Dr Dannielle Green- Marine Ecologist, Academic & Plastic Pollution Warrior!
Today we have the awesome DR Dannielle Green talking about her career path to becoming a Marine Ecologist!
Short bio about yourself and your career:
I am from the blue mountains in Australia. I grew up in a small town that had no street lights, dirt roads and was right in the middle of the bush. I cannot remember ever being inside as a kid, I was always out exploring and was always called a “tom boy”. There were so many wonderful animals and plants, some of them dangerous, but as a kid you have no fear. We lived a 4 hour drive from the coast but whenever we went it was the most amazing thing to me. I got my love of the sea from my Dad and watching Valerie Taylor documentaries about sharks. She showed how shark finning was so cruel and how after they had chopped off the sharks fins they threw them back in and it could take them weeks to die, just lying there unable to move… this horrible image is what inspired me to choose to study marine science. Now I am a marine ecologist and a senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University.
How did your career begin?
My first choice for university was marine science at the University of Sydney and my second choice was Psychology… Fortunately I got into my first option so the world never had to suffer me as a psychologist.
Although I enjoyed university, moving out of a rural home and into the “big smoke” at 18 was difficult and I struggled with severe anxiety for the first few years (and I partied too much!). As a result, my grades were average, my confidence was low and I did not think I had what it took to pursue a career in marine science. In my final semester of third year, however, I did a module on marine ecology and it was the most challenging thing I had ever done… and I loved it and got my first high distinction!! Honours in Australia is an extra year (4th year) and, at the time, you needed to achieve an average weighted grade of at least 70% in order to be permitted to do it. I managed to increase my average weighted mark by >20%, achieving the required grade and there was formal inquest from the Dean. They thought I had cheated because they had never seen such a sudden grade increase… In reality, I was so determined to pursue my newly discovered love of marine ecology that I pulled my socks up and tried really hard for the first time since starting university.
My honours project (which is a year of pure research in Australia) was on intertidal boulder-fields and was supervised by Professor Gee Chapman who is a world leading marine ecologist. To date, this year was the steepest learning curve I have ever endured. It was incredibly challenging and I learnt so much that has shaped me as a scientist to this day. I then won a funded PhD in Ireland to work on invasive species, so this is what led me to move to the other side of the world.
You have been on the frontline of the battle against plastic pollution- how did you start this journey?
After I completed my PhD I was unemployed. This was challenging but I kept myself busy by doing volunteer work and writing academic papers and grants. I lived by the sea and noticed one day after a storm an unsightly amount of plastic packaging on the beach. I was inspired to research what effect this and the resulting microplastics from it could have on marine ecosystems so I submitted a grant for an Irish Research Council fellowship… I heard nothing for ages and just as I was ready to throw in the towel on science (after a year of unemployment and countless rejections) I found out on the same day that not only had I won the fellowship, I had also won a British Ecological Society grant!! Yes, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that we went to Temple Bar to celebrate that night 😊.
Please highlight your thoughts on the plastic pollution problem:
As a pioneer in this field (been at it for the past 8 years) I have seen a massive surge in public support and interest. As my students from Communication Skills for Conservation will know this engagement with the public is paramount to solving the problem but we need to ensure that people are presented with robust evidence and that the science does not get lost in translation. In some cases, plastic is the best material to use and in other cases it never should have been used at all. There is not a one size fits all solution and it varies country to country which is why this a global issue requiring collaborative solutions.
What can people do to help?
Lead by example - The little things do add up, so reduce your use of plastic and re-use items where you can and follow recycling instructions where applicable.
Raise awareness - Remind people that littering is not cool! With the covid-19 situation plastic has made a resurgence as the hero rather than the villain with people believing that single-use plastics are more hygienic (but remember the virus lasts longer on plastic than on cardboard). The worst thing about this is the increase in littering of plastic facemasks, gloves and wipes. Wherever you can please gently remind people that these items should be placed in the bin… along with cigarette butts the other bane of my life.
What is your greatest achievement?
Being invited as a lead author on the upcoming United Nations Assessment of Marine Litter and Microplastics and presenting evidence at the meeting in Nairobi, Kenya this February. Working with these scientists and experts from all over the world was incredibly humbling and inspiring and has opened my eyes to the challenges faced by developing countries that we could never even imagine.
What is your favourite species?
As an ecologist I love communities of organisms all working together and making the world tick over… but for fun I do love marine worms especially the green spoon worm (Bonellia viridis) who have a biocidal pigment in their skin and the strangest sex life on the planet! (https://www.earthtouchnews.com/natural-world/animal-behaviour/sex-changes-sperm-slaves-ballooning-bodies-spoon-worms-are-really-weird/).
Advice for people wanting to pursue science and conservation as a career?
Do it for the love and not for the money. It doesn’t pay well and you usually have to do unpaid volunteer work before landing a paid job so having genuine passion for the work is what gets you through and makes it so rewarding.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t won any awards, gotten an A for an assignment or changed the world yet. Some people bloom a little later than others, we are all different and have something unique to offer. Conservation is interdisciplinary and requires a team effort, needing us to pull together like pieces of a puzzle to make a real difference!