A journey back to sea

UQ student Tania Kenyon spent some time avoiding the inevitable; but her love of the sea and her desire to 'pay it forward' swept her back into the deep blue, and now she's doing swimmingly.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

I grew up in the Moreton Bay region of Brisbane, on a small piece of land backing onto bushland.

My parents were avid campers, hikers and snorkellers, and from an early age I was besotted with animals and the wild. My passion for the ocean was born on North Stradbroke Island.

Being a Brissie local, my family and I holidayed at Point Lookout nearly every Christmas holidays from when I was little.

Christmas there is a hot sun, a morning swim at the beach, seafood from the local fisho, and Dad’s pavlova.

I first learnt to scuba dive a few years after finishing school. On my very first ocean dive I remember being transfixed by the large, hypnotic eyes of a pufferfish – an animal most experienced divers would not give a second glance.

I studied a Bachelor of Science at UQ and did my Honours degree in dung beetle ecology (I was put off by the competitiveness of marine science!) before travelling to South America to spend all my hard-earned savings.

Whilst in South America I visited the famed Galapagos Islands and at the risk of sounding incredibly corny, it felt like coming home. A combination of sea lions playing, marine iguanas lounging and hammerheads schooling made me realise that marine science was the path for me, competition or no. I knew it would be tough; funding was scarce and jobs were scarcer. But this underwater world was too special not to give it a go.

Photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash Photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash

Photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash

Photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash

While in South America I was also witness to plastic litter en masse.

So many beaches along the west coast of the continent were strewn with plastic bag upon plastic bag. I began to question society’s obsession with single-use plastic and other throwaway items.

Plastic never really goes away, costs fossil fuels to produce, and is one of the greatest threats to marine wildlife.

Here in Moreton Bay, research has found that more than 50 per cent of sea turtles have ingested plastic debris.

Upon returning from my travels I worked in environmental consultancy, but I missed research and conservation outreach efforts.

At the same time, I started to volunteer for Reef Check Australia (RCA) – a citizen science organisation monitoring the health of our reefs – and have been with them ever since.

I love RCA’s approach of combining science with community outreach and education. I feel as though, as RCA ambassadors, we are truly creating greater public awareness of ocean conservation issues, such as plastic pollution.

In addition to volunteering with RCA, I am now back at UQ, pursuing a marine science PhD in coral reef ecology.

Heron Island fieldwork Heron Island fieldwork

Heron Island fieldwork

Heron Island fieldwork

I was awarded a Layne Beachley Foundation 'Aim for the Stars' scholarship in 2017 for my research and volunteer efforts with RCA.

Aim for the Stars offers ambitious and dedicated women an opportunity to receive financial scholarships and mentoring support to help them achieve their dreams.

Some of the scholarship money helped me to launch RCA Coast to Coral Brisbane, a speaker series featuring talks on local marine and coastal conservation topics.

Wanting to raise money to ‘pay it forward’, I sought a surfboard for Layne to autograph - combining my love of the ocean with Layne’s love of surfing - with the intention to raffle it. From their workshop in Melbourne, Rob, Gary and Darren from ‘Tree to Sea’ were kind enough to make and donate one of their beautiful, super light-weight, wooden eco surfboards.

The surfboard is a 6' 4" (193 cm) Striper 'fish' design with unique artwork by Darren’s daughter, Morgan, featuring blue ocean swirls, Reef Check Australia banner fish and Aim for the Stars ‘sea’ stars.

Funds from the surfboard raffle will go towards RCA’s ongoing reef health monitoring and education and awareness programs, such as Coast to Coral, and back into The Layne Beachley Foundation, to support future scholarship winners.

Please support these charities by buying a raffle ticket here, and follow my story on Instagram and Twitter @taniakenyon