Education with a Porpoise

Bek Trehern is the Engagement and Training Assistant for the FSC Eco-Skills team. Bek has a background in marine biology and engaging people with the marine environment. In this blog Bek tells us about her experiences and what marine biology learning opportunities we have coming up...

For me the marine environment began as, and still is, an exciting and mysterious world to discover. From the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, to the rockpools in Cornwall, exploring these ecosystems has always given me so much enjoyment.

I still find it crazy that we know more about space than we do our oceans and that just 5% of Earth's oceans have been explored and charted, even though an estimated 80% of all life on Earth is found under the ocean surface!

Growing up in the landlocked town of Rotherham, I was extremely lucky to spend many of my childhood summers growing up, on holiday in Cornwall, surrounded by beautiful, sweeping coastlines. It was here that my love for the marine world was sparked. During our holidays, I always enjoyed spending time at the beach and by the water, whether that was swimming in the sea, rock pooling with my sister or just exploring the world around me. We even tried to house some of our rockpool findings in a bowl in our caravan, although I probably wouldn’t recommend this. 

As a child you’re always asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, and even though my love of the marine world probably should have led to me wanting to become a marine biologist, this always felt like an unreachable goal. Even at the age of 17 when I was deciding on what to study at university, Marine Biology felt like something that would pigeonhole me and ultimately leave me unemployed. When deciding on what to study I toyed with several ideas, Psychology, Criminology, Biology, but never straight Marine Biology. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my biology teacher, Mr Hough, who suggested looking into Zoology. It was a chance to combine my love for animals and the environment but could also open the marine biology doors down the line. So, armed with a giant textbook that he loaned to me, I submersed myself into the world of Zoology, which offered the opportunity to stay broad enough that I didn’t feel like I had one choice, but focused enough that I could allow myself to choose my own path. 

My career in marine biology

I then began dragging my parents up and down the country to visit a whole range of universities, but as I stepped onto the University of Exeter, Penryn campus in Cornwall, unsurprisingly, I knew this was the place for me. Throughout my time at university, I planned to keep my options open and my knowledge broad, but the lure of marine biology kept pulling me back. So, after completing modules in Exploitation of the Sea and Marine Mammal Conservation, I knew it was marine biology all along. It was in my final year that really solidified this. I was fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks at a small research facility, The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), in the Bahamas for my third-year field trip.


At this centre, I had the opportunity to work with researchers and was then offered to return the following year to complete a Research Masters, where I studied the invasive lionfish under the supervision of leading marine biologists Dr Lucy Hawkes and Dr Travis Van Leeuwen. Upon completion of my research trip in the Bahamas, I had truly caught the travel-research bug and moved to Perth (Australia) where I worked at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies University of Western Australia with some of the leading coral researchers, Dr Steeve Comeau and Dr Chris Cornwall. Australia really is the home of marine biology, from the crystal blue waters to the incredible coral reef ecosystems, there is so much to explore. I even got to live a lifelong dream and swim with the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark!

Just before I left Australia, I visited the Great Barrier Reef which, at 1,430 miles long, is the largest coral reef system in the world. It is truly an incredible sight to behold, being home to 1,600 species of fish, 411 species of hard coral and 150 species of soft coral, more than 30 species of whale and dolphin, it’s pretty much a marine biologist’s answer to Disneyland! But nothing lasts forever, and my visa came to its end, so I moved back to the UK, not knowing where I would end up next. Fortunately, it was right back where I had started, in Cornwall, as I was offered a position at The Cornish Seal Sanctuary running a brand-new education department. In this position, I began to realise that even though I loved marine biology and research, it was in fact sharing that knowledge and passion which thrilled me more, which is how I have arrived here at the Field Studies Council.

My role at the Field Studies Council

After almost a year on furlough, I was lucky to be offered the Generation Green funded internship with the FSC as the Engagement and Training Assistant. In my role I am helping to develop numerous training courses in natural history for adults, including within marine biology, with highly experienced tutors and partners. I have even had to privilege to work closely with ORCA, a marine conservation charity whose work I have always admired. I also get to work with our incredible Youth Council, who are driving forward youth engagement within the FSC and our publications team where I am helping to develop a range of foldout ID guides. Encouraging others to connect with the world around them, especially the marine environment, is an amazing feeling and a role I hope to continue.

I also help coordinate our weekly, free Natural History Live webinars. These were originally focused on invertebrate species, but due to my involvement they have shifted to a range of taxa and tend to be a lot more marine focused.  


Bringing marine biology to Eco-Skills

Bringing marine biology to Eco-Skills and the FSC has been a focus not just of mine but of the entire organisation. As such, since our launch back in April we’ve designed a series of courses from our partner organisation ORCA, which aim to educate people on the importance of marine mammals, the threats they face and strategies for conserving populations. These courses for complete beginners and have proved to be highly popular, so much so that we are repeating these online courses throughout the year!

Discovering Marine Mammals is the first course in our marine mammals training programme. This 3-week introductory online course covers the following topics:

  • Introduction to Marine Mammals
  • Adaptations to the Marine Environment
  • Marine Mammal Feeding and Life Cycles

Conservation of Marine Mammals is the follow up course to Discovering Marine Mammals. This 4-week online course covers the following topics:

  • Importance of Marine Mammals
  • threats to Marine Mammals
  • Marine Mammals and Pollution
  • Conservation Strategies

The courses form part of the Eco-Skills Marine Mammals Learning Framework and provide a distinct pathway for learning from beginner through to more advanced levels with an opportunity for learners to become citizen scientists and contribute to marine mammal monitoring and conservation.

ORCA OceanWatchers is an onine course developed and run by ORCA throughout the summer (but hosted on the FSC virtual learning patform). This 2-week online course is designed to train up ORCA OceanWatchers and covers 2 topics:

  • ORCA OceanWatchers Introduction and Cetacean Identification
  • Conducting a survey for whales, dolphins and porpoises using the ORCA OceanWatchers app

Upon completion of this course people will have the opportunity to take an active role in marine science and conservation through their newly developed ORCA OceanWatchers app. This app allows learners to record important scientific data about whale and dolphin species that ORCA will us to understand population levels of these mammals, and ultimately influencing government policy.