"You have to be able to communicate with scientists and nonscientists, as they have different terminology and jargon."
By her own admission, Cleveland, Ohio, is an unlikely spawning ground for marine biologists, let alone those able to swim in political waters and influence the tide of policy. But then Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, Lecturer in Marine Conservation, and an internationally respected scientist in the field of plankton, was never going to accept anything less.
“From the age of three I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Abigail says. “I grew up in a boring suburb of the city – a city that, if you look at the map, could not be further from the sea. So, it’s weird that the marine environment became my complete obsession.”
It was the documentaries of trailblazing ichthyologist Eugenie Clark, programmes such as The Voyage of the Mimi, and trips to Sea World (“before we knew what it was really like”) that started it. Then, at school, Abigail excelled at biology and won the school prize despite refusing to dissect animals as she was instructed to do. She received a scholarship to study marine biology at the University of Miami before later switching her major to marine affairs and policy. It was an era of her life when she experienced the wonder of the Florida Keys, and saw first-hand some of the human impacts on the environment.
“Biscayne National Park was only a couple of miles away, and I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the water, snorkelling and diving in these sub-tropical waters,” Abigail says. “But I also saw how people were impacting upon the environment – touching coral, anchoring where they shouldn’t, and even conducting marine archaeology using dynamite. I found that quite shocking.”
Abigail went on to do a masters in marine affairs and policy, and was working at both a Geographical Information Systems company and as a part-time marine science teacher in a high school when the economic downturn, post 9/11, altered her course.
“I lost both of my jobs, so a friend and I came to Plymouth on a whim,” she says. “I ended up working for Royal Mail, and then a couple of years later I undertook my PhD at the University under the supervision of Professor Laurence Mee and Professor Martin Attrill.”
Having completed her thesis on plankton as indicators for marine ecosystem health, and as a method of informing policy, Abigail joined the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science as a post-doctoral researcher. She began to shape the role into one focused on policy, securing European funding for her work and a NERC knowledge exchange fellowship. She was also invited to sit on Defra’s Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group.
“I feel Westminster is my field,” she says. “What I am really interested in is finding those important pieces of science that can become evidence for policy change in marine management and conservation. Science is fascinating for science’s sake, but I’m excited about integrating it into the policy process."