Interview with Dr Emma McKinley


  1. What are your main fields of interest in marine and coastal geography? (less than 10 words)

Marine citizenship, public perceptions research associated with a range of marine issues, conservation marketing applied to marine and coastal environments, ecosystem services and their value, marine planning, integration and collaboration for a Blue Society.

  1. What projects/research are you currently involved in?

We’re just at the beginning of new funding stream processes, so at the moment, my main focus is developing new projects and going through the funding application process. Two projects we are working on that I am leading include: A payments for ecosystem services project, which would be working with French partners to develop an English Channel/ Le Manche focus for best practice; and a project looking at supporting a sustainable marine recreation sector, with a specific focus on the marina sector.  Again, this project would be a cross-border project between France and England, and would build directly on some of the successful outputs from the Channel Arc Manche Integrated Strategy (CAMIS) project, which ran from 2009-2013. Additionally, I am doing some work on understanding public perceptions research for the marine environment, and how it can have benefits for marine conservation and policy goals.  Finally, I am developing a project that looks at the branding and marketing practices used by terrestrial protected areas, with a view to identifying some best practice recommendations that can be used to support marine protected areas, and specifically the Marine Conservation Zone process currently underway in the UK.

  1. How did you get into your field of research?

I always wanted to be a marine biologist – it’s all I ever remember wanting to do, although I may not always have known the correct terminology! I moved from Dublin to complete my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology at the University of Stirling, and that was the start of it all.  After my degree, I went on to University of Bangor to do an MSc in Marine Environmental Protection. I knew I wanted to continue through academia, and to do a PhD, but my challenge was that I was interested in everything, making it difficult to choose an area to specialise in. I considered furthering the work I had done for my MSc, which involved a lot of lab based work and stable isotope analysis of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks; very natural science based. While in that stage of slight limbo that comes with being finished your studies and working out the next steps, I was offered a research position with an Italian NGO, Naucrates, working on a turtle conservation project in Thailand. It was while I was working in Thailand that I realised that, while I was passionate about the natural sciences of the marine environment, if I wanted to make a real difference to marine conservation and policy, then I had to understand the people interacting with our seas. My PhD topic was advertised about 6 weeks after I got back from Thailand, and the rest is history! Now, I get to work across the social-natural science interface around marine and coastal conservation, policy and management issues.  It is an exciting time to be involved in marine issues – so much is changing with social media, citizen science, increasing understanding of the value of marine resources and evolving policies; and hopefully it is all going to be for the better!

  1. What top tips would you give to current and future students?
  • Research something you’re passionate about! It’s so much easier to work on something you love J
  • Read, read and read! The diversity of specialisms within marine and coastal science is vast, and it will probably take you some time to work out exactly where you want to focus your efforts…but you will!
  • Where you can, go to conferences! Listen, Learn and Network! Conference speakers will inspire you and will help you to focus on what you’re most interested in, and help you grow new ideas.
  • Make sure you’re keeping up to date with marine issues – use social media, follow active researchers in the fields that you’re interested in. Marine and coastal issues are diverse, and the landscape is always evolving. Social media is a really quick way of keeping up to date with everything and of networking with key researchers in your field.
  • Always remember #oceanoptimism
  1. What are the main issues geographers need to tackle in the marine and coastal environment?

There are so many – but I think one way of addressing many issues is by working more effectively across disciplines. We need to ensure that there are strong, meaningful way of engaging public and stakeholder groups in decisions influencing their marine environment (through understanding public perceptions and supporting success stories and #oceanoptimism); we need to examine the relationship between researchers, practitioners and policy makers to ensure that the best available science is being used effectively and is used to support policy strategies; and we need to build bridges across the various disciplines working on marine and coastal environments. There are economic geographers, physical science geographers, social geographers, energy geographers (to name just a few) all involved in marine and coastal issues – we need to work together to ensure we are addressing the challenges facing the marine and coastal environments in the best possible ways.