At just 24 years old, Kate Meyer is the envy of most graduates in marine conservation.

As Director of the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre (WSORC); Kate is responsible for overseeing the research and protection of the endangered whale shark and its habitat of Utila, in the Honduran Bay Islands.

I met Kate during a freediving trip to Utila.  I stumbled across a sign for the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre while taking a walk. Intrigued by the nature of their work, I wandered into their office and was met by a huge smile from Kate.

After a quick chat, I asked Kate for an interview. I was keen to learn about her journey from intern to director, as well as how the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre works to conserve whale sharks.

An interview with Kate Meyers

Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre Director profile

Kate’s relationship with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre began in 2015, when she took part in their Divemaster and Marine Conservation Internship. Her degree in biology from the University of California Berkeley and experience studying marine biology at the University of Queensland in Australia, making her an ideal participant.

Enthralled by the work of WSORC, Kate applied to be their Science and Ecotourism Officer on completion of her internship. The plan was to return to complete a masters degree in marine biology after working as the Science and Ecotourism Officer for one year. However, Kate was offered the role of Director in late 2016 after proving too valuable for WSORC to give up.

Being fresh into the role and without an advanced degree in marine biology; Kate is keen to prove herself. But what she lacks in formal education she certainly makes up for in qualities akin to a worthy director.

Visionary, yet cautious. With one eye to the future and the other looking to the success of her predecessors. She talks eloquently of the diverse programmes of work taking place at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre. In particular, the value and importance of their internship programmes.

Me: Being a Director is a huge responsibility, what gets your fired up?

Kate: My greatest passion and expertise lies in the management and growth of the intern programmes on offer by WSORC. Having interned myself and worked as a camp counsellor in youth leadership for many years, I’m committed to developing first-class educational programmes in marine conservation.

It’s a good job too. Interest in Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre internships has exploded in recent years, with numbers of interns per month more than doubling in size. Coinciding with the launch of the Marine Conservation and Instructor Internship, which is now one of the most popular programmes on offer by WSORC.

Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre Reef Surveys and Scuba Interns

Kate attributes the increase in interns to more awareness through better use of social media and word of mouth marketing. As well as offering the type of internships that are most desirable to college graduates, such as the Divemaster and Marine Conservation Internship (for which they are ranked on page one of Google).

Me: But why intern at all? Why not just get a job?  

Kate: Job competition is fierce in marine conservation and the sad reality is that most individuals need to pay to gain the practical experience sought by employers. An internship at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre, provides an individual with the skills and knowledge necessary to build an attractive resume, to gain work within the fields of marine science or conservation.

At WSORC, we recognise that it’s our responsibility to provide an educational programme worthy of paying for. On top of that we aim to inspire. If they can come through our programmes and are further inspired about the ocean; through dropping down on the reef and learning about our incredible underwater world. Then personally that’s such a success.

Having interned with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre herself, Kate has been able to draw on the best bits of her learning and build on that to provide a structured and comprehensive educational programme that includes lectures, as well as practical and theoretical activities.

Me: How do you keep track of an intern’s progression?

Kate: Interns are tested rigorously on the subjects they’ve been taught. The success of WSORC relies on the compilation of accurate data and analysis. A 95% pass rate is required of interns on a programme of three months or longer to ensure that their identification and comprehension skills are up to scratch.

One of the coolest things for me is to see an intern who is overwhelmed by the list of scientific names for fish or coral; who think ‘I’m never gonna remember this’ and then within a short time can recite the names by heart.

But it’s not all work and no play. Included in the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre internship programmes are activity days or evenings. Where staff and interns explore the island, relax and enjoy some downtime.

Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre Interns

It seems that for any graduate in need of career direction; the skills and experience gained through a WSORC internship may highlight key interests and help dictate a viable career path.

Me: What makes an internship with WSORC different from that of other marine conservation programmes?

Kate: One of my favourite things about the Whale Shark Centre – and one of the reasons why I loved my internship here; is that if people come here and hard data and hard science isn’t what they want to do, then at WSORC they can tackle marine conservation in whatever way fires them up. That may be through ecotourism; community education or outreach – each of which are as significant to conservation as the research itself.

A wave of change

It’s clear that the mission of the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre is evolving under Kate’s leadership, with the focus very much on the development of pioneering internship programmes.  

That’s not to say that Kate is any less committed to whale shark research and conservation. Far from it. She just recognises that to be a fully functional research centre, they require a larger staff base. Staff capable of committing to more than a year’s service to oversee and contribute to a consistent programme of research. As well as a research lab to analyse and store a range of samples. Things that require a substantial level of funding, on a regular basis.

Kate recognises that in 2017, the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre’s greatest asset is their interns. As the main contributor to research, as well as the non-profit’s greatest source of income; Kate’s commitment to the growth and development of intern programmes is smart as well as admirable.

Maintaining the integrity of the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre’s mission; while developing sustainable revenue streams, will always be a heavy burden for the Director to carry. Thankfully Kate has broad, strong shoulders that will serve WSORC well.