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How my passion for diving led to a career in oceanography

Kelly Greener lives near Oxford. She is a PADI divermaster, conservationist and MSci oceanography graduate.

I was never one to chose the easy route, but that’s because I’m a classic case of someone who’s ‘Plan A’ didn’t work out.

I always wanted to be a vet. Very generic I know, but I loved animals and I was lucky enough growing up in the countryside to be surrounded by them and have a real love of nature.

I did all the work experience, from lambing to butterfly farms, but I couldn’t balance this with time for school studies, and it affected my grades.

But I soon realised that I couldn’t pursue this career without taking a huge step back.

I have always been a forward thinker, so to me, retaking a whole year at school would be a huge blow. I decided it was time for a rethink.

Following a new path

I remember this moment like it was yesterday. My mum and I got all the university prospectus’ out onto the kitchen table and made a list of ‘what I would love to study?’.

My initial thought process was I knew I wanted to help in some way. This time I thought about my other passions.

Read more: What it’s like to be an ecologist

At school I did the slightly different things, I played water polo and swam competitively, and generally loved being outdoors. I was always very fascinated with water.

I travelled the Spanish coast every summer when my dad would take me snorkelling with him to coves and caves.

So I suppose the ocean was a big part of me. I just didn’t realise until that moment at the kitchen table, when in the Ocean and Earth Science section popped out the words ‘Marine Biology and Oceanography’.

Thinking it through

I’d like to point out it wasn’t a lightbulb moment.

I mulled over the idea for a few days, but after many discussions at that kitchen table, I knew this was the next move. I felt good about it.

I’m not a very good decision-maker, but that one was easy because it ticked all the boxes. There could be opportunities to travel, learn about a multitude of environments and I already had a passion there ready to flourish.

Studying oceanography

When I decided I wanted to study oceanography four years ago, nobody knew what it was. People would ask me ‘is that like water geography?’.

I remember my teachers reading over my personal statement, not really understanding a word of what they were reading.

Nobody else wanted to study an environmental science. It wasn’t cool or heard of four years ago. But I didn’t care because I thought it was the coolest degree in the world, and I was going to study it.

What is oceanography?

It’s quite hard to describe what oceanography actually is because it is one of the most multidisciplinary degrees I have ever come across.

It encompasses the physics of currents, the geology of the seafloor, the satellite images of wave formations, bioluminescent plankton, the list goes on and on. Anything you can think of that involves the ocean, oceanography teaches you a little bit about it.

A passion for diving

From all of this stemmed my passion for scuba diving.

I admit, deciding to pursue and study ocean science was what drove me to try diving at 17, and it encouraged my dad to try too.

Before I knew it, every weekend swimming at a gala was swapped with a day at a freezing cold lake in January learning all the skills to get qualified.

I loved it. If you told me back then that five years later I’d be a divemaster who’s dived in three continents, I would have never have believed you.

Either way, diving drove my passion. It also increased my respect and passion for the ocean and motivation for my studies.

Four years ago, I knew this was what I wanted to do – learn about the world we live in. But nobody really understood my passion.

Blue Planet and conservation

After my first two years studying, Blue Planet II was released. This changed everything.

Blue Planet acted as a huge curveball. It made people realise there was a world they couldn’t see. In my eyes that’s where the impact our oceans have all started to get very real .

Not long after its release and the David Attenborough effect, I’d meet up with friends and they’d ask me ‘Do you study all that Blue Planet stuff, I didn’t realise plastic was such a big issue!’.

If I’m honest the whole thing slightly annoyed me a first. I’d been advocating plastic problems before it was headline news, and people would ignore me.

I could go on about why our oceans are fundamental to our survival and the impact Blue Planet has had.

However, I am also thrilled, and find it incredible that within these four years environmental issues such as plastic, overfishing, ghost nets and trainers being made out of ocean trash pop up every day on our news feed.

Protecting our planet

Even though environmental change is seen as ‘trendy’ it is at the forefront of people’s minds now more than ever.

I see myself more driven to make my role and goal as an oceanographer even more successful. And job opportunities are in abundance.

Even though at the time it was considered ‘weird’ to study an environmental science, when Plan A was to be a doctor, a lawyer or in my case a vet, I followed my passion.

I didn’t care what others thought. It was important to me and it’s turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

Now I have a masters degree in one of the most pressing issues facing our planet today. I have an opportunity to make a difference in a different way than what being a vet would.

So yes, Plan A didn’t work out. You have to always be ready for that. But that doesn’t mean Plan B, C or D wasn’t the best plan after all.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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