Man in the Mal­dives

Many of us are in­spired to take up a ca­reer by a fa­mous per­son, a men­tor or fam­ily mem­ber. DAZ GOOK was in­spired by a shark, he told Richard Bat­son

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

Great Yar­mouth Sea Life Cen­tre bi­ol­o­gist joins fight to save reefs

HIS ‘DAY AT THE OF­FICE’ can in­volve swim­ming with sharks and clean­ing in­side a pi­ranha tank. But it is a dream job for a man whose pas­sion for the un­der­wa­ter world was fired as a small boy watch­ing the movie Jaws.

Dar­ren ‘Daz’ Gook is se­nior marine bi­ol­o­gist at the Sea Life Cen­tre in his home town of Great Yar­mouth. “When I was three or four I watched

Jaws and thought the sci­en­tist’s job find­ing the shark was cool. Some chil­dren might have been scared, but I was cap­ti­vated,” he ex­plained.

Child­hood beach­comb­ing in­cluded “get­ting car­ried away” ex­plor­ing Gor­leston beach with his dad a cou­ple of years later – when he got lost, sparked a ma­jor search and got into big trou­ble.

“It did not put me off. I was shark crazy. The bed­room I shared with my brother was half full of Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur posters and half with pic­tures of great white sharks and things to do with the sea.” School­boy Daz did work ex­pe­ri­ence at the Sea Life Cen­tre and was a week­end vol­un­teer – help­ing to feed fish, pre­pare food and test wa­ter – then had a part­time job in the ed­u­ca­tion team, giv­ing talks.

And, when he gained his Marine Bi­ol­ogy de­gree in 2005, there was a job va­cancy at the cen­tre “through fate and per­fect tim­ing”, he ex­plained.

Hav­ing started as an aquar­ist (fish keeper) he has risen to head the team in a job that has also seen him help res­cue stranded seals on the nearby sands, dash to help the storm-rav­aged sis­ter cen­tre at Hun­stan­ton, and take part in a con­ser­va­tion project in the Mal­dives.

Last sum­mer Daz spent a week at the is­lands in the In­dian Ocean as part of a crew tack­ling the prob­lem of reef loss through “co­ral bleach­ing” – the phe­nom­e­non, also af­fect­ing Aus­tralia’s Great Bar­rier Reef.

De­spite it be­ing an idyl­lic set­ting, he spent the time “in a tent, on an un­in­hab­ited is­land, dur­ing the worst rain for 10 years.”

The work in­volved snorkel sur­veys of man­made metal and resin frames be­ing sunk to re­place the stricken reef, and tri­alling new sus­tain­able ways of fish har­vest­ing in a drive to stop lo­cals dam­ag­ing stocks us­ing cyanide and dy­na­mite to stun shoals.

“It was a real high­light and we are hop­ing to a Mal­dives-themed tank at our cen­tre to ex­plain the threats to reefs and Sea Life’s role in help­ing pro­tect them. And I will be on hand to talk to visi­tors about it.”

In De­cem­ber 2013 he was in­volved in help­ing clear up sea surge dam­age at the Hun­stan­ton Sea Life Cen­tre, in­clud­ing tem­po­rar­ily re-hom­ing crea­tures dur­ing a re­build, then re-stock­ing.

Back at the day job Daz en­joys show­cas­ing ex­hibits that en­ter­tain and ed­u­cate visi­tors. The crea­tures range from a 45 kilo (99lb), 1.2m (4ft) long Ama­zo­nian Pacu to tiny 5cm (2in) long reef fish. His favourites – apart from the ob­vi­ous sharks that started it all – are the jel­ly­fish.

“They have no brain, no heart, no blood and no eyes, but they have sur­vived mil­lions of years and they are mes­meris­ing to watch,” he said.

Visi­tors are of­ten sur­prised to learn about the rich va­ri­ety of marine life in the wa­ters off the Great Yar­mouth shore.

“You can­not see the fish be­cause it is nor­mally brown wa­ter but there are so many species out there in­clud­ing sharks, rays, har­bour por­poises, whale and tur­tles.”

The seabed bases of off­shore wind tur­bines vis­i­ble through the cen­tre win­dows are be­com­ing refuges for marine life. And a beach form­ing in the nearby outer har­bour has also be­come home to seals.

Daz added: “Our cen­tre is not just a fun day out. We are here to ed­u­cate – such as show­ing that sharks are not vil­lains, but un­sung he­roes whose place at the top of the food chain is vi­tal to the sus­tain­abil­ity of the ocean.” Daz’s tasks also in­volve: Feed­ing fish to the pen­guins, whose diet is care­fully recorded to mon­i­tor their health. Putting plank­ton food into the jel­ly­fish tanks. Catch­ing and weigh­ing West African dwarf crocodiles.

Step­ping into the pi­ranha tank for clean­ing du­ties know­ing that they won’t eat him alive be­cause they are not a big enough group nor hun­gry enough.

“It is not a 9 to 5 job. Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent. And it can be hard when the crea­tures you care for die, but it is so re­ward­ing,” he added.Š

Film footage show­ing Dar­ren’s role and his pas­sion for marine life fea­tures on the Great Yar­mouth tourism web­site www.great-yar­ un­der the Me­dia Cen­tre and Be­hind the Scenes Film sec­tions. www.vis­it­seal­

Op­po­site: Dar­ren Gook with Noah the tur­tle who lives in the shark tank at Great Yar­mouth Sea Life Cen­tre

Above: Dar­ren Gook div­ing dur­ing his Mal­dives reef project

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