This week we talk to marine biologist Neil Garrick-Maidment, who discusses future ideas of humans residing below the waves, the craziest moments of his diving career, and what it takes for mankind to save the ocean:
 
© Neil Garrick-Maidment

© Neil Garrick-Maidment

What got you into marine biology?
A passion for the natural world, no matter how big or small the creature and no matter where it lives, land or sea. I prefer to call myself a naturalist rather than a biologist as I feel this encompasses so much more, and allows you to open your mind more to what is going on without the strictures of being a biologist. I was very lucky to grow up in Malta, where I was in the water every day. It was from this that I fell in love with diving, and saw my first – and only – great white shark in its waters. This experience, and having some great mentors, and living in an age of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, gave me a passion for the ocean – exploring and trying to understand the Big Blue and what makes it tick.
 
What’s the hardest thing/best thing about your job?
People are the hardest thing about my job – what they do, their own selfishness and their own agendas. The second hardest thing is fundraising: Being in charge of a small charity is thwart with problems, especially fundraising when money is so short these days; we live on a knife edge all the time financially. But saying that… the best thing about my job can also be the people and of course, seahorses; I get to meet some amazing people and hearing of their experiences with seahorses – and the natural world – are fascinating. There are so many inspiring people out there and to be able to dive with them and discover seahorses and the natural world is a pleasure.
 
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen while on the job?
This is a difficult question because there are so many things when it comes to the natural world and seahorses. I am very proud to have made so many discoveries about seahorses, but I have only scratched the surface and there is so much more to learn. We are just entering a new golden age of ocean exploration partially because of the breakthroughs in technology and partly because of the thirst to discover more about our own planet.
 
One of the most amazing things I have seen is a hammerhead shark in the Sudan. I assisted a friend on an expedition to survey the whole of the coast of Sudan in 2006, and on one dive he told me to go away for a while as he needed to sit very still on the edge of the reef to wait for a particular behaviour he was filming. So I dropped off the edge of the reef, to possibly a little deeper than I should have been (safe in the knowledge that we had staged spare bottles and experienced divers watching me), and was studying the cliff face when a large female hammerhead cruised along and spent some time watching me. I dropped away from the cliff face as she swam by and just cruised with her for 10 minutes along the drop-off – two different species occupying a shared space. The sense of awe I felt for that shark was beyond anything I have ever felt before or since; she was stunning. I could have stayed all day but she soon let me know she was mistress of the sea and she pulled away and after a quick flick of the tail, disappeared into the blue, out of sight.
 
© Neil Garrick-Maidment

© Neil Garrick-Maidment

What do you hope to achieve through your work?
Knowledge. First and foremost because without knowledge we have no respect, and with no respect we ruin things.
 
Secondly to let others know about this amazing world that lives beneath the waves. We divers are very privileged to be able to go into a realm very few others can go, and so it is incumbent on us to tell the world about what we see, hear and experience. Only by educating and inspiring others, as I was taught and inspired when I was younger, can we ever hope to save our blue planet.
 
Who is your marine biology role model?
Two people: The first is Jacques-Yves Cousteau for obvious reasons; he was such an inspiration to a whole generation and was really a man of his time and of the future. I grew up on his TV series. The second was a local schoolteacher, a naturalist called Les Jackman who in his spare time set up public aquariums and helped to set up the Natural History Unit for the BBC (I later went on to work for his son on Life on Earth and the Living Planet as an assistant cameraman). Les was such an amazing man and I started to help him out while I was still at school (when we were on holiday from Malta) researching marine animals. He got me into seahorses 36 years ago. He always said to me, “Look beneath the waves,” and I live by that.
 
What do you think lies ahead for marine ecosystems?
Being the eternal optimist, I am sure the knowledge we are gathering will help us to stop the destruction of the oceans, but it will be long, hard work educating people that the ocean is not a dustbin! I also strongly feel that humans living underwater is not so far away, and that one day we will become a permanent resident underwater. There are already restaurants underwater and a number of hotels planned to be completely submerged, and with the pressure on land there will be a natural colonisation of the seas. We are already involved in a project in the Philippines that is planning an underwater hotel and combining it with conservation and a massive marine park. This will then be the greatest test of the human species; how will we live in harmony with the ocean, become part of it and not destroy it?
 
What can the average person do to help protect life in the oceans?
Talk about it, respect it, protect it a
nd understand it is a very fragile, sensitive environment that has taken millennia to develop, and we are killing it in just a few generations.