"I had no idea that campaigning had been professionalised to this extent,” says Tom Gammage, the marine biologist – and campaigner – who’s currently riding a wave of global support for his report on plastic pollution, Connecting the Dots. “I thought campaigners just did publicity stunts. I didn’t realise how much influence you can have as a civil society organisation with the right resources, skills and expertise.”
“This is why I’m on this earth,” he says. “And that foundational knowledge I gained at Plymouth has been absolutely instrumental in everything I’ve done so far.”
“I’ve always been a ‘nature boy’ – it’s defined everything I’ve ever done,” Tom says. “So, by the time I was applying to university, I had a very solid idea of what I wanted to do. I knew the South West well from camping trips to Cornwall, and so getting into Plymouth became my ‘North Star’ during my A levels. I worked hard, and I got in."
“And then I realised, ‘This is me, 100%’. There’s nothing else I could do in this world other than this.”
It amounted to a remarkable five years overseas – but Tom knew there was something missing from his skill set: advocacy.
“I joined EIA in November 2019, with a remit that would see me travelling to events and conferences around the world,” Tom says. “I would be acting as a trusted advisor to certain countries, particularly those that have limited capacity. It’s all really up my street, but then, COVID …”
“We may be a relatively small organisation, but we pack a massive punch,” Tom says. “And while we are not necessarily well-known in a broad context, in the fields that we work in, we’re very well respected. All of our work across our four programmes of wildlife, oceans, climate and forests is pioneering.”
Tom says: “I initially wanted to put something into peer-reviewed literature, but Richard advised that I had the opportunity to do something ‘loud’, something that scientists traditionally cannot. So that helped to shape the theme of the report."
“And since its launch, it’s been crazy,” he adds, shaking his head as if in disbelief, and a broad smile breaking out across his face. “The BBC took up the story and since then it’s exploded. We’ve had requests from Singapore, Iran, Canada …it’s amazing to watch your idea spread around the world.”
I am a scientist and I love what I am doing – but I do miss that primary research,” he says, finally.