As a professor of marine biology, I have always been fascinated by ocean life – and there is still so much to discover. Growing up by the sea meant that I spent much of my childhood in rock pools or out on boats. Some years later, a highlight of my career, and of my life, was diving in a two-man submarine in the Arctic. At depths of perpetual darkness we found a giant coral reef teeming with large fish and a riot of colourful animals – nobody even knew that coral reefs could occur in the Arctic! Also, I have seen how marine science can make a difference. When we presented evidence of how fishing damages deep-sea coral reefs, governments listened and now many such areas around Europe are protected.
When I was little, raw sewage was dumped into the sea and toxic anti-fouling paints were widely used. There have already been many improvements on a number of fronts since then: UK waters are cleaner for bathing, less radioactive waste is being dumped into the sea and Atlantic whales are slowly edging back from the brink of extinction. Mistakes have been made, but luckily some marine habitats are as wonderful as ever. Off Plymouth, where I’m based, we have spectacularly colourful coral gardens and jewel anemone-encrusted reefs that appear unchanged over the 50 years that divers have studied them.