I grew up in Kinver, a country village on the outskirts of the West Midlands, UK.
At school I took an interest in the science of living things and completed my Zoology honours degree and an Environmental Biology masters degree at Swansea University in South Wales. South Wales was a great place to study biology and through field trips on the Gower Peninsular and through volunteering with the University conservation society, with the National Trust and with the Gower Marine Mammals Project, I developed a healthy appetite for terrestrial and marine field studies.
So in 2003 I volunteered with the Marine Turtle Conservation Project (MTCP) in North Cyprus. This project is a collaboration between University of Exeter’s Marine Turtle Research Group (www.seaturtle.org/mtrg) and the Society for Protection of Turtles in North Cyprus (www.cyprusturtles.org). I picked up a lot of skills there working with adult female turtles at night and was asked to return in 2004 and 2005. I also enjoyed the ecotourism aspect of this work, guiding tourists with marine turtles and taking donations to support our work.
In 2005 using skills and experiences that I gained in Cyprus, I applied for a job with British Antarctic Survey and completed a 2.5 year contract on their outpost station, Bird Island (http://www.bas.ac.uk/living_and_working/research_stations/bird_island/index.php). This is one of the most remote places to be based in the world. The only way in or out is by a 5 day ship crossing from the Falkland Islands. During the whole contract I only left the island once for a dental check-up onboard RRS Ernest Shakleton. With just eight people during summer and four during winter, the island can be a lonely place if you don’t keep busy. Thankfully the academics at BAS like to get their money’s worth from their assistants and as albatross assistant and science coordinator I was kept busy through the entire contract. Although albatrosses and sea turtles are from fundamentally different taxonomic groups, I saw parallels in their plights to hang in as extant species on planet earth. Both are long lived, both take many years to raise a successful offspring to adulthood and both are drastically affected by fisheries and human activities in nearly all of their habitats. So after a second contract with BAS, this time on mainland South Georgia with seals and penguins, and a lot of travel in between, I returned to North Cyprus to lead the MTCP.
The project had traditionally noted dead stranded turtles on the beaches of North Cyprus and these had been loosely tied to the local fisheries. But these incidents were never properly followed up and archived. In fact the activities and impacts of small-scale fisheries worldwide, has it seems, have been overlooked, and the Mediterranean is no exception to this. MTRG’s Dr Brendan Godley had noted in his 1998 publication (http://www.seaturtle.org/mtrg/pubs/) that local artisanal fisheries were “of concern” and he suggested that MTRG would support me through a PhD to investigate further the interactions between artisanal fisheries of the Eastern Mediterranean and endangered higher vertebrate taxa, in particular marine turtles.
So in 2009 I began a part-time self-funded PhD at University of Exeter. I continued to lead the project and met my wife Damla that summer in Cyprus. We got married in 2011 and in 2012 our son Toprak was born. During this time I have made good progress with my work in the North Cyprus fishery. I have received a number of grants in support of this work through international funders and local sponsors.
In 2010 Damla and I began a 2 year EU contract implemented by North Cyprus Society for Protection of Birds (KUŞKOR). We designed and carried out field studies to map the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of North Cyprus for Birdlife International. Through this contract we came to know the birds of Cyprus exceptionally well. We continue to volunteer at KUŞKOR and we moderate the sightings forum (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/kuskor/), which continues to get busier and busier. Each moth we organise field outings for locals and raise cash to keep the office and library open in Kyrenia.
In 2012, having found professional opportunities in North Cyprus for conservation biologists almost non-existent, we established this enterprise in an attempt to fund our continued research, outreach activities and voluntary involvement in environmental in NGOs in North Cyprus.