Volunteering starts Marine Conservation Career

AUT graduate Sydney Curtis-Wilson

Sydney wears many hats in the marine conservation environment. She is LegaSea’s paid volunteer coordinator, representative on stakeholder working groups and researcher for NZ Sport Fishing Council. She feels she's making a difference every day.

It was volunteering as part of the AUT Edge Award that opened these career opportunities up for the environmental science student. Sydney initially started volunteering for the award at LegaSea, a non-profit organisation dedicated to restoring inshore fisheries. She chose LegaSea because she wanted to find out more about NZ fisheries and do something that aligned with her desire to create a better environment for future generations. She also volunteered at AUT Living Labs which complemented the kaupapa of LegaSea.

“Through this volunteering I was offered many work and research opportunities that I would not have otherwise received so early in my career. I gained skills I am now apply in the work I do, and I have an understanding of the work required in other fields.

Sydney found she was also applying the skills she was learning through tertiary study to a real world context by volunteering and meeting people in the industry.
“It was exciting to talk to those who had been through university and hear about the things I could do to make sure I was setting myself up for a successful future,” she says.

After a year of attending events and helping increase volunteer numbers Sydney was offered part time work with LegaSea, while still studying. Two years later Sydney is now a paid volunteer coordinator for LegaSea, while also working for the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council (NZSFC) doing research, writing submissions on changes in fishery policy and acting as a voice for recreational fishermen and the public.

Volunteering made all these opportunities possible, she states.

“Now - when anyone asks me what they need to do to get work or progress in their field - the first thing I tell them is to put themselves out there and make sure they volunteer."

Variety in roles

Sydney loves the fast paced environment of her roles, the variety the environment offers and the passionate and supportive attitude of the people around her. The LegaSea role involves coordinating the volunteer programme which she continues to develop, including planning events such as dive clean ups and brainstorming ways people can get involved, even if they live outside LegaSea’s Auckland base.

“I enjoy the volunteer coordinating role because it has a lot to do with educating people about what is really going on in NZ fisheries and then finding fun ways for them to help make the marine environment just that little bit better. Over the past year our volunteers have contributed 650 hours – it’s been a huge effort and really exciting.”

She also loves her fisheries management role, where she is fully utilising her environmental science degree.
“For my fisheries role I attend lots of stakeholder working groups, stay up to date on latest fisheries research and help to write fisheries reports and submissions to the Minister about changes in fisheries policy. I enjoy learning and challenging myself in this role.”NZ Landscape

Passion for the environment

Sydney has always been environmentally conscious but becoming part of such a strong conservation community through her work and academic study has given her a stronger focus - and with that more opportunities.

“I find it exciting that there is still so much that is a mystery in the natural world and that everyone is fighting for what they believe in - which is becoming rare. I feel like I’m making a difference every day that I’m working, yet it doesn’t feel like work at all but everyday life.”

Still volunteering

Although Sydney has less time now to volunteer, she still occasionally helps friends who work for Conservation Volunteers and tries to help in the  Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae gardens and supporting their Kai Ika community food distribution project.

“Anything I can do outside is great because I’m at my desk a lot. The marae does a lot for the community, and it is always a great experience to be down there giving back.”

“Getting hours for the AUT Edge Award definitely motivated me to be proactive and have the confidence to go for it with volunteering.”

Find out more

For more information about the AUT Edge Award here.

Learn more about Environmental Science and other Science careers here.

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