February 11th is International Women & Girls in Science Day!
It may not seem like a big deal, but this day is an important opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.
We want to celebrate all Women and Girls in science, so we're sharing interview with inspirational MBC mermaid and Marine Biologist - Emma!
We hope you enjoy reading about her ocean adventures and learn a bit about what life is like as a Woman in Science.
Meet Marine Biologist Emma
Emma, tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hello! My name is Emma Wilkins, I am a 24 year old Marine Biologist from Port Lincoln in South Australia. I am currently living in Exmouth, Western Australia where I am working on @ningalooglassbottomboat as one of their marine biologists/ tour guides. Having completed my degree at the end of 2020, I decided to do a 3 month road trip up the West Australian coastline in 2021. On this trip I spent a month in Exmouth and absolutely fell in love with the ocean there and all it’s amazing animals (think humpback whales, whale sharks, turtles, manta rays etc! All the things a marine biologist dreams of). After that month was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the incredible encounters with marine life I had had and I knew I needed to move there for good! That’s when I called up Ningaloo Glass Bottom Boat and asked if they needed anyone to join their team (and luckily enough they did). Next thing I knew I was crossing the Nullarbor and moving into my new home in Exmouth and I haven’t looked back since!
What inspired you to become a marine Biologist?
To be honest it was probably my childhood which inspired me to become a Marine Biologist. My dad worked as a National Park ranger which meant we lived in ranger houses in National Parks for many years. Being constantly surrounded by nature and learning to truly appreciate everything about it, how each animal or plant has their special role in the ecosystem really inspired me. However, It wasn’t until I moved to Port Lincoln in year 2 where my love for the ocean fully set in. Endless boat trips, beach missions and hours spent snorkelling is where my heart fell in love with the ocean. Although after completing year 12, I wasn’t 100% sure what career I wanted to pursue as I hadn’t really heard much about Marine Biology. I put it down as my first uni preference anyway and got accepted! I then took two gap years, travelled Europe and Asia and it was on Koh Tao in Thailand where I decided I wanted to complete my Open Water SCUBA license. This experience made me realise that I had to have a job which allowed me to be on the ocean all day everyday, where I can educate people on not only the amazing animals which live in the ocean but also how to minimise their impact and help save some of these amazing species. That’s when I knew Marine Biology was the right path for me.
How do you usually spend your days?
My days are spent exploring out on the water as much as possible. Whether that’s out on the tinny freediving with my sister, working on the glass bottom boat, chilling at the beach, surfing or swimming to the outer reef with friends it really depends on the day. Some of my favourite days I’ve had are out on the tinny with my sister and friends in Coral Bay freediving with manta rays, tiger sharks, turtles, reef sharks plus much much more it really doesn’t get much better!
Tell us about your relationship with the ocean
The ocean for me is my meditation. Freediving has been a huge part of my life the past few years and it is where I am most in tune with myself and the ocean. It allows me to fully relax and look within myself as I am only focused on my breath and nothing else during that time. Being in the ocean allows me to escape and clear my thoughts, there really is nothing a good swim can’t fix. The ocean also allows me to observe and learn from the amazing animals that live in it. The most valuable lesson I have learnt from these animals is patience and trust. Sometimes it may take a lot of time staying still and calm, allowing the animal to suss you out before they feel confident enough to approach you, and that is the beauty of the ocean.
What is your most memorable marine experience?
My most memorable marine experience was 9 years ago when my Aunty took my sister and I shark cage diving with great whites in Port Lincoln. This was the first time I had ever seen a shark up close and I can’t even begin to describe the excitement I felt when the first shark rocked up. I just remember looking over the side of the boat and seeing a huge dark shadow cruise past, it was MUCH larger than I had imagined and I couldn’t believe the girth on them. Like a kid in a lollie shop I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I was seeing shark after shark and I wasn’t even in the cage yet. We ended up having over 6 white sharks swimming around the boat so when we were in the water we had sharks literally all around us. Everyone in Port Lincoln had always said how aggressive and scary white sharks are so that’s what I was expecting to see when I hopped in the water. Yes they were powerful but I had never seen a more peaceful and elegant animal in my life. How they moved through the water with such ease or how when I looked in their eye as they cruised past the cage, I didn’t see an evil eye looking back but rather one that was just as interested in me as I was of it. Their beauty and grace astonished me and without a doubt that’s the day I fell madly in love with white sharks.
Tell us an interesting fact about the ocean people might not be aware of
Sea grass is one of the most important marine ecosystems for both humans and animals. Sea grass beds can actually store up to twice as much carbon (good for global warming) as rainforests as well as provide habitat for many species including turtles, dugongs and juvenile fish. They are also constantly securing sediment which mitigates coastlines from erosion, flooding and storms.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is extremely important to me and I am constantly trying to improve. Being more sustainable in your day to day life can have huge positive impacts on the planet and it doesn’t have to be expensive (many companies like to hike up prices for ‘sustainable’ products). For me sustainability is about finding what works for you. Whether that’s using a reusable cup or buying from bulk food stores to lower your plastic consumption or buying locally sourced ingredients to lower carbon emissions from transit. Start off making a few small changes and every week or so looking at something new in your house that your could do more sustainably.
What are some simple changes people can make to help protect our oceans and wildlife?
My first big recommendation is use your voice for good, no matter how small you may think your voice is every voice is a good voice and the more we have fighting for our oceans the more impact we will have. Whether you are signing petitions, sharing things on social media or showing up in person to organised events it all makes a difference, awareness = change!
My next big piece of advice is if you do consume seafood please look at where it has come from and try to buy sustainable and locally sourced products. The cheapest seafood on the supermarket shelf is not the best for the ocean, lowering our overall consumption of seafood is also a big help.
I know we’ve all heard this one before but it really does make a difference - lowering our meat intake. I’m not telling you to stop eating meat all together but even just having 1-2 vegetarian meals a week can make the world of difference.
Lastly, taking a bit of time to learn more about the ocean and it’s animals in your spare time. Knowledge dissolves fear, every animal in the ocean plays a special role in the ecosystem and if you wipe out one species all the others suffer as well. Learning to respect all marine species (including sharks) rather than fear them helps the oceans health stay in tact.
What is your favourite MBC piece and why?
Without a doubt the Whale Tail hook earrings!! Whales represent peace and knowledge to me, they are huge but also so graceful, smart and powerful. Having a reminder every time I look in the mirror to be strong yet graceful, powerful yet peaceful would be amazing.
What are your dreams for the future?
In the future I want to continue educating people about the ocean but I also want to further my knowledge. I want to participate in a couple of different internships overseas and maybe even move overseas for a few years to work at some of the many amazing organisations helping the oceans today. Whatever I do I know it’ll be in the ocean showing people the beauty of it.