Kri McNamara: Biomedical Scientist turned Marine Conservationist

BY MICHAELA FARNHAM

Sometimes knowing what you want to do with your life is not so clear cut, and sometimes you fall into it without even realizing! Meet Kri McNamara, trained Biomedical Scientist turned Marine Conservationist, and hear about how she made her way to the ocean.

Hey Kri! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Having grown up as a child of South-East Queensland in Australia I have always had a passion for the great outdoors and sharing this with others. My name is Kristen, but everyone knows me as Kri and I’m 25 years old. I’m happy to be here, just etching my path through the ocean currents, but of course I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up (aren’t we all?).

Throughout my undergraduate studies in Biomedical Science I spent time volunteering with the Australian Marine Conservation Society and traveled to Costa Rica to work with Leatherback turtles. I realized my love for the ocean was undeniable. Since then I have worked with Flatback turtles off the Northern coast of Australia, on coral reef restoration in Mexico, along with many campaigns to help save the Great Barrier Reef in my hometown of Brisbane. This year I’ve been living and working in Malaysia to coordinate a sea turtle project, which was my dream of 6 years come true!

Kristen McNamara in action!! (photo: Kristen McNamara)

Kristen McNamara in action!! (photo: Kristen McNamara)

Describe the path you took to where you are now..

Fresh-faced and unsure of the direction of my life, I undertook a Bachelor of Science after I finished school and later worked in food microbiology. I also participated in various marine conservation projects throughout these years, firstly as a volunteer and then as a coordinator. These roles allowed me to be a part of vast, rugged landscapes throughout Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia and South-East Asia. After returning home from my first experience working in marine conservation, my mentor turned dear friend Jairo Mora Sandoval was brutally murdered by turtle poachers on a beach in Costa Rica. I decided I could not let his death be in vain and rallied for justice and international recognition of his story. This lead me to further campaign work, speaking for those among our seas who cannot speak for themselves. Since then I became involved in a campaign known as ‘Stop Adani’, which is preventing the largest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere from being built on the doorstep to the Great Barrier Reef.

Kristen removing ghost net from a coral. (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

Kristen removing ghost net from a coral. (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

What does a day in your life look like?

This year I worked for a sea turtle conservation project on a small island off Malaysia. Volunteers joined the project from all over the world, and I taught them all about the nesting and foraging populations of green sea turtles around the island. Each green sea turtle has their own individual pattern made by the scales on their face, kind of like a fingerprint. We would kayak out to a massive sea grass meadow and survey the area for feeding turtles, which we could later identify by comparing photos of the patterns on their faces with our database. The second component of the project took place overnight, where we would perform patrols of the beach in search of nesting turtles. Again we used photo identification to identify the mothers. Some who we found were returning from the nesting season in 2015! Each nest was relocated to our hatchery and after approximately 42 days of incubation the hatchlings would emerge, where we would then release them into the sea. Each day was quite busy but as you can imagine, incredibly rewarding.

Kristen and her (all girl) team attending to two dead turtles who had been hit by speedboats and killed. Part of her work involved identifying the dead turtles and keeping track of the mortality rate killed by boat strike throughout the year. (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

Kristen and her (all girl) team attending to two dead turtles who had been hit by speedboats and killed. Part of her work involved identifying the dead turtles and keeping track of the mortality rate killed by boat strike throughout the year. (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

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

I can only hope that my passion and knowledge I’ve shared with others will influence them to make even the slightest change in their everyday lives. From refusing plastic straws, to walking as opposed to driving, each little change counts when it comes to protecting our environment. Not only this, but I think it's important to empower young women of all cultures and let them realize the change-makers they can be. The people who I’ve met along my seafaring journey have been very inspirational and influential to me without even realizing it, and I wish to be that kind of a mentor for others.

Who or what do you draw your inspiration from?

My friends and family who have always been so supportive of me following my passion. I don’t come from a background of ocean enthusiasts but this means when I come together with old friends and my family, there are endless topics for conversation and opportunities abounds to learn from one another.

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Innovative beach cleaning! Handmade bamboo rafts assist in the transport of rubbish off the islands. (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

Once you know what you know and see what you see, it’s irresponsible not to do what you can to share that knowledge.
— Sylvia Earle

It goes without saying how her work has been incredibly inspiring, but even reading her daily tweets help get me up and at em! It can be challenging in some cultures to be taken seriously as a woman working in the industry and I’ve experienced this firsthand. I can always count on Sylvia Earle’s incredible achievements to keep me motivated and focused on why I doing what I’m doing.

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

Looking back at old journal entries, documents and letters from my teenage years and early 20’s, I realize I was becoming who I am now without even realizing it. At the time I felt so much internal pressure to know who I was and what I wanted. Turns out I didn’t need to criticize myself, I was growing and changing all along. There’s no rush to have all the experiences you ‘think’ you need to have as a young person. Let them come naturally!

We all speak blue here at GOS! (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

We all speak blue here at GOS! (Photo: Kristen McNamara)

Where do you go from here?

After I complete my divemaster training I will study a Master of Environment down in Melbourne. I’m excited to study again and travel further down the path of my passion. I will remain an ocean activist and conservationist for a long time, but I’m also really interested in innovative solutions to our transition away from using fossil fuels as an energy source. My heart and mind is open!

Follow Kri at @kri_underthesea