Charlotte Clubley: The Lionfish Queen

By Haley Vogel

Taming lions is just another day at the office for this girl in ocean science, Lion Fish that is. Meet Charley Clubley, lion fish expert and marine biologist.


Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, why don’t you start by introducing yourself.

Hi! My name is Charlotte Clubley and I am currently in the third year of my undergraduate degree in marine biology at the University of Essex. At the university I am a peer mentor, student ambassador and the vice-president of the marine conservation society. Alongside this, I work part time at Wivenhoe House Hotel. My favourite marine animal is the dugong and my present research interest is the behavioural ecology of reef fish. I am currently in the process of analysing the data for my final year dissertation, which is on the prey preference of invasive lionfish on the reefs of Honduras.

You’ve built your life around the ocean. What drew you to it in the first place?

I’ve always loved the ocean and when I was young my parents would struggle to get me out of the sea, however my desire to study marine biology only became apparent when I turned 17. When I was studying for my GCSEs I went on an expedition with Camps International to Tanzania, where I was lucky enough to learn how to SCUBA dive. I decided to research the marine life that I would get to see whilst doing so, and fell in love with dugongs in the process. Fast forward to thinking about applying for University I had no idea what I wanted to study. I remember looking back on photos from my trip to Tanzania and thinking “can I make a career out of this?” It was at this point that I discovered marine biology and knew that I wouldn’t be happy studying anything else.

Describe the path you took to where you are now.

I applied to the University of Essex as my first choice and got a place in their marine biology degree following an interview. The first year of university flew by and in that summer I undertook a two week expedition in Kefalonia with WildlifeSense, helping to care for turtle hatchlings. Second year passed just as quickly, during which I had the opportunity to undertake a module on the remote island of Hoga in Indonesia. This was an amazing opportunity and experiencing the wildlife there through SCUBA diving reassured me that I have definitely made the right choice in studying marine biology! The summer just passed I spent six weeks in Honduras collecting data for my dissertation, being able to dive twice a day on an amazingly healthy reef system. Which leads me to where I am now, analysing the data for my dissertation in my final year of my undergraduate degree.

What does a day in your life look like?

Being at University means that the majority of my day is taken up by studying. I like to wake up early in the morning and get my day started by completing any work or notes for my degree modules. I will then usually attend one or two lectures, depending on the day. At present my modules are Fisheries Ecology and Conservation Management and Practice. Whilst I am on campus I try to do some exercise by going to the University gym, before returning home. At home I will then work on my dissertation, which at the moment involves data analysis, before having dinner. I then finish off any work for the day before enjoying time with my housemates (we’re very in to Strictly Come Dancing at the moment!) and unwinding before bed.

Tell us about some of your recent research.

I spent six weeks this summer researching the prey preference of invasive lionfish in the bay of Tela, Honduras. This involved diving twice a day, during which time I would place a decoy model involving two different body forms of fish in front of a lionfish, and observe the fish’s behaviour to determine if lionfish have a preference for prey size. Following this, the lionfish would e speared and brought to the surface where it would be dissected and intrinsic and extrinsic measurements of the fish would be taken. The stomach of the lionfish was also opened and contents were identified and measured. From the data collected from these methods I hope to determine whether lionfish hold a prey preference in terms of prey size, and if so then what the main factors are that influence this preference.

How do you hope your voice and work will influence others?

As the vice-president of the marine conservation society at the university, I am helping to influence the use of plastic on campus by petitioning for more drinking fountains on campus and reducing the amount of disposable water bottles being used. As a part of the society I am also helping to ensure that all fish sold on the university campus are MSC certified.

I would also hope that the data obtained from my dissertation will raise questions as to the prey preference of lionfish, which are at present largely considered to have no preference. This may be useful in the future when considering management of the lionfish invasion.

What other endeavours/hobbies/dreams are you pursuing?

At the university I am a part of the women’s cricket club, in which I compete against other universities. I am also a part of the Sub Aqua society with whom I am hoping to complete my advanced open water qualification this year.

I have also been a part of the University’s netball team, in which I play goal shooter. As a part of this team I play in a local Colchester league, with games unfortunately taking place outside in the cold (I rather prefer the temperatures of Honduras and Indonesia!).

Alongside my studies I am currently researching masters courses in marine biology, and am considering undertaking a masters by dissertation as through completing my dissertation I have developed a keen interest in research. In the future I hope to complete a PhD in an area of tropical marine biology.

Tell us about a memorable moment in your career.

A memorable moment for me would be when I learnt to SCUBA dive. The feeling of entering the water for the first time was one I’ll never forget, and despite not seeing a large array of wildlife I was completely enamoured by life under the ocean. Without going on that expedition and having the chance to learn to dive I would not be at University studying marine biology at present and would not have had the opportunity to do all the amazing experiences that studying marine biology at Essex has offered me. I owe a lot of what I am doing now to that expedition!

What advice would you give women who are looking to enter the Marine Science field of work?

If you are looking to study marine biology at university then do your research and make sure you are choosing the best course for you. When I was applying for university I very nearly put a different university as my first choice purely based on the fact that it was higher in the league tables than the University of Essex. However, the course at that university wouldn’t have offered me as many experiences as the one I am studying now has.

Whilst you’re at university make sure you are making an impression as well! Develop a relationship with your lecturers and keep an eye out for volunteering opportunities, it will be so beneficial to you to have experience in different areas of marine biology and will provide you with amazing memories and remind you why you wanted to study marine biology in the first place!

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

I am inspired by the work of Sylvia A Earle. I think she has had an inspiring career and her research is enlightening. I admire that she is still such a large pioneer in marine biology despite her age and hope that one day I will have as big an effect on an aspiring female marine biologist as she has had on me.

What is one thing you wish someone had told you/taught you a long time ago?

To be proactive in terms of volunteering and experience. The earlier you start to look for opportunities the more experience you can get which will ultimately aid you further in your career.

Where do you go from here?

My main focus at the moment is getting through my dissertation and surviving third year, and then it’s on to further education! Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be getting stuck into my master’s course and either looking for job opportunities or applying for PhDs if the right one comes along. At the moment though I’m just hoping to enjoy student life whilst it lasts!

Follow Charlotte on Instagram @charleyclubley