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Spotlight: Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at Marine Conservation Society

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I got to help open the new Disney Store in Aberdeen with Mickey and Minnie Mouse when I worked there as a Cast Member at University!

Tell us about your career journey so far

I went to Forres Academy where I studied History, Physics and Chemistry over Geography and Biology but spent my Saturdays volunteering at the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay.

I then went on to study Marine and Coastal Resource Management at Aberdeen University (I had been set to go to Edinburgh University to study Ancient History but found this course on a free school trip and something just clicked!).

My first graduate job was working as a Field Studies Instructor for outdoor adventure company PGL down in Dorset where we took pupils out to study everything from rockpools to coastal defences.

I then came back up to Scotland and worked as a Visitor Presenter at an Aquarium where I started volunteering for the Marine Conservation Society.

When the role of Scotland Conservation Officer came up and I decided to go for it and now here I am five years later still loving working in marine conservation.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I loved History at school, I have always been fascinated by ancient civilisations and at one thought I would become an underwater archaeologist! I enjoyed learning about the past and my teachers made the subject extremely engaging which definitely influenced me taking it all the way to Advanced Higher.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

I was really worried that by not studying biology so I could do a marine biology degree I would not be able to work in marine conservation. However now looking back I can see how the skills I learnt studying all of my subjects from research in History to problem solving in Physics are all extremely useful for my role.

My volunteering also really helped as so much of my work is now supporting volunteers to gather important data on marine litter that I can then use to campaign for change like the ban on plastic stemmed cotton buds or the upcoming deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. I still volunteer when I can now from doing beach cleans, talking to schools or completing tasks as a STEM Ambassador!

Communication skills are also really important in my role as I speak to the media quite a lot so the skills learnt in my creative subjects like art and music have been really useful to help communicate to different audiences about sometimes complicated issues like policy and legislation.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I love working with people – especially young people as so many so passionate about the sea and have incredible ideas to help save it. It is brilliant to help make their voices louder so governments have to listen and make the changes our ocean needs to be saved.

I also usually get to spend a lot of time at the beach which is a brilliant part of the job, although there have been many beach cleans in the rain and wind as well as the brilliant sunshine!

What is a normal day in your role like?

Luckily I get to spend a lot of time at the beach, not just beach cleaning, but collecting important data and information on the types of rubbish turning up on our beaches. This means some days I am presenting this information in the Scottish Parliament or at big meetings to show people what is happening to our ocean and why we need to make changes to protect it. On some days I am even helping to change new laws to help protect our sea!

Since Lockdown a normal day has massively changed for me like many of us so over the summer of 2020 I have been taking part in live video streams, recording content for Instagram, Youtube and podcasts as well as delivering lessons from my living room! I have also been working on new ideas to present to government on how to save the sea by working with lots of different partners across Scotland. No matter if I am inside or outside, partnership working is always a big and crucial part of my role. To save the sea we all need to work together.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Can you take on the Plastic Challenge?

Every July we run a campaign called the Plastic Challenge as part of Plastic Free July where we ask everyone to try and reduce the amount of single use plastic they use. If we use less then less will end uf as litter and in our ocean so it is a really important campaign!

However the Plastic Challenge can be done at any time of year, why not do a plastic audit for a week – look at how much single use plastic you are using and then see if there is anything you can reduce. Can you get a reusable bottle? Can you get products in reusable containers? Let us know how you get on on social media with the hashtag #PlasticChallenge and tag @mcsuk.

We also need to challenge business and government to play their part so after you have started your own Plastic Challenge why not write to a local business or your local MSP or MP about what you have done and challenge them to do something to reduce the amount of single use plastic ending up in our ocean.

You can find out more about the Plastic Challenge here:

Good Luck and let us know how you get on!

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Tel: 01383 626070


Address: 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline, KY11 8UU

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The UK-wide STEM Ambassador programme is managed by STEM Learning Limited, which operates the National STEM Learning Network, alongside other projects supporting STEM education. To find out more please go to the STEM Learning website