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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 06/03/2020

Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters celebrates every aspect of our beautiful shores and waterways with a programme of activity designed to inspire both visitors and locals to explore and experience everything that make them special.

Each month we’re showcasing the people who live, work and have a passion for our waters and as we are celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March, this month we’ve interviewed three  trail-blazing women who work across Scotland in businesses and organisations that interact with some of our most beautiful natural resources.

Catherine Gemmell is Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society and ever since she was a young girl she has had a deep relationship with the sea and its wildlife. From beach cleans to social media, find out what’s involved in the life of a Conservation Officer in Scotland, alongside some of her top tips and recommends for protecting our beautiful natural environment.

When did your passion for Scotland’s coasts and waters begin?

I was lucky enough to grow up on the stunning Moray coastline with beautiful beaches like Findhorn, Roseisle and Hopeman on my doorstep. My earliest memories are filled with paddling, sandcastle building and rock pooling. My family certainly inspired a love of our coasts and waters from as soon as I could wear wellies! I’m delighted to say that my passion continues to grow every time I throw on my (now much larger) wellies and get out to the coast. 

What does your job involve?

Day-to-day my job sees me doing everything from getting out to the beach with wonderful volunteers to collect important data on marine litter, to introducing the First Minister to our life-size inflatable Leatherback Turtle, Stuart. Certainly, no day is ever the same, but there’s always a healthy dose of the coast!

What’s the best part of your job?

I love how much time I get to spend working with young people. Whether that’s on the beach, in a classroom, in Parliament or at events, their passion and creativity inspire me every time. The most important step in getting people to act to protect our ocean is to help them connect with it. We need to help everyone fall in love with the ocean again so they are inspired to stand up and take action to protect it. All the young people I have worked with get this and they continue to be fantastic ambassadors to remind the rest of us adults what we are fighting for.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Fitting everything in! With thousands of miles of coastline and beach to clean and hundreds of communities and organisations to work with, I do sometimes find it challenging to squeeze everything that I would like to achieve into a working day. However, through the power of partnerships and working with incredible volunteers, I know I am just a small cog in a massive movement working to celebrate and protect Scotland's coasts and waters.

On International Women’s Day what piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring female conservation champions?

I got Twitter the week before I started working for the Marine Conservation Society, thinking it might be useful to connect with people in the field as I very much felt a newbie, and it worked! I have connected with so many incredible people working in marine conservation and beyond which has helped me develop my communication skills, increase my knowledge and get involved in opportunities such as filming, speaking and more! So, if you are up for it, I would highly recommend using the power of social media to get connected and to tell your story to the world!

How much of your work involves working with other organisations?

Not a day goes by where I do not work with other organisations. In Scotland there is such a brilliant collaborative culture and it is only by working with others that we can drive the change our oceans need. From working with the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland on the Deposit Return Scheme campaign, to Fidra’s Cotton Bud Project, to delivering talks with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, working with others has led to such incredible success stories for our seas and I can’t wait to see what we all achieve together in 2020.

What’s your favourite fact or stat about Scotland’s coasts and waters?

We get some of the most incredible visitors to our shores, including the world's largest marine turtle - the Leatherback - as well as the world's second largest fish, the beautiful Basking Shark! Plus, as my home favourite, the Moray Firth is home to the most northerly population of Bottlenose Dolphins – nearly 200 of them!

What actions can all of us take to help look after our precious natural assets?

First of all, I would encourage everyone to get out this year and fall in love with the sea. Remind yourself what amazing wildlife, habitats and views we have right on our doorstep. Then get involved with a citizen science project like Beachwatch to protect our beaches from litter, or the Big Seaweed Search to gather information on the impacts of climate change on our coasts. At home you can take part in the Plastic Challenge and try to reduce your use of single use plastics. Finally, back a campaign to ask the Government and industry to play their part too!

Do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland’s coasts or waters?

So many to choose from but one of my favourite experiences happened during a dive trip to Orkney where I went for a snorkel during a break and ended up swimming with a very friendly porpoise for over half an hour!


Find out more about Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters and how you can get involved to make the most of the year for your business.

Catherine Gemmell, Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society
Catherine Gemmell, Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society

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