Five things travel has taught me: Vanessa Pirotta, marine biologist


After learning at university about the work of Charles Darwin, Galapagos was a dream destination for me. When I finally got there and took my first steps on the island of Marchena, there were marine iguanas laying on rocks unfazed by my presence, sea lions sleeping, booby birds chattering in trees and nesting on the sand, bright red crabs moving about on the black volcanic rocks and famous Darwin finches flying around. I sailed around for a week and left wondering what it might be like in the next 20 years. I hope we continue to respect this precious environment.


After I finished my PhD I had an opportunity to travel to Madagascar for whale research. I spent some time in a semi-remote camp on a beautiful private beach. From our camp, my fellow researchers and I watched the sunset every day and I saw fireflies for the first time. From our tents, we could hear whales breathing at night as they hugged the shoreline and rested in shallow waters. I walked along the beach every day. I found the most amazing coloured sea shells. I was completely off the grid and present with nature. It taught me to slow down and appreciate every day.


I was in Tonga in 2013 for whale research. Every day I made my way from a small town up to a peak on a mountain to observe whales. I would often stop at the local bakery in the morning to collect a cinnamon scroll. I had a chance to see the islands from a local's perspective and spent lots of time enjoying the Tongan way of life. Never have I met a more kind and welcoming culture, filled of laughter and happiness. Tonga simply taught me to have fun and be happy.


After I finished my masters in 2014 I travelled to the Big Island – Kona, Hawaii. There was a moment where I dived into the water and found myself surrounded by marine turtles. An unforgettable experience of connection. Refreshing our awareness and connection to the sea is something we should do more often.


I travelled to Dili, East Timor last year and found it to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever snorkelled. Amazing coral and fish species could be seen just metres from the shore. I recall a number of clown fish in one particular area. However, like many beaches around the world, it was a concern to see rubbish both on the beach and in the water. I remember seeing a sign about putting your rubbish in the bin. This gave me hope that someone cared about the ocean like I do and was trying to make a difference.

Dr Vanessa Pirotta is an Australian marine biologist, most well known for her work in whale conservation. She is a national and international award-winner of the science communication competition, FameLab and is an ambassador of The OfficeMax/Winc STEAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grants program which gives teachers the chance to win funds for teaching equipment and resources. See