Q1. How and when did your career start as a diver, expedition leader and television presenter?
It’s hard to find a definite start point – but here’s my outline career journey;
Even as a young boy I knew that the classical, nine-to-five, work environment wasn’t for me. My plan was to get a skilled trade and then travel. So my first step to that freedom was an apprenticeship with Ford Motor Company in Dagenham. I loved it and during the apprenticeship years I also learned to dive, sail, canoe and climb properly.
It was while I was working in the US as a toolmaker that I turned my love of nature into professional outdoor qualifications and became a professional diver, a diving instructor and a mountain guide.
After years of working in factories and teaching diving at the same time I finally had enough diving contracts to make the break and wow, I can still feel the day that I walked out of the factory for the last time!
I spent many years teaching diving in the Midwest and mountain guiding in the North Cascades, Alaska and Ecuador. On return to the UK I worked in outdoor technical skills support for Impact International and then worked for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as a Field Assistant before my ten years as Base Commander.
I left BAS to deliver yachts, work as a mountain safety consultant in the Middle East and to work in Greenland on science support and guiding.
While I was advising the BBC on explorers and field science expeditions they asked me to present science and factual TV programmes. And since then I have been a very active Broadcaster as well as continuing my science support and expedition leading work in Antarctica and the Arctic.
As you can see, there hasn’t been much planning in my career and it’s still evolving.
Q2. How does your sporting activities connect you to the natural environment and how does the environment motivate you to achieve goals – sporting and other life goals.
It’s an essential, total connection. The physical challenges of my work are only made possible and rewarding by being in tune with nature.
Q3. What has your sport and your experience through it taught you about the natural environment?
My work keeps me close to natural forces and provides me with inspiration, motivation and insight. I feel that we all need deep, immersive and challenging physical experiences in nature. There is no better way to truly develop our understanding of global issues.
I’ve also learned that there is a lot less fish and a lot more plastic in the sea!
Q4. During your career, have your observations of the natural environment changed and if so, in what way?
Yes – in my early years of diving I felt that our natural resources were limitless and that we were having no effect on nature at all. But 42 years later, with the world’s population more than doubled, we have become a true force of nature. We have catastrophically overfished, dumped waste and damaged vast amounts of our natural habitat.
It’s time to sharpen up our approach to ecosystem services – too many people feel that nature can continue to supply our needs and act as a bottomless pit for all of our wastes.
We need nature – it doesn’t need us!
Q5. If you were to motivate people (on a local, national and international level) on one particular environment issue, what would it be?
Understanding and protecting the largest, most important, least understood and least protected ecosystem on earth – our Oceans!
Our lifestyles are enhanced when we are engaged in nature and it makes sense that if we focus of the largest ecosystem then it gives us a clearer understanding of all of Nature.
Q6. What have you actively changed in your day to day life, including how you go about your sport that makes a positive difference to the health of our planet?
My work involves continuous travel and provides daily lessons in how we can only be engaged with the natural environment if we live close to it. On early expeditions we used to dump our waste overboard at sea or in crevasses in the mountains. But for many years now I have been bringing it all out.
This works in urban life too, for instance when I am on a train that does not separate the waste, I carry my water bottles and food wrappers with me until I find somewhere suitable. I pick up waste anywhere I see it and do the same. I ask questions about the food I buy in shops and restaurants and only take the most sustainable options. I offset my flights to support sustainable energy schemes
I work alongside the world’s best scientists and NGO’s to encourage environmental education and sensitive, sustainable development.
And I do spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about marine debris!
Q7. What motivated you to become involved with The Blue Climate and Oceans Project as a Blue Ambassador?
I was invited to swim in the 2010 Blue Mile and had a great time. I loved the idea of engaging large numbers of people with important ocean issues by having fun in and on the water. I followed that by speaking at the Plymouth Blue Immersion event and was hooked.
Q8. What advice would you give to people who want to change their day to day behaviour to help protect our natural blue environment?
Have a quick look at the Blue website and follow this with a swim, paddle, sail, or a walk next to the sea whilst thinking about how undeniably essential it is for us to have an understanding of our blue world. Then go back to the Blue website and use this great resource as a prompt for further understanding of the sea and for plotting Blue actions!
Q9. What advice would you give to youngsters aspiring to get into a career in this line of work?
Two main routes;
1. Science – For those with a science education I recommend applying it to field based work to gain invaluable practical experience. You might well have to take unpaid work for a while, or work in any job at all to fund your early field experiences. But it’s worth it.
2. Science Support – To work in the field scientists need all of the skilled trades and that’s the route I took. So hang in there with your apprenticeships and look forward to the day when you are working alongside great science teams as; a mechanic, plumber, electrician, boat driver, diver, builder, heavy equipment operator, cook, mountaineer or IT specialist.
The bottom line for all routes into a job you love is that you have to be prepared to work hard at absolutely anything so that you can fund your own experiences and development.