Benjamin Cowburn’s interest in the ocean floor began with snorkelling lessons at Land’s End and has been on the rise ever since.
His research, which is focused on coral reef conservation, means as much time in the water as in the library – often in very distant waters, too, such as in Mozambique, Sumatra and the Maldives. Living at the coalface not only suits him well. It’s crucial to outcomes.
“Planning your life around tides and watching or living by the moon is always a pleasure,” says Benjo. “I’ve done around 200 hours of diving as part of my PhD and perhaps double that in water time more generally.”
Benjo’s aim is simple and ambitious: to conduct crucial research which enables changes in behaviour and policy.
“The key is to get research papers back to managers in the field, enabling them to know how to protect coral reefs and make our use of them sustainable,” says Benjo. “If politicians understand the risk levels, then they can implement measures which allow the reefs to bounce back rather than be destroyed by excesses of pollution and unsustainable forms of fishing.”
The UK is the sixth-largest country worldwide in terms of the area of coral reef it owns, largely because of international territories like the Chagos archipelago, which is the most pristine reef left on the planet. Benjo says that there are encouraging signs of attitudes to water changing for the better in the UK.
Benjo is not worried about finding about a job after he completes his studies – he has interest from various sources and a career in conservation beckons. His challenge is more immediate – completing his studies after his funding pledge was withdrawn due to the backer for his PhD having a bad financial year. Conventional grants are not available for his work and so, after 18 months of fundraising and with the problem becoming increasingly urgent, he’s decided to go public so that his research can be completed.
“After my PhD I want to jump straight back into the field,” he says. “I’ve already worked a lot in the Indian Ocean and in January 2011 I helped set up the marine programme for an environmental charity in Kenya – I left in 2014, having trained up a Kenyan to take over. But the research I’m doing now is a crucial part of meeting the imperative to protect the world’s reefs.
“Coral reefs are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change and human pressure. Governments and conservation managers need solutions to combat this decline. My work is saving reefs through research. My results can help combat coral decline in a warming world,” he says.
Benjo has already received £2,000 in support from Somerville College and a number of further donations mean he has reached £4,055 of his £7,000 target. It’s been an encouraging start but there is a long way to go – and not much time left to travel. His deadline is the 14th of February.
“The grassroots research is crucial to the future, if we are going to work out what is sustainable and how that can translate into policy,” he says. “In my case, the research urgently needs support.”
Details of Benjo’s research can be found at his Facebook page Future for Coral
If you would like to support Benjo’s research (by the 14th Feb deadline), see his Fundraising Site
You may also like to read Benjo’s blog