Millie Mannering, BSc majoring in Zoology, MSc (Dist) in Marine Science. In recognition of scientific work to preserve our marine environment.
From the Caribbean to the High Arctic, since leaving Otago Millie has travelled the globe as an Our World Underwater scholar, exploring scientific research, communication and conservation pathways. This has allowed her to connect with like-minded individuals and organisations who are working to further the understanding of our natural systems and improve ecological health.
What was your reaction to receiving the award, and what does it mean to you?
I received news of the award on my 24th birthday during an expedition in Antarctica on World Antarctica Day. It was a great day! To be recognised by The University of Otago among such a high calibre of recipients is truly humbling. The award is a reflection of the many dedicated and inspirational mentors I have been fortunate enough to have had throughout my time at Otago. My primary supervisor in the Department of Marine Science, Dr Bridie Allan, was relentlessly supportive and enthusiastic of my research endeavours at Otago and continues to be an inspiration to me.
What have you done since graduation and what are you doing now?
During my postgraduate studies at Otago, I was selected as the Australasian Scholar of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. Sponsored by Rolex, I have since embarked on a year-long exploration of different underwater career interests. This has led me to meet an array of remarkable people and collaborate on a variety of innovative scientific research projects across the globe, from the Caribbean to the High Arctic. I have been fortunate enough to explore various science communication pathways as well as marine protection strategies, conservation projects and fisheries management. The scholarship has allowed me to develop skills and I have trained to become a free diver, hyperbaric chamber operator, technical mixed-gas diver and Helitrox Closed Circuit Rebreather Diver to 45m.
I have also thoroughly enjoyed working as a scientific diver for the University of Otago, Department of Conservation and environmental consultants in Aotearoa. Expedition guiding in New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands has also been a highlight after my graduation. I enjoy sharing the unique and vulnerable nature of these islands with visitors and raising awareness of their importance.
What inspires and motivates you to work and volunteer in the areas you are involved with?
It motivates me hugely to connect with individuals and organisations who work to further the understanding of our natural systems and improve ecological health. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored and supported by many dedicated individuals in conservation, exploration and academia fields. Driven by their values, they inspire me greatly.
Now more than ever, the need to increase protection of our natural world is evident. My connection with the environment is integral to my identity and this passion for the outdoors drives me to advocate for its protection. Discovering the greatest sponge bleaching event recorded in Fiordland during a scientific dive in 2022, emphasised that even remote wilderness areas are fragile to the effects of extreme events such as marine heatwaves. The alpine glaciers I grew up exploring are receding at devastating rates, some having disappeared entirely. Witnessing these changes in our oceans as well as on land, reminds me of the gravity of anthropogenically induced change and what we stand to lose.
What were the highlights of your time at Otago, and has it helped or influenced you in your career and following your interests?
My time at Otago has no doubt been pivotal to my future pursuits and there were many highlights! I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and fun had during field seasons of my MSc research at the Lizard Island Research Station, Great Barrier Reef. I found the most exciting aspect of Otago is being connected to a community of curious people, conducting novel and fascinating research, from a diverse range of fields. I may have attended more optional seminars than lectures in my timetable!
It would be amiss to not acknowledge the social aspect of my time at Otago which was a lot of fun. In particular, the people I met through skiing, white water kayaking clubs as well as my Zoology and Marine Science cohort. I am very grateful for the connections made at Otago which have not only accelerated me in a professional capacity but have allowed me to build close friendships for life.
I look back to my time at Otago with a lot of fondness. So much so that I might just have to return for another degree…