Conservation Showcase: Lloyd Gofton, Sussex Dolphin Project

March 13, 2023

After a bit of a gap, it's time for another Conservation Showcase. Thanks to Lloyd Gofton from the Sussex Dolphin Project for chatting about the charity's important work. As a comms professional, I love hearing about how other people have moved into the conservation sector and used their PR skills to help make an impact. Over to you, Lloyd...

What does Sussex Dolphin Project do?

Sussex Dolphin Project is committed to protecting local dolphin species through research, awareness and education to deliver ecosystem-level restoration and rejuvenation.

Why do you care about the ocean?

I've always been fascinated by the ocean. My father was in the Royal Navy for many years and his stories about what he saw and what he did (at least the stories my mother would let him tell me!) were stuff of legend. He is a big reason for my obsession but water, in all its forms, has always felt like home to me. Being near the ocean, or even better on/in it is my happy place. Add to that the vastness of the ocean, its myriad of life, its position as life support for our planet and the fact we really know very little about it means I am hooked. For life.

What inspired you to work in the conservation sector?

I came into conservation late following a career in communications, specialising in PR, social media and content marketing. For 16 years, I'd run my own communications agency working for a variety of brands, including some well known conservation organisations. I wanted to change career but I didn't really know what I wanted to do so I sought the help of a career coach. She helped me rediscover my passion for the natural world and convinced me I could make a career out of it. I realised at that stage that this had always been my calling but I never knew making a career in conservation outside of science was possible.

What's a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, really. My days can be fairly standard: fitting desk work in around video calls and meetings. Or they can revolve around events, training, being out on boats, working through dolphin sightings, working on campaigns, assisting students on my course, running school workshops, designing content, working on websites, interviewing candidates for roles or planning and strategy. I work from home, in offices, on the move, at sea or on the beach!

How did you get into conservation?

Part of my career coaching involved developing a plan to make my dream career a reality. I've been executing that plan ever since. That basically revolved around using my skills as a communicator to position myself in the conservation sector. In practical terms that involved volunteering for a range of conservation organisations; Sussex Dolphin Project being one of those. This ultimately developed into my role as Operations and Partnerships manager. I also enrolled on a variety of courses: one of which was the kick starter course at Conservation Careers. This led to my role as their Communications Coach and developing a course titled Communications for Conservation Projects where I help conservationists to improve their communications skills and develop communications campaigns.

I also approached people to ask for (and listen to) their advice. I networked and got involved as much as I could. That opened up my career as a conservation consultant. My volunteering is still an important part of my career, which also developed into my role as Operations Director at Blue Planet Society. Life is busy but I love it and I've learned so much over the last few years.

What's your favourite marine creature and why?

I have so many favourite marine species from sharks and tuna to billfish, octopus and, of course, cetaceans. But, ultimately, if you're pushing me, I would have to go with a dolphin... and the number one dolphin for me is the orca. The apex predator in the ocean. They're so intelligent with a complex but highly successful social structure and are able to adapt to hunt a variety of prey with so many ecotypes. And we still know so little about them! The orca is unrivalled for me.

What's the most surprising fact you can share about the ocean?

The Ocean covers 71% of our planet yet less than 3% of it is protected. That is both weird and surprising to me and that's without going into the levels of oxygen production and carbon sequestration etc. Once you understand the role of the ocean, it seems utter madness not to protect it.

Do you think communications is an important part of your conservation work?

Communications is a huge part of my conservation work. Although I tried to get out of the communications sector, I actually walked straight back into it when I realised how essential it is for conservation. Fundamentally, we know what we need to do to protect this planet and many of its species, yet we don't. Therefore, communicating these issues and solutions and encouraging action is crucial.

What communications challenges do you face at your organisation?

I face a range of communications challenges. At Sussex Dolphin Project our first job is to let people know there are dolphins in Sussex waters. That is a surprise to most. If they don't know dolphins are here they won't want to protect them and they certainly can't feed into our citizen science project. Once people know dolphins are here, they need to be educated in terms of what those dolphins need to survive and the threats they face. Then it's a case of communicating how they can help. That's just the beginning.

What are your hopes for the future of the ocean?

My hope is that the human race appreciates the role the ocean plays in supporting life on our planet and that, put simply, our planet won't survive without a functioning marine ecosystem.

What's the one thing you wish people knew about protecting the ocean?

That the marine ecosystem is connected, just as all ecosystems are. Therefore, all habitats and species are vital. We can't pick and choose. My work focuses on dolphins in the channel but we always try to communicate that we can't protect the dolphins without protecting their prey species, habitats and the marine ecosystem that surrounds them.

What tips do you have for someone who wants to work in the conservation sector?

Don't think that the conservation sector is purely for scientists. The conservation sector needs all sorts of skillsets to be successful in the same way that any sector does. We need comms people, fundraisers, financial people, HR people, legal people as well as the scientists and researchers. We have to evolve as a sector and we have to evolve quickly.

What unanswered question do you still have about the ocean?

When you consider the vastness of the ocean and the number of species that live in it or rely upon it, we know very little. I think it would probably be easier to list answered questions rather than the unanswered questions!

Anything you'd like to add?

Out of sight out of mind is key to marine conservation. The fact that we really only worry about what happens in our territorial waters when the ocean is so vast is baffling to me. The fact that the ocean is basically lawless beyond 12 miles from land, and even those 12 miles are only really policed on a very small scale, with very little protection and in only the richest of countries. Fundamentally, this way of thinking has to change if the marine conservation is to move forward.

Thanks so much for your time Lloyd! I totally agree that conservation organisations need more non-scientists and love hearing about other people's journey into the sector. Thanks for sharing your experience!