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I could never have a desk job...the ocean is my office
11:00am Tuesday 20th August 2013 in Echo News
SARAH Jane Walsh’s eyes blaze with excitement when she reveals what her dream job would be.
“I would love to be a Blue Peter presenter,” she says, grinning. “Children are so open- minded and they should know that their dreams are not too big and they shouldn’t be scared to embrace them, tell everyone about them and follow them”
Sarah, who is studying for a PhD in marine biology at Essex University, is so passionate about her subject that she volunteers a lot of her time to talking to children in schools about the ocean and coral – her speciality.
She always knew she didn’t want a regular desk job and worked hard to do something she is passionate about. Now the girl from Brighton is travelling the world, scuba diving and studying corals.
She shares her knowledge about marine biology and its importance to children across the UK and helps television producers get their facts correct on nature documentaries.
She is a regular at Jimmy’s Farm science festivals and recently won a national competition called I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here.
The competition was aimed at Year 8 and 9 school children who asked the competitors questions on anything to do with science during a session over the internet.
Sarah says: “One question was why are bubbles round? Another was what’s the scientific value of toothpaste?”
“You might not know the answer but you can find out and tell them.
“They could also leave questions on your wall. The aim was for them to vote off scientists until there was a winner, and that was me.”
Sarah won £500 to carry out outreach projects and was asked to go into schools to talk about her subject to inspire the children.
She explains opportunities to hear from people in her field were not available to her when she was a young girl, but living by the sea in Brighton allowed her to explore what was on her doorstep.
Sarah says: “I loved living by the sea and was always going rock pooling. “I have quite a biological mind and always wanted to know how things worked.
“I used to love putting things together. I put my sister’s Barbie house together which she was happy about, because she could then go on and play with it.”
While Sarah was good at the sciences and geography, she didn’t feel particularly academic and much preferred the practical aspect of learning about the world around her.
She says: “While my sister loved dolphins, I wanted to work with them and tell people about all the amazing creatures out there.
“My parents loved beach holidays, but I got bored. I wanted to scuba dive and ski and eventually when I was 13 we went on holiday to Turkey and they finally paid for me to do my PADI scuba diving course. “When it came to finding a university course I wanted one which would allow me to travel, so I came to Essex.”
She studied marine and freshwater biology at undergraduate level and was offered a year abroad in Miami, but funds didn’t allow her to take up the offer.
She admits she was disappointed at the time, but worked hard at three jobs to support her student life and achieved the prize for the best research project in the whole degree scheme in her graduation year. But Sarah was not just about the theory.
She has achieved her aim to travel and visited Indonesia several times, working for weeks at a time on the islands, diving, identifying corals and working in conservation biology.
She say: “It is important in this career to be working in the field. “These places were remote and very basic. There were squat toilets, no electricity, not an abundance of food and you need to learn how to work in those settings.
“We were away from everything and we would work from 8am until midnight because that is all there was to do.
“On a separate trip to Indonesia I was helping the undergraduate students design their projects. It was the same long days but our huts were on the beach and I would always take ten minutes at 6pm to watch the sun set.”
Sarah has also visited Mexico and the Seychelles, where she was living on a conservation island with 15 others, coming into contact with giant tortoises.
Sarah says: “I was diving and snorkelling every day, collecting bits of coral.” But her study has a higher purpose, and one which she hopes to pass onto the younger generation when she completes her PhD.
She says: “Coral are vitally important to the ocean habitat. “Without them the coral reef fish have nowhere to live and they clean the water.
“They are living organisms, more than a plant. It is a tourist attraction, it acts as food for some sea creatures, people fish on the reefs, collect shells from the beach and sell them to make a living.
“More medical products have been discovered in the sea and on coral reefs than in rainforests, but we fiercely protect the rainforests.
“We had masses of deep sea coral in the North Sea which has only been discovered in recent years, but much of it has been destroyed in the quest for oil.”
With just a few months of her PhD to go, Sarah will soon leave the laboratory where she carries out experiments on coral to share her passion for science with children.
She says: “I have been blogging and sharing my photographs. “With the money I won in the competition I want to update my website to make it more accessible for children and get my powerboat licence.
“I want to buy equipment to do science activities with kids, which is why I would love to be a Blue Peter presenter!”
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