengths of periods. So that was really important. And also just, I think just someone… people with passion, you know. People who’ve got initiative. Because when you’re on a fishing boat, you’ve got to be able to problem-solve on the spot, you know. You’ve got to be able to think, ok this is not working, what am I gonna do? Every now and then you get access to a satellite phone to sort of, when something’s really gone wrong, you can talk to someone in the team, myself or someone else and sort of work things out. But generally you’ve got to problem-solve so I just think being passionate and having initiative is really critical for that sort of role, it’s probably as important as anyone’s academic record, it’s like, yeah you’ve got to have science background but it’s sort of showing that ability to problem-solve and to have initiative and just be really passionate about what you’re doing. I think they are the key things. 

NICK: And what advice would you have for people who are looking to get their first paying conservation role, you know, these budding conservationists out there that are listening? Have you got any sort of careers advice that might help them to speed up their career planning? 

BEN: What would my main advice be? It’s an interesting one. I think over my career I’ve been a bit lucky. To some degree it’s been sort of people I’ve met who’ve really helped me. I think that’s still really important, and I’ve been… I have been a bit of a luddite in terms of, you know, the work that you’re doing Nick, with this conservation job site and, you know, even things like LinkedIn and Research Gate, I think the contacts you can build through that are fantastic so I think putting yourself out there in the digital world is becoming more and more important, it’s not something I’ve been great at but now I’m working in enterprise I’m finding I’m having to do more and more of that. And I’m starting to appreciate just how important it is. But I think my main advice would be, do something that you’re passionate about. Find a job that you’re really passionate about when you first get out and things can work from there. If you’re part of a good team, and you’re working on conservation project that you believe in, you just learn so much, you find mentors who can sort of guide you and help you in your next steps. So I just think, you know, follow your heart would be my advice. Once you’ve decided you want a conservation career and you’ve got the credentials or the experience to do it, you know, follow your heart, find some good people who can really help you and set you up for the next steps. 

NICK: That sounds like great advice, yeah. And I guess listening to your career path from counting koala poo to you know, going down to the Antarctic and, you know, it’s all about exploration is what I’ve heard from you, it’s like finding the sweet spot, you know, where your passion is and it sounds like your passion became seabirds and marine issues, you know, once you kind of explored that and that’s where you kind of thrown yourself into. 

BEN: Yeah, no very much so. That’s true. I mean it’s interesting because I came at bycatch very much from a conservation threatened species angle, and the more and more you get involved, the more you start to understand fisheries and appreciate the wider sort of issues at play, so now you know, I’m enjoying this role where it’s much broader, although I love the work of seabird bycatch, it was actually really cool to be focused on one sort of issue. That was also, when we talk Nick about the strength of the marine programme, I think that was also another strength, was that it was very focused on a single issue. We had the ability to, you know, really focus down on one thing and I think in a lot of jobs they’re across so many different issues, a lot of… a wide range of conservation issues, where we see that bycatch is complex cause you’re working with fisheries management and there’s a whole lot of issues associated with that, but it is a very focused issue. So I think maybe that was a strength of the marine programme at the time, it’s a bit… it’s quite a bit broader now, it’s changed quite a bit over the last few years but… 

NICK: I guess if you spread yourself too thin then you might not have as much impact as becoming real specialist and really moving one specific thing forwards that you know is of strategic importance, if you like, like you do with bycatch, yeah. 

BEN: Yeah, no absolutely. Yeah. 

NICK: Great. Well, maybe I can just wrap up then with a couple of, I don’t know, fairly bigger questions. One is, if I could put you in charge of the world for a day and your goal was to kind of, you know, make one significant change that really helped the environment in some way, shape or form, what law would you enact? 

