Who? Alex Tilley: Marine Conservationist
Job? Station manager and resident scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society
Where? Glover’s Reef in Belize
Originally from Surrey, 29 year-old Alex studied at Bangor University for an Undergraduate in Marine Zoology, before getting his masters in Conservation Biology at the Durrell Institute of Conservation in Kent.
With itchy feet early on, Alex worked as a tour leader in the Middle East, India, Nepal, Russia, and Eastern Europe between courses.
Alex has been living in Belize for 20 months after a stint in Mozambique working a variety of jobs from running an eco-lodge to advising on community relations in Gorongosa National Park and leading research on Whale Sharks and Manta Rays for a year.
Today he runs the Wildlife Conservation Society’s research station in Glover’s Reef in Belize. “It’s ideal for someone looking to spend a good amount of time in the field - but not if you need your creature comforts!”.
He uses his time off to travel around Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
What is ‘desert island’ life really like?
“This is a dream job & lifestyle for someone looking to spend a good amount of time in the field - but not if you need your creature comforts!
Life out on the cays is one of minimal usage - we collect rainwater for drinking, we store energy in batteries from a solar array, and we use waterless composting toilets. There is a regular boat to the mainland every two weeks, but I will only go back into town when I absolutely must.”
Do you have a daily routine?
“It depends on the time of year and the research projects, but a typical day would involve a bit of station admin like replying to emails and then going out on the water monitoring sea grass health, coral bleaching, sea turtle populations or tracking stingrays.”
Best part of the job?
“Having the freedom to carry out my own research whilst based on the island, and also getting to work with internationally renowned scientists.”
Worst part of the job?
“Everything related to HR and not being able to get a nice pint….”
What makes it all worth it?
“Every time I get in the water, there’s the possibility of seeing something new or as yet unseen. Just a few days ago we came upon a creature rarely seen as it resides in the deep recesses of the reef.
Known as”the thing" or Eunice Roussaei, the elongated worm looks like a millipede on steroids, and reaches up to 6 feet long! It was being chased by a green moray eel, which inevitably bit it into 3 pieces and followed the still moving head end into a crevice to devour it…. never a dull moment!”
If you had to choose another career what would it be?
“Probably a writer. I believe I would always need a job that gave me the freedom to move country every couple of years. I get very itchy feet!”
What do you miss from home?
“Beer, Bacon sandwiches, good cheese and wine.”
What would be your ultimate dream project?
“To buy a catamaran and convert it into a moving laboratory with onboard dive compressor and move around the globe following movements of large predators and rays and discovering remote reefs. It would probably include hiring a skipper though as I can’t sail to save my life…”
What is the best thing about Belize?
“The diving and water clarity. The visibility is exceptional for most of the year, meaning that you have far more chance of some good sightings on dives, such as sharks, turtles, eagle rays etc.
I love the Toledo district of Belize as it is still very low tourism development and there are some beautiful rivers to kayak, waterfalls to sit under, and huge pristine forests to hike through. On the marine side, an area that receives relatively little dive tourism is the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.”
So, what’s next for you?
“A more realistic next career move might be returning to the pacific to continue my work with top predators and trophic cascade.
As for fun, my next trip is to Argentina where I’ll be visiting family, and exploring some of the National Parks of the Cordoba.”
Alex’s 5 Top Tips
Getting to Belize on a budget
“Belize is relatively expensive to fly into, as there are no direct flights from the UK, so try to combine your trip with coming up through Guatemala and finishing in Cancun (or vice versa) to get cheaper flights.”
The perfect trip to Belize
“The perfect itinerary would combine some of the Cayo or Toledo districts for jungle adventures, then some time out on the barrier reef or one of the three coral atolls. If you have time, nip across the border to Tikal in Guatemala for phenomenal Mayan ruins.”
Catching the best weather
“In Belize they say if you want to know what the weather will be like, look in five minutes - because the weather is extremely changeable. However, you can’t go wrong with March and April.”
Getting into Marine Conservation?
I run a volunteer program here at the station that enables people to come out and gain experience in marine research, helping resident and visiting researchers with dives, data gathering etc. It is ideal for students of marine science looking to gain practical experience, but is by no means limited to them.
Volunteers just pay for their room and board ($38/day), then all research diving is provided for (excluding equipment). Find out more at www.wcsgloversreef.org/getinvolved or email Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working for the Wildlife Conservation Society
The global conservation arm of WCS (based in NYC) runs programs in 60 odd countries, and has more "boots on the ground" than any other conservation organisation. There are regular postings for jobs online at www.wcs.org/careers.
Your best bet for a career with them is to focus your studies on species or ecosystems with which we are working, and then get practical experience with research in conservation to bolster your CV.