Katy Jane: Uncovering a Hidden World
This week we meet Katie, whose love for the ocean grew out of a love for the land. Read about her long journey which started in the UK studying Zoology, and has led to living on Koh Tao as a Scuba Instructor!
Hi Katie, thanks for chatting with us! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in England and graduated in 2010 with a BSc (Hons) Zoology. I am currently residing on Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, having certified as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI) at the end of last year. My background lies within environmental education, field research, and project management, and I have worked in various locations from zoos and classrooms, to rainforests and remote islands.
You’ve built your life around the ocean. What drew you to it in the first place?
In all honesty, my initial interests lay towards land conservation, which, after some beautifully synchronised events, took me to a volunteer programme for three months in Costa Rica. I joined a team of volunteers and researchers at a remote base within Tortuguero National Park alongside the Caribbean coast.
Although the project was very much land focused, with regular incidental surveys, primate behavioural surveys, and camera trapping of jaguars taking place, we were based on a prehistoric coastline that was almost hypnotising. I found myself drawn towards the mystery of this dramatic part of our planet and knew that I wanted to explore the notion of marine conservation and the protection of communities, both human and non-human, reliant on the ocean for their survival.
The project also studied the predation of jaguars on nesting marine turtles, and it was this interaction between marine and land-dwelling species, that highlighted the important interconnection that all ecosystems have, no matter how different they may be.
Describe the journey you took to where you are now.
After my experience in Costa Rica, I returned to England to my job within the education department at the zoo I was working in. As much as I loved teaching the children and visitors about the wonders of science and nature, I became restless, and knew I had to move on towards a bigger challenge, a challenge that would put me more directly involved with conservation.
In 2016 I found a job with Global Vision International in Phang Nga province, Southern Thailand. I spent the next two years located in a small fishing village on the coast of the Andaman Sea that was devastated by the tsunami in 2004. Over half the village population perished, and even to this day they are still recovering from the damage done. I had the role of Conservation Coordinator which saw me overseeing several projects that volunteers would be trained to help out with, including environmental education in the local schools, assisting the Royal Thai Navy and their sea turtle conservation efforts, community engagement projects and village/beach cleans, and surveying the biodiversity of two islands untouched by tourism, both land and coastal. Through camera trapping we managed to confirm the presence of a critically endangered species, one that was not known to inhabit the islands, which will in turn eventually (hopefully!) lead to the protection of both islands. This was a project that I initiated, proposed, and developed during the course of my two years with GVI.
Then I discovered a new love - diving! I visited Koh Tao in September of 2017 and did my Open Water course, and then Advanced in the Similan Islands. Upon returning to the UK at the start of this year I continued to pursue diving and my love of being in the water - even in cold quarry waters in the middle of England! I completed my Dry Suit Speciality and my Rescue Diver course, and knew that diving was something I wanted to add to my career. Combining my environmental education experience, research experience, and diving, would be the dream! The dream soon started to manifest itself when I entered an impressive competition run by Master Divers on Koh Tao and won the prize, a full training package up to and through the IDC and IE, along with a full set up of diving equipment supplied by Aqualung. I am now fully qualified and working as an instructor, sharing the amazing underwater world with others. Living on Koh Tao has been a beautiful experience, finding myself amongst like-minded people who passionately care about the ocean, and their wish to spread their love for it. Master Divers have a great conservation focus with all the diving they do, and regularly complete Dive Against Debris dives, as well as eco-talks and projects within the community. We are just about to start an exciting long-term project with a school using eco-bricks, which will hopefully work to get other schools across the world connected with each other, and involved in something similar!
What does a day in your life look like?
My routine has been quite varied recently – which I love! After completing my IDC and passing the exams, I have been getting more involved with the dive school, customers, and the eco-work that they do.
I tend to wake early in the morning, head down to the shop, and either take students out diving or work on some educational blogs, vlogs, social media content or presentation for the school.
How do you hope your voice and work will influence others?
I have always said that education and conservation work hand in hand. There cannot be one without the other, and to see successful conservation projects we need effective education projects working alongside and vice versa. I am a big believer in experiential learning, a method of learning that has a higher chance of making a bigger impact on the individual, an impact that causes positive behavioural change. Scuba diving is a sport where people learn through “doing”, bringing them closer to what otherwise would be a hidden world. I hope that my background in environmental education can help teach new divers environmental awareness, and encourage them to eventually get involved with data collection for citizen science or further research, whilst spreading the message and being another important voice for the ocean. There are so many ways recreational divers can involve themselves in ocean conservation, and we as professional divers are in the ideal position to ensure that these ways are highlighted, and made easily accessible for them.
What are you up to at the moment?
I am slowly getting into the swing of working as a PADI OWSI, and running various courses for participants and students. I have very recently taken on the role of Eco-Instructor for the dive centre, and have various responsibilities including helping the co-ordination of large community and conservation events with other dive schools that are within the Koh Tao Earth Day group, as well as regular eco-talks and Project AWARE events.
I am also finding time to work on my own blog page, Katy Jane Dives, which I hope will become a place to find blogs on marine conservation, environmental education, and scuba diving.
Who or what do you draw your inspiration from?
I am quite sure that most women in love with the ocean would have been influenced by Sylvia Earle in one way or another. Not only is she an intrepid explorer, but she does everything she can to make ocean conservation accessible to the masses, and encourages people to get involved in whatever ways they can.
What is on your ocean bucket list?
I was lucky enough to dive with two juvenile Whale sharks a few months ago – so that was one of my bucket list ticked off! I would love to one day visit the Galapagos Islands, the Cocos Islands in Costa Rica, and the cenotes in Mexico. It is still early days in my diving career, so I am excited to see where it leads!
If you had any advice for anyone wanting to get into ocean science, what would it be?
Persevere with studies and do it for your passion. Get involved in any way you can, especially with local projects. Grassroot projects are not only some of the most effective ways of conservation, and actively involve and empower local communities, but they are great places to gain professional experience.
What is one thing you wish someone had told you/taught you a long time ago?
Keep optimistic! Just because you don’t get top grades in school, it doesn’t mean you can never do what you dream of. There are so many ways into wildlife conservation and if you are driven by passion and love for the natural world, then you have every chance of getting there as anybody else!
What do you hope the future holds for you?
I wish to see as many places as possible, whilst leaving a lasting impact on where I have worked. The fight for the health of the oceans is not going anywhere, and all of us involved know that it is something that we must fight for, for many years to come. Honestly, I am happy where ever I am, as long as I am near the ocean!
Thank you very much Katy!