BEN: I think climate change is obviously the biggest challenge we’re facing. I think the one thing I’d do would be to find a way to resolve the issue of where the carbon cap sits between developing and developed nations. Until we resolve that, living in the western world and capitalist society, everyone aspires to have what we have, to be living these affluent lives that we live, and until we find a way to sort of resolve that issue of, how do countries like China and India and Brazil and these countries, until we find a way to sort of balance that out, that sort of, why would we accept a cap at this level when you guys have got a carbon footprint which is 20 times more? It’s that have and have-nots and I think that’s the critical… gonna be the critical driver to any success with climate change. So I’d try and find a way to do that, to find an agreement where we can actually reach a cap which all countries can agree to, cause I think that’s gonna be the key going forward to getting anything done. 

NICK: Right, yeah. Sounds like a very worthy cause right now. Another thing, just looking at like the conservation movement as a whole, are these the challenges that we’ve facing, you know. We’re winning some little battles but we’re still like losing that war, if you like, so on land, you know, half of native forests are gone, at sea, at last count – things have probably changed – but you know, about ¾ of fisheries are exploited or over-fished, and in the air about 40% of migratory birds are declining. Broadly speaking, you know, what does the conservation movement need to do more of? Not what’s going wrong, but you know, what is it we’re lacking, you know, what do we need to achieve to kind of really move those needles in the right direction? 

BEN: Wow, they are the big questions, aren’t they? 

NICK: Sorry. 

BEN: No, no, no, that’s good. I think in terms of what the conservation movement needs to do, that was the question, wasn’t it? I think maybe it’s sort of about investing… and I don’t mean investing as in financial investment, I mean investment more broadly so time, resources, people, into sort of grassroots conservation and sort of, I think we’ve become very top-down in a lot of cases when we’re trying to achieve the conservation objectives. I say that kind of like ‘we’ as in, you know, the conservation movement broadly. I think we need to sort of drive things to the grassroots. 

NICK: So more volunteers, more mobilising people on the ground, more support from members? 

BEN: Yeah, more working in countries from the grassroots, I think that’s what’s gonna drive change cause it’s not working just sort of parachuting in solutions and I think yeah, more sort of, yeah grassroots, more volunteers, more capacity sort of, development in country. 

NICK: Right. That sounds good to me. And I guess my final question hopefully, it might be an easy one, it might be a tricky one, I don’t know. But we talked at the beginning, before we started recording, that this is kind of a bit like Desert Island Discs for conservationists, and you’re probably thinking like, you know, what’s your favourite song? 

BEN: Oh, that’s a big one! I don’t know that I have a favourite song! It would be either something by Jeff Buckley or Rage Against The Machine. 

NICK: There you go. Well a mix of two maybe. 

BEN: (laughter) That’s a pretty strange mix, those two, I know but anyway. I guess one of those. 

NICK: You can have two maybe. That’s fine. Look Ben, it’s been really nice to chat and to catch up, I really appreciate you finding the time to hop on the podcast today and to kind of share career advice. 

BEN: It’s great, I hope it’s, you know, helpful for someone along the journey. 

NICK: I’m sure it will be, I’m sure it will be.  

BEN: It’s great what you’re doing so good luck with it. 

NICK: Thank you very much. If people wanted to find out a little bit more about you and Fishtek or Hookpod, you know, where should we point them? 

BEN: The Fishtek website, so just www.fishtekmarine.com or www.hookpod.com, two separate websites. That would be great, yeah, have a look there and you’ll get a feeling for the work that we’re doing. 

NICK: We’ll do that, we’ll put links in the description. And we’ll, maybe we’ll share a picture as well as part of the pod notes so people can actually see what one of these devices look like. Thanks again Ben, it’s been a nice chat. 

BEN: Alright Nick, thanks for your time. 

NICK: Thanks again mate, cheers. 

BEN: Cheers mate, bye. 

NICK: Ok 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 us a rating as it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews we’ve collated the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free e-book, 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 @ConserveCareers, we’d love to hear from you. Ok, till next time guys, this is Nick signing out. 

Main image credit: BirdLife International.

Career Stories, Conservation Jobs & Careers Advice, Podcast

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