Open Eye: From IT to the bottom of the deep blue sea

An OU degree took Tony Martin out of the dry world of private sector IT management and onto the happier waters of marine conservation
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The Independent Online
Tony Martin took a half cut in salary to switch from a management career in IT to become chief executive of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), but the OU graduate has no regrets. "I enjoy this job tremendously and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to make a difference where it really matters," he said from the MCS's small HQ in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, far from the sea but well-positioned for travel links to all of Britain's coastlines.

Tony's current position comes after a successful career in a very different environment. Now aged 50, he worked for various leading computer companies, moving from the technical to the marketing and management side, before beginning OU study in 1987 in maths and computer science. Around the same time, he decided to move into the non-profit making sector. A long time supporter of several environmental organisations, it wasn't easy breaking out of the profit-making world.

"Management jobs in the charity sector do not often become vacant and a lot of organisations prefer you to be working in that field already," he said.

All thoughts of his own ambitions were stalled for some years, however, by the serious illness of both his parents. When, sadly, his father was diagnosed with a terminal blood cancer, Tony and his wife, Dianne, moved to Ross-on-Wye to take on the role of carers.

Dianne, meanwhile, had been studying psychology with the OU and so it was at the OU's South West degree ceremony at Exeter that they graduated together in 1993. Dianne has since taken an MSc in Health Psychology at Surrey University and tutored the OU course in Professional judgment and decision-making (D300).

It was in October last year that Tony was finally able to put his lifetime's experience in the IT industry to use for a cause he cared about. Now he is working to widen and enlarge the 5,000 strong membership of the Marine Conservation Society. At present, it is largely made up of the scientific and diving community, but Tony hopes new initiatives will encourage the general public, especially those interested in the environment, to join.

Founded following Underwater Conservation Year in 1977, the MCS is dedicated solely to protecting the marine environment. It can claim lots of 'firsts', such as: a widely available list of sites of marine nature conservation interest in the UK (1985); declaration of Lundy Island in North Devon as Britain's first Marine Nature Reserve after successful lobbying by the MCS (1986); publication of the first annual Good Beach Guide (1987); the Species Directory to British Marine Fauna and Flora, the first comprehensive checklist for scientists and other researchers (also 1987); and the launch of Basking Shark Watch in 1988.

The MCS also successfully lobbied in 1989 for tighter controls on international trade in hard corals and persuaded the John Lewis Partnership to stop selling reef corals and exotic shells. Now Tony is maintaining the Society's high profile presence in Whitehall and Westminster, advising Government, the European Union and North Sea Ministers.

"Our most recent success is a massive vindication of MCS's 12 year campaign for action to clean up Britain's beaches," said Tony. In February, a committee of MPs drew up a seven point list of demands, including tertiary treatment for all sewage discharges by 2002, prior warning for bathers about polluted beaches and waters and no rise in water bills to pay for the improvements.

Sponsorship from Reader's Digest enables the MCS to publish the Good Beach Guide to bathing water quality, and run the Beach Watch programme each September.

"One of my main aims is to increase our membership and donor base so MCS can achieve even more for the marine environment," said Tony, keen to encourage the growth of local groups. "There are currently seven around the country, including one branch in Jersey, but we would love to have more," he added.

He is already working on creating a new website for the Society and is installing a new computer system for his 12 staff. "I have a lot to learn, but I am well supported by our new director of conservation, Samantha Pollard, who is an expert on marine conservation issues."

The Society's activities are not restricted to Britain.One of MCS's most high profile members of staff is Dr Elizabeth Wood, a leading world expert on coral and active campaigner to protect marine life from reef tourism pollution, which is growing rapidly. In the early 1990s, Sharm-el-Sheik on the Sinai Peninsula was attracting 50,000 divers a year. 300,000 a year are predicted by 2000.

The MCS publishes a Coral Code as part of its work to contain the harmful effects of eco-tourism by careless divers and snorkellers, but, said Tony, all holidaymakers can help protect marine life by resisting the temptation to buy marine curios as souvenirs. And for those who want to know more about how to care for the coasts and oceans, MCS publishes books and a range of educational materials, including fact sheets, on marine environmental issues and marine wildlife.

Although he never studied the OU's Oceanography course, he feels sure his OU years prepared him for his new role. "Being around people from a wide range of backgrounds has helped me to relate to people who are scientifically trained to a high level. The ethos and day-to-day way of operating in the Society is quite different to my business background. I think the OU experience has been my link into this new community."

1998 has been declared International Year of the Ocean by the United Nations General Assembly. "So what better time to join us?" said Tony. The Society will be focusing its annual November conference on the year- long effort to get people to wake up to marine issues, with a range of events, projects and initiatives planned.

To find out more check out the International Year of the Ocean Website on http://ioc.unesco.orgn/iyo. To find out more about the Marine Conservation Society, contact Tony Martin at 9 Gloucester Road, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 5BU, Tel: 01989 566017 or check out the Society 's Website: