Jobs at DOC: Andrew Wright, Marine Advisor

Department of Conservation —  10/07/2015

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Andrew Wright, Marine Advisor…

Andrew on a boat, recovering bioacoustic data from harbour porpoises in Denmark.

Recovering bioacoustic data from harbour porpoises in Denmark during my PhD

At work

Some things I do in my job include…

Juggling acts! The main focus of my job right now is to lead the review of the Seismic Survey Code of Conduct, which involves a blend of science, politics, administration and diplomacy.

I’ll be in charge of a multi-stakeholder process over the next year, which will involve me meeting people from a range of different walks of life.

Some discussions will be hard science, some technical acoustics and some heavy policy. At the end of the process, we should have a brand new Code of Conduct.

Advocating for ship quietening technologies at the International Maritime Organisation.

Advocating for ship quietening technologies at the
International Maritime Organisation

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by…

Helping to minimise the impacts of seismic surveys on marine mammals.

Seismic surveys introduce sharp loud noise into the marine environment to map structures under the sea floor, including oil and gas deposits. Marine mammals rely on sound to navigate and communicate so the sound can, among other things, disturb them and temporarily or permanently reduce their hearing sensitivity.

Using the Code allows seismic surveys to be done in a more environmentally conscious way.

The best bit about my job is…

Getting the opportunity to apply my science directly to policy. Having been looking at ways to minimise acoustic impacts over the last decade-or-so, it’s great to have the chance to make a little bit of change happen.

Sperm whale in Te Rohe o Te Whānau Puha / Kaikōura Whale Sanctuary.

Sperm whale in Te Rohe o Te Whānau Puha / Kaikōura Whale Sanctuary
– a seismic survey free area

The scariest/awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is…

Arriving. I’ve only been at DOC since the end of April – and only arrived in New Zealand the day before I started.

We’re used to moving about (I’m originally from the UK), but packing up our life in Washington DC and moving across both the Pacific and the Equator was daunting. I’d never even visited Wellington before. But everyone here has been very welcoming and I already feel like part of the family.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is…

A difficult question. I’ve only been here a couple of months, so singling out an individual would be premature. However, I can say that all my teammates in Marine Species & Threats have a level of enthusiasm for their jobs, and the mandate to protect the marine species under their charge, that does inspire me to raise my game to their level. Everyone is willing to pitch in and help out when workloads spill over too. They all help to make my job just a little bit easier.

A swim bladder from a totoaba fish.

A swim bladder from a totoaba fish – the cause of much woe for the vaquita in Mexico and a policy issue I’ve been working on

On a personal note

Most people don’t know that I…

Was once a sports radio commentator/reporter for the South Korea and Japan World Cup (or Soccer World Cup for the Americans reading this) in June 2002, in Florida, USA.

I had the chance to briefly reprise the role in a one-off report during the subsequent World Cup in 2006.

The song that always cheers me up is…

Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. If you have seen Shaun of the Dead, it can’t help but put a smile on your face.

If I could trade places with any other person for a week – famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional – it would be…

The 10th (ish) and 11th (ish) Doctors bump into each other.

The 10th (ish) and 11th (ish) Doctors bump into each other

The Doctor, of course. Who wouldn’t want to have the chance to travel time and space forever?!?

My greatest sporting moment was when…

Hmmm. Tough. Possibly fencing left-handed against an Olympic champion (“I know something you don’t know… I am not left-handed”) and managing to score a few points.

Or maybe winning a 13 pound turkey as first prize in an outdoor bare-bow archery tournament in Wales at Christmas.

Or it could be the after-the-buzzer basket I shot at school to level the score and get my team into over-time, so we could eventually go on to win the tournament. Being so infrequent, such achievements stand out in my mind.

My biggest pet peeve is…

People who throw away cigarette butts off ships into the sea, or in other areas of natural beauty.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is…

“The thing about saving the world, gentlemen and ladies, is that it inevitably includes whatever you happen to be standing on.” Lord Vetinari in The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

‘Mind the gap’ (on the London Underground). You can’t beat advice that keeps you alive.

In work and life I am motivated by…

Doing my best to leave the world a healthier place than when I found it, having fun, and very good beer.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is…

Get involved. Politicians make decisions. They will only make the one you want if you let them know what it is and make enough noise about it.

Andrew and a hippo at Dublin Zoo.

Meeting one of the locals at Dublin Zoo on one of my travels

Question of the week

What is your favourite spot on Earth, and why?

This is an incredibly tough question. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a good many wondrous places, which makes it hard to choose.

There have been the epic reds of Sesriem Canyon and Soussesvlei in Namibia; the impossible scales of the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater in the USA; the sensory overload of sunset by a hippo pool in Tsavo, Kenya in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro; the almost un-ending series of breathtaking alpine views around every corner in the Southern Alps; and much time conducting research on the water in the sunshine with whales and dolphins in locations as stunning as the Dominican Republic and Slovenia.

Epic reds of Sesriem Canyon and Soussesvlei in Namibia. Photo: Bobulix | flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Epic red dunes in Namibia

All of these display an element of extreme nature that draws me to a place. However, there is one place that is always guaranteed to put a smile on my face. No matter what changes in the City, no matter what the weather, walking along the Thames and seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament always leaves me feeling like I am home – even though I grew up on the outskirts of London. I’m not sure I’ll ever know exactly why, but there it is!

Westminster. Photo: Hernán Piñera | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament always leaves me feeling like I am home

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