Flying fish leaping from the sea
Sancha Conway Holroyd, 

BSc (Hons)
Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology

Young people really are the drivers of change – it’s down to us as young leaders to create real impact.

Sancha Conway Holroyd, BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology
My goal was to study marine biology at the University of Plymouth. However, what I didn't expect was that the route to obtaining a degree wouldn't be so straightforward, nor did I realise where it would take me.

My traumatic experience shifted my perspective

When I was 18, I had a life-changing experience: I was involved in a car accident that left me in recovery for two-and-a-half years. During that time, I struggled not only with severe pain and trauma but also mental frustration due to my limited physical capability. My degree was delayed and, with the ongoing battle to recovery, I had a bleak outlook on life. 

Through this trauma, my thinking completely changed. I made an active decision to move away from being engrossed in all that I couldn’t do to focussing on the things I could. I turned to enrolling in online courses in marine biology and citizen science.

I now look back and see this period as pivotal in making me who I am. My perspectives changed and my mantra on helping others, people and planet came to light. I realised how precious life was and how hard we must work to protect it. I'm proud to say a once traumatic experience has become a key positive driver in my life.

Becoming a young leader

In my first year of university, I began to make conscious decisions to build my skills and haphazardly began to re-engage in environmental action. I had no overall ambition in this work – just to simply do as much as possible. I volunteered at the National Marine Aquarium, CoachBright, at UPSU as a course rep, and participated in the 2019 Autumn FLUX business challenge, in which our team placed first.
While pursuing a degree in BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, my interests in youth leadership began to grow. I began to network and engage with organisations like the Future Leaders Network and One Young World, constantly building my own ideas and learning.  
Sancha Conway Holroyd scuba diving
Sancha scuba diving as part of her research
Sancha Conway Holroyd at COP27
As a youth delegate at COP27, Egypt 2022
Sancha Conway Holroyd with winners of FLUX competition
Awarded with fellow winners of FLUX 2019

Empowering youth-led climate action

The University sponsored me to attend One Young World as a delegate in 2021, a summit that brings young leaders together with the likes of Jane Goodall, Bob Geldof, Sylvia Earle and global leaders. I am now an ongoing ambassador for One Young World.

In my second year of university, I found ways to develop my interests in environmental policy work, youth-led action and public speaking. I delivered a talk on behalf of the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and was a guest speaker at the MBA’s Young Marine Biologist Summit 2020
My efforts in the Future Leaders Network also paid off as I was selected to be a member of the UK Working Group for the Y7 2021 Summit, where my role was to ensure the involvement of youth in policy recommendations for the G7, particularly underrepresented groups, and produce a national and international youth outreach strategy. This was the year I also co-founded Ambassadors of Earth, a not-for-profit organisation that works to empower and support youth in localised community-led environmental action.

A UN youth delegate

The final year of my degree marked my involvement with the United Nations. In 2021, I was selected to speak at the 10th annual United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum (ECOSOC) as part of the "Accelerating Action for the Planet" session. More recently, in 2022, I was chosen to represent the UK as a delegate at the 17th United Nations Conference of Youth (COY17) led by the official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and attended COP27

Research with the potential for theoretical and real-world impact

I am currently a postgraduate research student working towards my PhD.

Before and after my accident, I worked in the marine ornamental trade. My first-hand knowledge of the trade has largely driven my passion to pursue a PhD that tackles some of its key issues.

Through my research, I am looking at how we can utilise ecophysiological techniques in innovative ways to not only tackle key theories in biology, but to guide practice in transporting marine specimens to minimise death and poor health. Many of these species we currently know very little about in science. However, my continuation onto the PhD in this largely new and innovative field is entirely dependent on me obtaining financial support to progress the research.
In 2022, I was co-awarded, with colleague William Jones, the David Henderson Inspiring Journey Grant by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMAREST). The project that received this grant, Flying Fish: The International Journey of Marine Ornamentals, saw us document the marine ornamental trade in the Philippines by working alongside exporters and fishermen to bring to light trade practice and dependant livelihoods, and to provoke discussion of the trade's sustainability. 

Although my journey to this point has been far from easy, I am honoured by the opportunities I have had and the support the University and academic staff have given me. I intend to continue my work as a climate activist, youth leader and early career researcher, and look forward to the continuing my journey and meeting more young leaders along the way.

 Celebrating some of our amazing recent graduates

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