This week, to fully celebrate all the fantastic work that is being done to protect our oceans, we expand our title-awarding-criteria – from “Marine Biologist” to “Defender of the Ocean”. We’ve realised that there are people out there working to protect what lies below the waves who don’t necessarily hold all the credentials to qualify as a marine biologist, yet dedicate their life – or spare time – to preserving the ocean’s beauty. On this note, it is our pleasure to introduce ADEX Singapore’s 2016 Scuba360 Business Forum speaker Judi Lowe, an Accountant and a Lawyer who has held senior executive roles in the private sector and government. Her expertise in fisheries and management, finance, legislation and marine tourism and 25 years as a Dive Instructor create a perfect background for specialisation in sustainable dive tourism, and an ideal candidate for this week’s title of underwater360’s “Defender of the Ocean”:

What got you into marine conservation?

I grew up on a famous surf beach, Scarborough, in Western Australia. My parents had us at the beach every morning before, and after school. My father was a helmet pearl diver in Broome and a fisherman who taught me a great deal about diving. My mother continued our education and love of beach camping and our oceans.

In my professional career, I worked for Australia’s largest fishing company and for Government on all elements of fisheries management and marine environment, including climate change and international fisheries agreements. I took time out to work as a dive instructor on the Great Barrier Reef and to help local people develop marine tourism in Asia and the Pacific. I realised that neither Government nor business would take me closer to my interests in dive tourism and its impact on marine conservation and livelihoods for local fishers, so I committed to my PhD research. I miss my executive salary but I love what I do. I couldn’t be happier.

What is the hardest thing/best thing about your job?

Communicating the elements of sustainable dive tourism to stakeholders with different motivations, which are often in conflict with each other. The most important stakeholders are dive tourism operators, marine conservation managers, fishers who rely on coral reefs for food and income security, the international development community (for example; the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank) and dive tourists.

The science generated by my PhD research to build the model of sustainable dive tourism is the first step. The second challenging step is communicating the science to change the practices of each stakeholder group, to ensure that dive tourism has a positive impact on coral reefs and marine resources.

What is the craziest thing you ever discovered on a job?

The complete absence of fish and marine resources on once abundant coral reefs has made me cry. Descending in gin clear, blue water and dropping down walls without a single fish or shark in sight, is heartbreaking. Governments often want to promote dive tourism to bring income to remote coral reefs on stunning islands affording few other income options. They overlook the fact that fishing levels, legal and illegal, diminish fishery resources to below sustainable levels and preclude them from offering what would otherwise be a destination capable of attracting international divers and higher levels of tourism income. Managing fisheries and diversifying the livelihoods of local fishers is crucial for the health of coral reefs, fisheries and marine resources and for dive tourism.

What do you hope to achieve through your work?

My PhD research is generating the model of best practice, sustainable dive tourism, which can then be a basis of discussion, education and change in less developed countries around the equator on how dive tourism can reliably make positive contributions to the conservation of coral reefs and marine resources. On completion of my PhD, I look forward to continuing my work with stakeholders to implement the model of best practice sustainable dive tourism in less developed countries of the tropics.

With the Bantay Dagat, or Sea Wardens of Oslob, preparing to place marker buoys in the marine sanctuary of Sumilon Island, Oslob, the Philippines. February 2016.

With the Bantay Dagat, or Sea Wardens of Oslob, preparing to place marker buoys in the marine sanctuary of Sumilon Island, Oslob, the Philippines. February 2016.

Who is your marine biology role model?

I am impressed by and grateful for marine science that addresses practical problems with application in private sector, policy and legislative settings. As an early career scientist who has held senior roles in the private sector and in Government, I have seen the magic of the three sectors working together to solve issues of importance to marine ecosystems, where science is communicated to a broader audience to create real change. The work of icthyologists Gerry Allen, Roger Steene and Mark Erdman and coral scientist Charlie Veron continue to inspire me.

What do you think lies ahead for marine ecosystems?

The outlook for coral reefs and marine resources is dismal given the anthropogenic threats of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, growing populations, destructive fishing and overfishing.  If we, as consumers, do not change our habits and force change in the way we manage coral reefs, fishery and marine resources, the outlook for marine ecosystems is grim. My daughter will never see the huge schools of pelagic fish and sharks I have known. Macro diving seems to have become popular in some locations because fish and shark stocks are simply gone. Photographs of the harm we do to coral reefs and marine mega fauna through pollution alone, will make you cry. Divers have a role in reversing the dismal outlook for the marine ecosystems we love.

What can the average person do to help protect life in the oceans?

Love all the little, big and mysterious things of our oceans, from seashells on the shore, to coral reefs, fish, sharks and whales. Be curious. Learn. Care. Make choices that support our oceans. As a diver, choose dive operators who make positive contributions to marine conservation and choose to diversify the livelihoods of local fishers and their communities to help them rely less on coral reefs for food and income security. Create change by supporting those dive operators who are leading change.

Catch Judi Lowe at the Scuba360 Business Forum, ADEX Singapore 2016