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Q&A with our new Marine Specialist Richard White

Thursday, 13 December 2018 09:24
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Q&A with our new Marine Specialist Richard White

Q&A with our new Marine Specialist Richard White

Hi Richard, and welcome to NatureBureau! Please tell us a bit about yourself – what drew you to marine biology?
A. I've been attracted to the sea for as long as I can remember and was interested in biology from an early age, eventually going on to do a Biology degree at the University of London. But I think that the two really came together when, many years later, I learned to dive and began to explore the underwater world off Scotland.


Whereabouts did you grow up – did this affect your choice of career?
A. I grew up near the Solent, and spent a lot of time on the beach. Mind you that's not the best area for coastal marine life as its all pebbles. Certainly no rock pools to be found where we lived!
I came late to marine conservation. Learning to dive while undertaking a PhD (unfinished!) in artificial intelligence at Edinburgh, I realised that I was more interested in the future of UK marine life than the topic I was supposed to be working on. So, a change in direction led to an MSc in Marine Resource Development and Protection and a job with Devon Wildlife Trust. I've never looked back.


What is your area of speciality?
A. A policy specialty rather than a marine biological one. I've been working most recently on the management of commercial fisheries, with a particular emphasis on how to reduce the impacts of fishing on Marine Protected Areas. But with so few people working in marine conservation, certainly as compared to the situation on land, you get to know a lot about a lot of things!


What concerns you most about the future for marine wildlife?
A. In terms of impacts on wildlife I'd have to say that my greatest concerns are over-exploitation of commercial species, habitat damage and ocean acidification. But despite TV programmes such as Blue Planet opening people's eyes to the wonders of the marine environment, I think that there is still much more to be done in the way of awareness. It's still a question of 'out of sight, out of mind'. While the public flocks to the seaside, few know what's going on beneath the surface.


What is your favourite marine creature and why?
A. A really difficult question! Whales and dolphins always impress, and seeing them from the coast or on a wildlife boat trip is always an experience. And nothing comes close to the excitement of seeing large numbers of gannets diving like arrows into the sea to feed. But the small things can also be fascinating, and I'll always remember the look of wonder on the faces of children as I introduced them to shore crabs, blennies and shrimps in my first job leading rock pool rambles on the south Devon coast. So, not really an answer there!


Describe your favourite area of UK coastline to visit.
A. Without doubt the south-west cost of Britain. Over five years my wife and I walked the South-West Coast path. A truly remarkable experience, with staggering coastal scenery all the way. Approaching towns and villages from the coast brings a whole new perspective and somehow the historic development of coastal settlements all seems to make much more sense than when you approach from inland. We often consider walking the whole path again!

If you could go to any marine environment in the world where would it be?
A. To be honest, it would still be in the UK. The marine environment off the west coast of Scotland is second to none in terms of spectacular underwater scenery and fascinating marine wildlife. There is so much to explore that I don't think I really want to go anywhere outside Britain. Though if you twisted my arm I'd not turn down the opportunity to snorkel with manta rays or go diving beneath the Arctic ice!

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