(By PCFML volunteer Maddy Braddon)
I've loved exploring my surroundings my whole life, and have always been drawn to water. Growing up it was rivers, pools, dancing in the rain, and then it was the ocean. I wasn't raised near the sea, but I was always drawn to it. When my family and I spent a year living in Kiama from about age 9, I fell in love with the ocean. I remember making up my own little school assignments about dolphins, whales and other marine life, attempting to learn about their biology, and draw pictures of them. I wanted to become a marine biologist. What I didn't know then, was that this dream could become a reality!
People said that it was unrealistic, and incredibly hard to get a job in marine science. It wasn't until we made the big move from the outback to the rolling hills and coastal scenes of the Northern Rivers, that my love for the ocean really started to kick in. Our first experiences of the area were spent picnicking, doing hand-stands and walking along beaches around Ballina and Byron. We played follow the leader with our young, adventurous mum.
Now I am in my early twenties, and have just completed an Environmental/ Marine Science degree. My childhood dream is a reality, and I get to spend my Saturdays promoting marine conservation, education, and respect for the oceans with Positive Change for Marine Life.
Over the past five years, I have become increasingly community-minded and socially and environmentally aware, so volunteering with a great organisation life Positive Change for Marine Life came naturally for me. I saw the role of Marine Debris Survey Coordinator advertised online early in 2016, and was instantly drawn to the possibility of stepping up and making a positive difference. I love the idea of being a part of something bigger, and I don't like sitting around doing nothing when I know that I can contribute to meaningful on-ground conservation.
Through my role, I have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible people in Byron and from all over the world coming to visit the pristine (mostly) beaches that Byron Bay has to offer. Most memorably, we have had many different collaborative clean ups this year, and I was fortunate to travel to Cape York with Caitlin Weatherstone, a passionate wildlife ecologist and ocean lover, to participate in a week long clean up with Tangaroa Blue - the grandmother of beach cleaners! This was life changing, as I saw just how HUGE the scale of marine debris pollution really is. We collected over 2 tonnes in 5 days!
The thing that has kept me rocking up at 8am every second Saturday, driving all the way from my inland home of Lismore are the smiles and laughter of our volunteers, that continually come out to support our work, our community and our oceans. I'd like to do a big shout out to Lily (5), our youngest volunteer, who always makes picking up other people's trash super-duper fun!
My experience this year has opened my mind up to a whole new world of possibilities with community engagement through citizen science and non-profit organisations. We are teaching people about the oceans, about waste, and we are conducting scientific surveys - which contribute to meaningful data. This data has power to create change - and that's what I love about science. The story it can tell and the way it can help us change as a society for the better.
My time with Positive Change for Marine Life has been incredible so far, and I cannot recommend volunteering highly enough. The skills, networking and relationships you form along the way are truly invaluable and hey, who doesn't want an excuse to hang out by the sea and make a difference?
I hope to see you on the beach with bags, gloves and smiles! :)