Naomi Westlake: a life beneath the surface

The first time I saw the underwater world through a dive mask, I was captivated. I remember saying to myself ‘where has this been?’. I knew straight away that I wanted to understand more about it and spend more time within it. Everything I have done since has been with those goals in mind.

<p>Naomi Westlake</p>

Naomi Westlake during her volunteering work in the National Marine Aquarium

A passion for the marine environment

I first went scuba diving when I was 14. I was very fortunate that my family believed the best way to learn about the world was to go and see it ourselves. That trip was to Mauritius; since then, I have dived in many of the planet’s most stunning waters.
Both with my family and on my own, I’ve been on expeditions around the world, including to the Great Barrier Reef, the Philippines, Cape Verde and Costa Rica. They have given me a real sense of the precious environments that exist beneath the ocean surface. I have also seen first-hand the consequences of human-induced climate change, and the devastation that could result if we don’t reduce our impact on the planet.
Nowhere was that more evident than on the Great Barrier Reef. I first went to Australia in 2011 with my family, and there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef. Its corals were full of life, supporting an amazing collection of unusual creatures and it was difficult to take it all in. By the time I went back in 2017, the change was obvious. Since my earlier trip, there had been two mass bleaching events, and much of the colour and vibrancy had gone. What was left was just very sad to see.
After my early diving experiences, I knew I wanted to work in marine conservation. I found out which A levels I would need to study in order to gain a place on a marine biology course at university. Before coming to university, I decided to take two years out of education to work and travel, and to complete my PADI Divemaster qualification.
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>
<p>Naomi Westlake</p>

Naomi Westlake (left) about to dive in Plymouth Sound

When it came to deciding where I wanted to study, I knew I wanted to come to Plymouth. It gave me the opportunity to study the subject I loved in a place renowned for its work within the marine environment, with the chance to get a commercial diving qualification.

Loving life in Plymouth

The four years I spent at the University were brilliant. I loved the entirety of my course and am very grateful for the people I got to meet. I was taught by some amazing lecturers, and found that I really enjoyed a balance of both fieldwork and lab research.
I also completed my HSE commercial diving qualification with the incredible dive team at the Marine Station. It is exciting that I am now getting the chance to work with some of my lecturers again as part of my new ResM project.
My time in Plymouth also opened doors for me in terms of volunteering experiences and placement opportunities. Soon after completing my HSE diving certification, I applied to volunteer at the National Marine Aquarium. It is an amazing organisation with marine conservation at the heart of its work, and I was offered the chance to dive in its tanks.
Spending 45 minutes in that environment is not only great fun, but it is also fantastic for your wellbeing. It is really rewarding to see people’s reactions to the tanks and what’s in them as well; when children walk through, you can see the same passion and excitement that I had when I went diving for the first time.
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>
<p>Naomi Westlake<br></p>

Embracing every opportunity

Through the University, I was also offered the opportunity to volunteer as a Research Assistant for Dr Caroline Palmer as part of her coral conservation NGO, Seeking Survivors. After working with her in the UK for eight months, I got the incredible opportunity to go to Costa Rica with her to assist on one of her field trips.
By assisting with coral health surveys, I was able to see up close how coral reefs in the region were responding to climate change. The theories she has developed on coral immunity are unique and innovative; the way science moves forward is through people having new ideas and exploring new fields, and it was great to see that taking shape.
During my course, I also had the opportunity to do a placement year, during which I carried out a five-month placement in the Philippines. Working as a Research Intern for the NGO Marine Conservation Philippines, I carried out a project that assessed seagrass-reef connectivity within the region, and ended up using the data for my final year dissertation. The report I produced has also been published on the NGO’s website for the general public to read, and has been sent to the local government unit to try to encourage the protection of more seagrass beds within the region.
Like the other places I’ve visited, the Philippines is an amazing place to dive. However, my placement year experience also gave me the opportunity to work in remote regions, taking the time to meet the people living there and to understand their culture.
<p>Naomi Westlake</p>

Naomi Westlake on the water near the University's Marine Station

We can sometimes have a very narrow perception of what the world is. Being open minded and understanding that your way of life differs from other people’s is really important. You gain a different perspective if you learn about not only the places you visit, but also the people who live there.

Time for a new adventure

I am now really excited to be applying everything I have learned so far in my new ResM project. There will be a brilliant mixture of lab and field work, as well as the chance to influence policy and develop education materials. It will also give me the chance to collaborate with some amazing people and organisations, branching into new areas of science for me.
I will be adding both transferable knowledge and new techniques to my existing skillset, and I am so grateful to be able to explore another stunning part of our world’s ocean. In addition to this, the project is giving me the opportunity to make a genuine difference, both to the conservation of endangered marine species and, ultimately, to the lives of the people who depend on them.

<p>A hawksbill sea turtle (<i>Eretmochelys
imbricata</i>). Picture by&nbsp;Kate Charles, Ocean Spirits Inc<br></p>

A hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). Picture by Kate Charles, Ocean Spirits Inc

Lecture on a beach on the Portugal field course

Marine biology

Plymouth has an unrivalled location and reputation as a centre for marine biology.

A diverse range of rich coastal habitats – estuaries, sandy beaches, and rocky shores – are readily accessible for field trips and your own projects.

Find out more about marine biology
Marine Biology