Today I am not going to brag about all the amazing and rare seabirds that I see (I see Wandering Albatross when I am at sea!) and all the whales, dolphins and sharks that I encountered on my journeys at sea. Today I want to share with you how conducting at-sea trials changed my perspective on life. I want to tell you about how changing the fate of seabirds has changed my fate.

Below: A Wandering albatross, Bokamoso Lebepe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said “Everything is hard before it is easy”. I never fully comprehended the meaning of these words before embarking on mitigation measure trials on pelagic longline fishing vessels in South Africa. These words seemed so ordinary to me before I started conducting trials to test Hook pods, an innovative new measure that protects the barb of the hook until the fishing gear sinks below the reach of foraging seabirds.

Before I joined the Albatross Task Force and sailed on small longline vessels I always thought of going to sea as something benign. I think that was partly because my first experience going to sea was on the 110 m long 6,120 tonne SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s research vessel. My first experience was therefore a luxurious one. I enjoyed all the amenities and comforts of a hotel Back then I did not know what really being at sea was all about, at least not as fishermen live anyway. I had never experienced seasickness except after a New Year’s Eve party on the boat, which to be honest may have had more to do with the excesses of New Year than actual seasickness!

I only began to understand what being seasick really meant when I made my first trips on the small local longline vessels. I found a great new respect for the sea and Mother Nature. I learnt a neat balancing trick of holding a brown bag in one hand and holding a spiral note book in the other hand whilst ensuring I kept my eye on the movement of the vessel. I learnt how to concentrate on collecting data even when seasick. I learnt how to work when you do not feel like it and how to work with people who do not speak the same languages as me. I learnt how to handle loneliness and how to negotiate every morning with the skipper to ensure our trials could continue smoothly. I developed a keen eye for the ocean and soon realised when bad weather was on its way.

Below: The FV Saxon, a South African longline vessel, Bokamoso Lebepe

Though many of these things seem negative, it all depends on your perspective. I try to look at it all in a positive way, as if each challenge is a brick of steel that I can add to my foundation in life and use to become a stronger person who is able to achieve more. My challenges became stepping stones.

If I can conduct experimental trials at sea in commercial conditions, and triumph over them I can triumph over anything, I can move mountains and leap over oceans. I have become a stronger person and I believe that I can handle anything that life throws my way. Even though these trials were challenging I would do them all over again in a heartbeat.

Robert Greene said in his book, The 48 laws of power that “Everything that has worth is worth paying for”. Hook pod trials taught me that ‘Everything that has worth is worth paying for with your blood, sweat, tears and occasional puke……