For the latest instalment of our “getting to know you” series we visit Dr Amy Garbett from Queen’s University Belfast, who is working on SeaMonitor’s flapper skate and basking shark research activities. Her work with the project involves tagging and tracking flapper skate and basking sharks, liaising with fishermen and engaging them in the tagging and genetic samples programme. She is co-chair of the Regional Flapper Skate Working Group and works on developing management plan recommendations for flapper skate throughout the region.
Amy graduated from her PhD in 2019 which focused on marine biodiversity and conservation, using a multidisciplinary approach including genetics, morphology, systematics, and phylogeny. Her research interests concentrate on wildlife conservation, learning about what, how and why animals do things and the impact of humans on natural behaviours.
1. When did you know you wanted to become a scientist? Were you interested in marine biology from a young age?
I have always enjoyed and appreciated the ocean and spent a lot of my childhood on beaches, boats and looking at the rockpools and animals (it helped that I grew up in sunny Tanzania, East Africa). That part came first, and my curiosity about nature lead me down the scientific path. I am lucky to be able to combine the two together and call it work!
2. How did you get involved in studying skate specifically?
A lot of marine biology is transferable skills that can be used on multiple species, flapper skate were a new species for me to work with on SeaMonitor. My previous experience focussed on marine invertebrates, but the skills I developed (problem-solving, analysis, genetics, communication, teamwork etc.) complemented the flapper skate research in SeaMonitor.
They are beautiful animals which I have grown to be very fond of and learned a lot in the process.
3. If you could study any other species, what would it be?
When you start looking into any species in-depth, they all have something interesting we can learn. I think I could happily sink my teeth (yes, a shark pun) into researching almost any animal. But sharks in general have piqued my curiosity, and the deep-sea sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) is an intriguing species found in the region.
4. What have been some highlights working on the SeaMonitor project?
Seeing my first flapper skate was the biggest highlight for me, a large (200lbs) pregnant female that was so graceful despite her size. But I have also really enjoyed working with so many different scientists, it has been such a nice collaborative project where everyone is always willing to lend a hand. It has been a bumpy ride at times, with covid restrictions and logistical challenges, but the team has really come together, and it has been a pleasure getting to know everyone better.
5. What advice would you give to young people who are considering a career in marine biology?
I would recommend getting as many hands-on experiences as you can, and volunteering is a great way to see what areas you are most interested in. Marine biology is such a broad field but find something you enjoy, and it won’t feel like work. Talk to people who are doing the job, they can give you specific advice on their area and most people are very willing to help if they see you are enthusiastic and genuinely interested.
6. What question about the marine environment and/or marine species would you most like an answer to?
I don’t think I could pick just one!
In reference to flapper skate, I would love to find out more about the juveniles and their early life history.