An afternoon chat with The Weird Fish Lady
I first met Gloria Barnett, aka The Weird Fish Lady, at the annual conference of the Association for Science Education where I launched my first comic book about climate change in 2019. I’ve since tracked her down and we had a fascinating chat all about the oceans and why they’re important.
Gloria is a sailor, diver, teacher, writer, educator and speaker and generally an advocate for the world’s oceans. Join me in getting to know this fascinating lady just a little bit better…
Gloria, aka Weird Fish Lady: you are a walking, talking, writing and diving ocean encyclopedia! I’ve read your website, which is amazing. You’re an author, a teacher and an educator as well. Which of these hats did you put on first, how did it all get going?
I was inspired at the age of 12. I can remember going to a jumble sale and buying a book with my pocket money; the book was called The Earth: a big, fat volume with loads of diagrams and stuff. I became lost in this book at the age of 12. I think that was my first introduction to understanding the earth and ocean, although I didn’t realize the importance of oceans until much later in life, when I started diving.
I suppose becoming a teacher was my first ‘hat’. My science degree included studying oceanography and I became a science teacher in secondary schools, where I also specialized in teaching advanced level biology. I loved teaching young people to understand their lives and our planet, even back then. I believe education is the key to everything we all do, and it’s so important to understand life on earth and the world we live in.
Now, I’m a speaker, doing ‘Insight Lectures’ all over the world on my favourite subject of oceans, and I write books on the ocean theme. I certainly feel privileged to be able to help people of all ages to understand the planet we all live on.
Your sailing must have introduced you to the majesty of the oceans.
Sailing has been great fun and a big part of my life too. When I was only 18, I met my future husband and we bought a sailing dinghy between us. He was a man who understood boats from the time he was 2 years old, so I had to learn to sail if I was going to join his family!
We eventually bought a yacht and spent our summers racing back and forth across the English Channel or gently cruising around the UK and northern European coasts. There’s a magic to sailing: silence except for the sound of the water against the boat and the wind in the sails, and night-time sailing under a clear sky and looking at the stars is wonderful. It brings you close to nature and helps you understand planet Earth and its tiny place in the universe.
What do you respond to people who come up to you and ask ‘what can we do, what can I do in my everyday life to help the oceans?’
This question gets asked a lot. I use the wonderful phrase: ‘think global, act local’ to encourage people to do things in their own home. From reducing plastic use to trying to become carbon neutral. We’ve recently invested in solar panels on our roof and they’re working fantastically well. You can encourage others in your community to do the same.
I believe as one person you can’t do an awful lot, but as 100 people, or 1000 – you can start to change things.
I’m always encouraging people to be anti-CO2 emissions and anti-pollution. We need to keep the oceans healthy because oceans are responsible for supplying 80% of the world’s oxygen.
Oceans also supply all our fresh water through the water cycle on earth. It is important to realise that all life on earth depends on the oceans not only for oxygen and fresh water, but also because the salt in oceans stops our planet from freezing.
Humans have only explored 5% of the oceans, and scientists believe there could be between two and 10 million more species for us to discover. We must look after oceans – they are so important for life on earth.
In my own work spreading awareness about environmental issues, I find that there is always that reaction where people say ‘why should I do anything if nobody else is?’
That’s a question I’m often asked too. I’m sure there are lots of people who think that the UK is doing so much about climate change, when in fact, the truth is that there are many other countries way ahead of us in working towards becoming carbon neutral.
We need a vast publicity campaign to help the public understand what we all need to do. I believe climate change needs to be reported correctly on television and in newspapers. We should be reporting every day on issues about climate change.
You’re passionate about the oceans, you spend most of your life either on them or inside them – what is it about the ocean that most inspires you?
When you dive – you can enter the world of oceans.
It’s beautiful down there – plus it’s a world where we don’t really belong. When diving you see so many incredible animals, behaving naturally in their own territory.
It’s not a zoo, there are no animals in cages. These creatures are wild. The creatures have no idea who humans are, they don’t care about us. It’s just such an honest world: you eat or get eaten.
The creatures in the oceans are so far ahead of us; modern humans have been around for 44,000 years, but creatures of the ocean, things like jellyfish and cup corals, have been there over 350 million years.
Oh, I could talk for ever about the inspiration I get from understanding oceans, and when diving I get the feeling I’m entering an alien world. I think that’s what I love most – the ocean is not our territory, but we have this opportunity of visiting a strange but fascinating world.
I don’t want to talk about the tragedy of the oceans in this interview, like the plastics problem and how they found plastic at the bottom of the Mariana trench!
No – it’s so devastating, but there are scientists who are working around the world to help sort out the problems. I’ve recently been talking to a group of scientists from Scotland, called Clean Water Wave. They’re looking at developing a filter for the ocean to deal with micro plastics. That’s going to be a pretty big job! I do think it will be technology that saves us all in the end.
Can you tell us a little bit about your books; I believe you have a new one coming out.
Yes – my first book was non-fiction, ‘The Amazing World Beneath the Waves’, which is written in plain English so that, while the science is there, it’s told in a way that people can just sit down and read it. The same idea is being used in my new children’s books; everything is explained and nothing gets too complicated.
The latest book is titled ‘The Hidden Cave’. It’s the third book in a series of ‘The Lucy Morgan Adventure Stories’, books for 8-12 year-olds.
The Lucy Morgan stories are about three children exploring the underwater world, rain forests and caves on an island in the Caribbean. These are adventure books with an environmental, real-life science twist.
At the back of each book is a photo-glossary which has all the creatures that the children meet when diving.
Teachers and children are loving these books as the readers relate to the friendships and compassion and use the characters as real-life models.
If you visit my webpage you can see reviews by kids, who say they’re learning about the ocean. I’m really pleased with those.