It's been a while since our last Surf Careers blogpost, but we are back with an interview to inspire you. Let us introduce you to Fransesca Trotman. Fransesca, a marine biologist and only 26, has already successfully founded a non-profit marine conservation organisation called 'Love The Oceans', based in Mozambique.
If you've been thinking of studying Marine Biology or fancy a career change into marine conservation, make sure to read on as Fransesca shares an honest view on her studies and most importantly hard work to help the oceans.
Photo: Jeff Hester for Photographers Without Borders
Fransesca, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m the Managing Director and Founder of the non-profit marine conservation organisation called Love The Oceans. We’re based in Mozambique, I have my residency there so live there most of the year. I come back to England periodically for recruitment and to visit family.
Where did your love for the ocean start and how did you get into founding 'Love The Oceans'?
I’ve been obsessed with sharks since I was eight years old. I learnt to dive when I was 13. I knew I always wanted to do something to do with the oceans at University so I chose Marine Biology as it was an obvious choice and did it at University of Southampton. When I was at university, I also learnt to surf with the Surf Society.
I did the integrated Masters course (four years). At the end of my second year, I went on an internship to Mozambique and saw my first shark killing which was very emotional given my attachment to sharks. I soon realised that it was the shark fin industry as a whole I needed to be angry at, not the individuals doing the killing since the education level is so low in our area, the fishermen have no idea about the damage they’re doing.
I went back to uni and found a supervisor who would support me to go back to Mozambique and study the shark fishing problem is there. I found Ken Collins, who gave me a lecture slot to the year below where I recruited three research assistants to come and spend four months with me and the fishermen over the summer of my 3rd year to collect data for my Masters dissertation. When I was writing up the results back in England they were pretty much what you’d expect in terms of sustainability of shark fishing and the potential negative implications for the local marine ecosystem.
However, my stats weren’t significant because I didn’t have enough data which meant I couldn’t publish my paper or do anything about the fishing going on. I began to look at how financially I could continue my data collection and build a team to help out. I started researching NGOs and the conservation volunteering space and that is where Love The Oceans was born from, I founded it November 2014. I recruited my first batch of volunteers whilst finishing my masters and ran the first programs summer 2015. And the rest, they say, is history…
Photo: Jeff Hester for Photographers Without Borders
Was there anyone who inspired you to follow this path?
Surprisingly, not particularly. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of female role models in the marine conservation industry – I think that’s also why STEM is a male dominated industry – if you don’t see anyone that looks like you in that industry growing up, it’s difficult to imagine yourself in that role. Later I discovered Sylvia Earle so I would say she is a particular inspiration now. At the time of choosing my path, it wasn’t really a person inspiring me so much as an obsession with the ocean and sharks.
What does your typical working day with 'Love The Oceans' look like?
I have an incredible team of extremely dedicated and passionate individuals. Our activities vary hugely on daily basis and seasonally so it’s difficult to explain exactly what a typical day looks like. However, we’re blessed with individuals who are totally obsessed with the marine environment and don’t mind working around the clock to ensure its protection and build towards a more sustainable future.
Typically we’re up at 5.30am, sending some volunteers off to different fisheries sites, we might have time to process some trash (for our eco-brick initiative) or go for a quick run before diving, which is at 7ish. We then do two dives a day (coral surveying) whilst another staff member runs other volunteers to the schools to paint and teach marine conservation (a curriculum previously agreed with the schools and planned out with the community, then built on with the help of our volunteers).
A lunch run then ensues for the volunteers who are at the schools, taking them to have their lunch in a slightly quieter location then in the middle of 600 kids! As soon as the 2 dives are over our other group starts logging corals with the help of a staff member whilst other staff might have time to work on data processing, or grant proposals, then our fisheries teams return and need help logging their fish species, and the rest of the evening is spent like that. It’s an around the clock job but we love it!
Was this what you expected to be doing when you started studying Marine Biology?
Some of the work is what I expected – the actual science part yes, and if you’d told 12 year old me recording whales and working to conserve sharks whilst being able to dive daily in the Indian Ocean was something I would be doing at age 26, I’d have been over the moon! Not to mention being my own boss – I’ve never been good at following instructions!
There is however a lot of parts of the job that don’t tie in with what I envisaged which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I’m a marine biologist, but I’m also an entrepreneur having founded Love The Oceans, so a lot of what I do is recruitment, business growth and development, as well as contracts, accounts and other boring paperwork!
Photo: Jeff Hester for Photographers Without Borders
"We meet a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and I love inspiring people to get passionate about marine conservation and pursue their dreams."
What about your work gives you most satisfaction?
