Gen Bergemann: An Ocean Ambassador

Finding your feet in the marine science world can be confusing, challenging and sometimes daunting, Gen Bergemann talks us through her experiences in study, volunteering and finding her feet.

Gen assisting a Blacktip Reef Shark,  Carcharhinus limbatus , dissection at Bubbles Dive Resort, Malaysia, 2018

Gen assisting a Blacktip Reef Shark, Carcharhinus limbatus, dissection at Bubbles Dive Resort, Malaysia, 2018

Hey! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born & raised on South African soil, although I am of Italian roots, I’m a marine biologist...? Realistically, too scientific a title for me. So, instead, I’d like to title myself a ‘Marine Enthusiast & Ambassador’! My pastime activities include reading, being in nature, capoeira & swinging poi. I too enjoy listening and learning from people, as well as proactively contributing to the environment.

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

Perhaps growing up inland & venturing to beach destinations for holidays throughout my childhood allowed the ocean to hold a sense of respite, simple adventures and peace in my mind. Because I did not grow up with conversational chats about ocean tides or fish or anything remotely related to the ocean, it allowed this deep expanse of blue to start housing a sense of wonder & curiosity for me; Why is the ocean salty? Do fish feel pain? were all questions I wanted to know the answer to!

It sounds absurd, but cold waters just like the Atlantic waters off Cape Town, ranging from 18-22°C, makes every cell in my body feel so alive & alert! I think that got me hooked. So, when the time came to choose a career path –one that I knew would always be in nature- the marine sector was just it.

Tell us how you got to where you are now.

I was really blessed to take a gap year volunteering at The Two Oceans Aquarium (TOA) after school in 2014. A place which is close to my heart & sparked a real interest in learning about the life the oceans home.

Thereafter I enrolled at university to study, but a major crossroad decision for me was deciding to postpone my studies in Marine Biology in 2016; this was not due to a change of heart on wanting to halt my learning about the oceans & her life, rather acknowledging that I am more of a hands-on person, definitely enjoying & absorbing information in a more practical setting. So, since this decision I’ve adopted a number of various roles, namely, turtle rehabilitator, turtle conservationist & marine guide. All the while honing in on my people skills, as well as field & biology knowledge through diving, free-diving and online courses.

What does a day in your life look like?

Currently a day in my life doesn’t quite look like what I’d like it to look like. My husband and I are in Bangkok, finishing off a year abroad in the east, too little ocean, too much city.

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

Being beneath the waves, with breath hold or scuba has allowed me to grow in understanding more of the ocean & sharing that understanding with a sincere truth, appreciation & gratitude to others. I hope my work will directly influence ocean critters lives & indirectly make people think twice about the beauty & importance of the oceans.

Diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, with Yoshi, an ex-resident green turtle ( Chelonia mydas ) in 2014

Diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, with Yoshi, an ex-resident green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in 2014

Tell us about some of your volunteer work experiences.

I love volunteering! I love waking up to fulfill a duty with purpose & energy for reason’s other than being paid to do it. This year, for 9 weeks I was an intern member of a conservation team on the Perhentian Islands  (Malaysia); working with nesting green turtles (Chelonia mydas), collecting the eggs & monitoring the incubation period in the hatchery. Organising release of the hatchlings & educating guests throughout their stay.

Another memorable internship experience was with Save Our Seas in 2015. A month’s long internship exploring tourism, education & conservation in the marine field in Cape Town, whilst being made aware of the niches in the field. If one can ‘afford’ themselves time in their lives to volunteer for an organisation they feel strongly for, I highly recommend it - it is addictively rewarding.  

What are some ways people can help educate others about the ocean?

Self-learning is a huge tool, educate yourself about local initiatives happening in your area and very importantly, walk your talk. Participate in beach-clean up’s, re-use plastic, be a conscious eater and share positive events and information on social media. Be a good human.

What other endeavours/hobbies/dreams are you pursuing?

I’d like to become a Dive Master in the near future and possibly use the qualification to lead conservation projects. Overall, I’m pursuing a life & marine role that treats me to hands-on work, empowers me to influence the ocean & her life for the better, that educates others and gives me happiness.

Life is challenging & often things don’t always go according to plan, so I’m keeping the goal of “Marine Enthusiast & Ambassador’ in sight, whilst ready for the flexible roles that may entail.

Which ocean species is on your bucket list to see?

Definitely, definitely a whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Although I’d like to see it more organically than on a guided tour, so I’ll probably have to make a holiday out of it sometime in a whale shark hotspot.  
Also I’d love to see a Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) which are luckily in Cape Town waters, so I’m likely to see sooner.

Green turtle hatchling making it's imprint walk down to the ocean, minutes after it's hatched. Bubbles Dive Resort, Malaysia, 2018

Green turtle hatchling making it's imprint walk down to the ocean, minutes after it's hatched. Bubbles Dive Resort, Malaysia, 2018

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

Dr. Patrick Garrat, the former Managing Director of the Two Oceans Aquarium, who failed grade 12 and yet continued naturally in becoming an ocean protector. He inspired me when I first met him and still inspires me now. Not having a degree these days, often means continuing on your desired road may be a bit bumpier, with a few more obstacles, but it is far from unreachable.

My mum has influenced me immensely and, in more ways, than I can probably begin to comprehend, but one of her finest & most consistent traits is that of a feisty go-getter and never-giver-upper.

My partner, Justin, who strives to respect water, move like water, and be like water.

And lastly, South African free-diver Hanli Prinsloo for her motivational talks and the work her business I Am Water does.

Is there anything you wish you had been taught a long time ago?

I guess I could wish for a lot of teachings, that didn’t happen, but perhaps we learn things when we’re supposed to. Although if I have to think of some; I wish my mum, and famiglia, had spoken Italian at home, all the time. I too could’ve done with spear-fishing and capoeira lessons.

What does the future hold for you?

Having been living & working abroad in the east for the past 2 years, I am excited to for the challenge of being back in South Africa as of 2019. The Two Oceans Aquarium is a space that is close to my heart, which sparked my venture into the marine sector a few years ago. It is a space where the educating of the oceans, to locals and tourists, takes place through tank exhibits, public talks and the turtle rehabilitation program. It is a place I have found the balance of relaying science to the masses, and is where I would like to ‘begin again’ once back home - introducing and/or furthering people’s ocean awareness.   

Follow Gen on Instagram: @just_a_gen