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Carole Durussel

Co-Lead, STRONG High Seas
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

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Don’t be scared of challenges, live from the inside out and follow your dreams.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a marine scientist working towards ensuring a better protection for our ocean. My work focuses specifically on the high seas – the 64% of the ocean that do not belong to any country – and what we can do to conserve marine biodiversity in these international waters. I work at the science-policy interface, contributing expertise to help governments take better informed decisions about ocean management and conservation. I also contribute expertise to international policy processes, such as the ongoing global negotiations for a high seas treaty under the United Nations or the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I grew up in Switzerland – a landlocked country situated in the middle of mainland Europe – so becoming a marine scientist was not really something that was on the cards. When I was 11 years old, I went on a family holiday to Canada and this is where I saw fin whales for the first time. We were on a small zodiac on the St. Lawrence River, the whales were a couple of hundreds of metres away, and all I could see was their dorsal fins. But I was hooked. This is the moment I fell in love with the ocean and I knew right there and then that I wanted to become a marine scientist (or rather a cetologist at the time – a scientist who studies cetaceans, i.e. whales, dolphins and porpoises). As you can imagine, my entourage – family, friends, and classmates – were completely taken aback by my newly found passion. Nobody believed it would last. Decades later, here I am: A Swiss marine scientist working towards ensuring a better protection for our ocean.
This passion for the ocean led me to study marine environmental sciences at the Carl-von-Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany, and to undertake several internships where I was either in the field studying marine mammals or in the office doing data modelling and analyses. Natural sciences were not subjects that I was naturally good at during my school years – languages were my preferred school subjects – but this drive to become a marine scientist made me take up this challenge to become a woman in STEM.
With my degree in hand, I started working for IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), an intergovernmental organisation headquartered in Switzerland, where I discovered the lack of protection afforded to the high seas – a term used to refer to the 64% of the ocean that do not belong to any country. While working at IUCN, I worked alongside scientists from all around the world and stepped for the first time into the policy field. I also had the opportunity to travel to various meetings organised by the United Nations and to contribute expertise to international policy processes. This experience taught me that science in itself is not enough: working together and bringing scientific information directly into the hands of decision-makers is what contributes to creating change. This motivated me to do a PhD in international environmental law at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) of the University of Wollongong in Wollongong, Australia, to better understand how to help decision-makers take better informed decisions about ocean management and conservation.
I now continue working at the science-policy interface, coordinating an international project at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany, and contributing expertise to international policy processes, such as the ongoing global negotiations for a high seas treaty under the United Nations or the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Outside of my (stubborn) determination to become a marine scientist no-matter-what-people-said-or-thought and to contribute towards positive change for the marine environment, I have been very lucky to be surrounded by people who believe in me and encourage me to pursue my passion. It started with my very supportive family, but also the many experts in the field that I have been lucky to meet over the years and who have shared their knowledge and given me opportunities to learn and grow in this field.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I never would have thought that I would one day be living my dream of contributing towards positive change for the marine environment. I also never thought that I would one day attend all these high-level United Nations meetings and be working with governments from all over the world to help them take better informed decisions about ocean management and conservation.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I really enjoy working with passionate people from around the world who have a drive to make a difference for our ocean and planet. Particularly, working at the science-policy interface allows me to work both with scientists and decision-makers and to contribute expertise to help protect our marine environment.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Don’t be scared of challenges, live from the inside out and follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you or make you believe that you are not worth or capable of achieving your dreams. Believe in yourself and your abilities, surround yourself with people who support your endeavours, and reach for the sky!

INSPO / FUN FACT

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913), American abolitionist and political activist