By Kaitlyn Elverson.
Dr Louise Gentle is a well-loved wildlife conservation lecturer at the Brackenhurst Campus at Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, UK. Her research and work at NTU has stretched over many topics, from why Wombats poop cubes to Yellowhammers, but for this interview, I asked Louise some things that targeted the bigger picture of marine conservation.
So Louise, what got you interested in wildlife conservation?
David Attenborough. The typical answer I know, but watching his programmes on TV was a huge inspiration for me when I was little. Watching David’s programmes shows you how much destruction has happened to our environment, especially in the UK and the impact it has had on the planet; he inspired me to want to stop it.
My mum also says that my love of animals comes from when I was little. I grew up in London, so we always used to go to London Zoo and as a special treat I got to choose a lovely toy animal from the gift shop. Apparently I had a huge collection and could name all the species I had. But my big question to my parents after visiting the zoo was: “Why aren’t they free?”, but David would then show me what the animals looked like and what they did when they were free. So I think it all began when I was very young.
“But it’s equally as frustrating that, for all the people involved in conservation, you can still walk down the street and see people chucking litter about and you can still get non-recyclable plastic cups at cafes or shops. It’s ridiculous to me that it’s still happening.”
So, we’ve talked about your childhood and what got you into conservation, but now that you’ve been teaching it and working in the sector, what does conservation mean to you now?
To me, conservation means more than preservation. It means a whole load of disciplines assembling together to try and manage the land better. It’s not just species biology; it’s the other obvious bits like habitat management, but also getting the local people involved.
For example, at the moment the trend is anti-plastic, which is fantastic, but something else will come along eventually. Trends and fads come in all the time that get people more involved in the movement. It’s a holistic process. We’re observing the bigger impacts of what’s happening, learning from them and trying to get the message out there. The practise is always affected by business, money and, most importantly, education. People need to know about what’s happening in conservation before they can make the decision to help out themselves.
How do you find working in conservation? Any future plans?
I find it both exciting and frustrating. We’ve come such a long way from where we started. For example, we used to see a species and kill it to find out more about it back in the day. Now, with advances in technology, like geo-tracking, we can see what’s going on with animals without the need to get up close and disturb them.
The internet is also one of the best advances we’ve had that has made working in conservation so exciting, because you can talk to people all over the world and get everyone involved. It benefits us and the animals we are trying to help. Plus, all the new discoveries we’re making are very exciting, like how we’ve found that some species are benefitting from humans and urbanisation. And getting the general public involved in always exciting; telling them what you’ve found and getting them involved.
But it’s equally as frustrating that, for all the people involved in conservation, you can still walk down the street and see people chucking litter about and you can still get non-recyclable plastic cups at cafes or shops. It’s ridiculous to me that it’s still happening. Though, it’s good to see things slowly changing. Even in Nottingham there are new shops marketing plastic free living and sustainable choices. You think: ‘Why haven’t we done this sooner?’
For the future, I would like to see the university (NTU) to be more sustainable and for them to make students aware too. I think that’s very important.
I’ve also worked on quite a few urban projects recently, so it would be really good if we could produce something from that research to hand out to the wider public and hopefully make a difference from it. It’s what everyone would like to do, and it’s not even about the recognition; it’s about getting people to make the connection with what they are doing and how it’s impacting the environment. But what exactly this ‘big difference’ I’d like to make is, I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“Passion enables change in whatever way that is.”
What do you think is or are the most important or impactful things happening now for marine conservation today?
It’s plastic. Plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere! It’s the hot topic of the moment and it’s something we can something about right now. With climate change, yes it’s important and you’ve got children demonstrating for it to be discussed in schools, but it’s a longer term issue and not as easy to solve. With plastic, the individual can decide ‘I’m going to cut down on plastic’. But hopefully that will make a big difference. There’s lots of plastic already in the ocean, but things like beach clean ups are steps closer to cleaning up the bigger problem. Also, with climate change, people don’t see that their actions are directly having an impact and think it doesn’t affect them, but with plastics people can see it and realise what they’re doing and become more aware of the impact they have on oceans. I’m on a plastic mission at the minute, actually, so I’m trying to find alternatives for everything; it saves money in the long run too.
What do you think about the state of the world’s oceans today considering climate change and plastic pollution?
Although the Earth has been through a lot of climatic changes, it lulls people into a false sense of security as they are all natural changes, whereas what we’re seeing now is all human induced. We’re currently experiencing the ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’. Worst case scenario, we’ve caused too much damage and it’s irreversible. Best case would be that there’s still hope because we know how to change things. Things aren’t going to magically go away; we need to do something about it. I think that children and younger generations will have a lot to do with designing and coming up with new ideas on how to tackle problems. They’ve got brilliant imaginations. So why don’t we give something new a go and ask what they think we should do? We need to get on the case and especially with new technology and education we can definitely make a difference. Education is the key.
What’s the most important thing you need if you’re thinking of getting involved in conservation?
Passion enables change in whatever way that is. I like to think I make a difference teaching and educating people because I’m passionate about it. People like Jane Goodall who is super passionate have made such a difference just talking about current issues. Just pick one thing and go for it. Perseverance helps and you can make all the difference even it’s just a tiny change you can influence someone in a good way.
Well, Louise, that about wraps us up for today. Thank you for your time. I have one big question left for you. It’s 2050. What does the planet look like?
I hope it looks like a lovely, wonderful, colourful utopia because we’ve managed to do a whole lot of good. Everything is zero waste, carbon neutral, all the buildings blend in with their backgrounds, it’s all environmentally friendly. And because of this all species are happy. A paradise. Maybe not by 2050. But for my back garden and where I live, I want it to look like that. But I need money to create that, which is the problem. But equally that’s a ridiculous excuse. I think if you want something to happen and persevere you can make it happen. I just need to focus, like everyone else needs to so we can make a big difference to the environment.