It’s an incredibly rewarding line of work. Working with the local community is very uplifting and of course I get to scuba dive and snorkel with some truly amazing animals, including whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. I also am continuously keeping up to date with new scientific studies and methodologies which is exciting. All the research we do is the first of its kind in the area so it’s incredibly satisfying. I find what we do endlessly interesting and I’m never bored.
There are lots of different areas involved in our work so you build a multitude of skills in the field. Since we have zero funding, our motto is always ‘make a plan’. Something doesn’t work? Make a plan. Car broken down in the middle of nowhere? Make a plan. Ran out of paint? Make a plan. You gain some really great life and survival skills that are incredibly useful in Mozambique but completely useless in a developed country!
We meet a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and I love inspiring people to get passionate about marine conservation and pursue their dreams. A perk of the job is that I get to live on a beautiful beach for 70% of the year and mix with a huge range of different cultures and backgrounds. Pretty cool. I love my job.
"Encouraging women to dream outside stereotypical gender roles is something we feel passionately about."
Are there any down sides to running your NGO?
Well, there’s the obvious that most NGOs will say: Money. We have none. It’s incredibly difficult to make ends meet in this industry. We live in straw huts in Mozambique and living costs are low but there’s still a lot of overheads and our different science/community/capacity building projects to think about. Currently none of our staff are paid and just have their costs covered which is very difficult but we don’t have an alternative right now and luckily we have an incredibly dedicated team who I wouldn’t trade for the world. At the end of the day, we really love what we do and so we don’t mind going without.
In Mozambique we struggle with trying to encourage people to think more sustainably, see the bigger picture, and take action. Women’s place in society is something that we constantly address. Encouraging women to dream outside stereotypical gender roles is something we feel passionately about. Typically in our rural location a woman’s path is: start your period, get married, have kids. A lot of women marry at age 15. Average family size is 10 kids, men can have more than one wife but wives may not have more than one husband. As three women running a conservation organisation it’s tricky, a couple of times I’ve caught a look of complete shock when I’ve done something that typically a woman would never do here, but it’s satisfying to blow stereotypes out of the water and knowing you might be make more opportunities available for more women by treading a new path.
The local community has been incredibly welcoming and encouraging of LTO’s work, eager to discuss developments and new project ideas. They’re a real pleasure to work with.
Photo: Danielle Da Silva for Photographers Without Borders
If you could give advice to younger ocean lovers, who would you recommend Marine Biology studies and your career path to?
Passionate people obsessed with the marine environment – you have to be incredibly driven and resilient – I’ve been told a million times we’ll never achieve what we have and you just have to keep going and prove the sceptics wrong.
Where do you see yourself and Love The Oceans in 5 years time?
I hope that we’ll have the Marine Protected Area we’re working towards established, we’ll have many more community-led capacity building projects up and running and more scientific journal articles published, with applicable legislation updated or changed (e.g ecotourism interactions with whales, species specific minimum landing size). In the next year we’ll be building the community pool after some very generous donations which will enable over 3000 people to have access to swimming lessons and we’ve built enough classrooms at the schools we work at (on the community’s request) to establish a high school in the area which means there’ll be access to education up to the age of 18 here – before people could only go to school to the age of 16.
"Don’t go into conservation science if you want to make money. You won’t. Go into conservation science if you’re extremely passionate about what you do."
What other advice would you give others looking to combine a love for water sports with a career?
There is a lot of room for watersports in conservation – scuba diving / surfing naturally fit in very easily with marine conservation. However, don’t go into conservation science if you want to make money. You won’t. Go into conservation science if you’re extremely passionate about what you do. Find a great team to do it with, make sure you get on with your co-workers. Working in a remote region can get pretty intense. If you want to work in the field, make sure you’re OK living without makeup, straighteners or a hairdryer. We’ve been building a magnificent LTO team over the last three years and we’re now at a point where I feel the individuals that make up our team are so awesome that there is nothing we can’t do. Everyone is so passionate about LTO, making a difference and meeting our goals. It’s awesome.
If you’re researching organisations to work with, I would recommend digging. Just digging, digging, digging to get as much info on them as possible and check their ethics. There is SO much legislation in the UK surrounding health and safety abroad but absolutely nothing regarding ethics abroad. Don’t go with organisations that work with animals in captivity, support elephant riding, or let you work for long periods in orphanages. Research the ethics around each activity you’ll be doing. We’ve got some info on ethical volunteering on our website and the questions to be asking if you want more info.
When I look at a volunteer or staff’s application, I look at how passionate and enthusiastic they are. We only want the most passionate and enthusiastic individuals working for us. It’s really important to get this across in an application.
Grab every opportunity life gives you to get ahead. It’s an incredibly competitive industry and you’ll need passion, resilience and determination to get you through!
Find out more about Love the Oceans,
or donate to this great cause here:
Photo by Fransesca Trotman