An interest in animals and the natural world while growing up set James on the path to becoming a marine biologist.
To become a professional marine biologist in a university or a research organisation is by no means a short journey, said James, “but it’s a huge amount of fun along the way”.
After he finished secondary school, James completed a degree in Marine Biology at Bangor University in North Wales, before completing his doctorate in the Republic of Ireland. After working in a couple of lecturer roles in the UK, James moved to New Zealand to take up his current role.
“Getting this role was based on the research and teaching experience I built up over all my previous roles, from the time when I began my PhD.”
There is also a real opportunity to travel in this job – James has spent time diving around marine reserves in Wellington, but has also travelled to places like Indonesia to try and understand the impacts humans are having on reefs.
Much of James’ current work is looking at the future of coral reefs, with a particular focus on sponges becoming more abundant as other groups of organisms decline as a result of human degradation.
“I also find the teaching aspect of my job very rewarding, and love interacting with students, hopefully inspiring more people to become marine biologists as we still know so little about the oceans.”
He said that what most people assume marine biologists do is work he actually does, such as spending a lot of time in interesting places, diving off reefs and out around the water. He does concede that time is also spent in front of the computer, but there is a balance.
Some of the research James is currently focusing on is around marine reserve ecology. He said marine reserves are one of the most important conservation tools used around the world to protect marine environments.
“Much of the research is focused on trying to monitor changes in protected areas and understand how natural ecosystems function compared to exploited ones.”
For permanent positions, and with a PhD, marine biologists can usually start on $60k–$85k per year.
With several years’ experience, and increased performance and responsibility, marine biologists can usually earn $85k–$100k per year.
(Source: Careers New Zealand)