Blog post by Corallie Hunt
The first Women4Oceans face-to-face networking event was held in central London on Thursday 30th March and I am really grateful to have been part of it. I set myself the personal challenge of trying to sum up the night in three words, no easy feat considering the number of positive words that immediately sprung to mind; so, after some thought, I have chosen the following three…. erm…ok, four!:
Women4Oceans was the inspiration of Farah Obaidullah, a passionate ocean advocate, who set-up the platform to enable women working towards ocean protection to have a platform and access to a like-minded community; to share perspectives, advice and experiences that are unique to women; to listen and to be heard. As the numbers of the Facebook community grew, it was time to organise a face to face event and bring the virtual world into reality. The event organised at the Library Club in London was advertised to all but grew organically and perhaps serendipitously into a female-only audience; an opportunity to see how the night would turn out, from the perspective of the female-only speakers and from the interactive female-only audience; to see whether a male-free experience made a difference to how we interacted, what we spoke about, and what, if any, questions would be asked.
Four speakers working in very different areas of our salt-based aquatic-world shared their inspiring stories of how they have come to be involved in their fields, the challenges they have faced along the way, how their resolve may have waivered at times, but how their passion for their work has seen them through those turbulent times. The technical difficulties on the night didn’t stop the show from going on – another indicator of the resolve of these ladies not be fazed or lose heart. Speaking to a large group of strangers without a microphone over the hustle and bustle of a busy bar in the background would be enough to put many off. But these ladies had stories to tell, and tell them they did!
The evening kicked off with the plucky Morven who talked about her experiences working for conservation within the fisheries-domain, a male-dominated world, who shared some tales and lessons learnt from her interactions with an intense and often intimidating stakeholder. Amber walked us through her impressive academic journey and current PhD research in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, investigating deep-sea mining potential and those collaborations that can promote the sound exploitation of the sea. Some wonderfully preserved sea-beasties were shared around the audience, a reminder of the unknown life that lies beneath. Emily thrilled us with her adventures across the oceans in varying and delightful forms of marine-craft to raise awareness about plastic pollution at sea, and to stress that no matter how far away it seems, ultimately, it affects all of us right here on terra firma. Lauren finished with a strong message. Describing her more unusual path into the marine world via literature, she emphasised the importance of effective, supporting communications to give a voice to all the vital work that is going on around us - to inform sound governmental policy; to raise awareness of the good, and the bad; and to engage the public, especially the younger generations. We all have a stake in our oceans and the services they provide. All four speakers spoke from the heart and shared their hopes for a more empowered female community in the marine world.
Part of what made the event special and totally relevant to the networking objective was that the audience had been given the opportunity to speak, a 2-minute slot given to those who wanted it, to tell us about themselves, their passions, challenge and experiences. Buoyed by the excellent speakers, the ladies who took to the stage highlighted the impressive wealth and breadth of the group’s activities and interests. In about 20 minutes we heard about an innovative fishing-net technology to reduce bycatch; a brand new ‘Crowd.Science’ initiative using drones to map plastic pollution around the UK coastline; an essential wet-wipe clean-up and awareness event taking place on the Thames river; cutting-edge research into plastic pollution and its toxic effects on marine life; and novel ways to re-use plastic waste and engage industry, to name just a few of the topics. The audience members were also invited to be interviewed; to give feedback from the night, and importantly, to practice those much-needed skills and boost confidence; another inspired activity provided by the event!
Earlier on, I touched on some musings about whether there would be a different dynamic or atmosphere being a female-only event. It isn’t possible to tell what would have transpired from a mixed audience, but there were certainly themes throughout the evening common to women only; hearing some of the unpalatable challenges of being told ‘leave it to the boys’, receiving verbal threats or being sexually intimidated made for uncomfortable listening. However this was only part of it; the overwhelming feeling from the evening’s stories was one of positivity, support and a triumphant sense of ‘can-do’. On reflection, a couple of things stood out for me about the night. One was realising that many others in the room have had similar worries, challenges or taken similarly windy paths to get where they were at that point it time, and it was comforting to know that this network exists that can empathise and support women to overcome these. The other, was how noticeably laid-back the atmosphere was and how easily conversations flowed between strangers during the networking part of the evening; the event certainly seemed to engage, excite and empower. This will undoubtedly be the first of many such events, and I for one am very excited by the prospect!
About our guest blogger
Corallie Hunt trained as an oceanographer and subsequently worked as a marine data scientist, improving access to quality, scientific data. After some inspiring camper-van travels around West Africa and a move back to the Middle East, the place she calls home, she began her marine conservation career working with UNEP to facilitate and promote dugong conservation projects for the charismatic and vulnerable marine mammal. Currently back in the UK, she is working on the England’s Marine Conservation Zone designation project. However, another adventure awaits as she will be embarking on a new challenge in the Autumn, to undertake a PhD in sedimentary blue carbon. Corallie says: “I’ve got an exciting opportunity on the horizon to pursue my passion for conservation and marine science and the Women4Oceans network will undoubtedly provide the encouragement and support I am likely to need as I step back into the academic world!”
‘Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean’ - Ryunosuke Satoro
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