Tell us a little about your background, why did you choose to study marine science?
I have always loved swimming in the sea and have adopted a fascination with fish and marine biology. Although the subject has always been of interest, I did not take it seriously as a career until my last year of school when I really looked into it. I realised I had all the necessary qualifications so chose to study it at university, and ultimately it was a great decision!
When at university did you have an opportunity to go abroad to study the subject further?
Throughout university I experienced many field courses in the UK which weren’t very glamorous. In my final year I travelled to Bermuda to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science where we spent 10 days observing reefs and researching fish populations between two sites.
What led you to undertake your masters in Saudi Arabia?
After seeing Bermuda’s coral and this tropical, marine environment for the first time, I thought ‘wow’ this is incredible. This inspired me to go elsewhere to see more coral reefs with my own eyes. In 2017 I applied for an internship in the Red Sea, thinking I would end up in Egypt. I was surprised to locate in Saudi Arabia, and was even more surprised at its state-of-the-art facilities, so I chose to do my masters there also.
Can you describe what it’s like living and studying in Saudi Arabia?
There are definitely advantages and disadvantages. For marine science it is amazing as the coral reefs are right on your doorstep. There are so few places in the world where you can hop on a boat and in five minutes you have a phenomenal reef before you. I lived in a westernised compound so my view of Saudi was probably very different from the rest of the country – there are obvious differences with regards to the way you dress and act. Overall, I have no regrets and adored my experience.
What species were you studying in Saudi Arabia?
Initially, I was meant to study deep sea coral which I did for my bachelors, however in Saudi this would mean a lot of lab time. As the beach and coral was so close I was eager to be outside, surrounded by beautiful nature. I therefore decided to study sea turtles.
When sea turtles lay a nest, the temperature of the nest determines the number of males and females produced. As climate change has a direct effect on turtles, Saudi is an intriguing place to study them because the sand is naturally so hot already. The pivotal temperature is 29.2 degrees, however anything above 33 degrees in the sand leads to full mortality – sadly all of the turtles will die. In the summer months, the air temperature can reach 40 – 45 degrees which unfortunately coincides with the nesting season.
Studying sea turtles in Saudi is ideal for wider conservation work worldwide. If we understand what happens at the most thermal extreme, then we can predict what will happen at other sites across the globe.