Priscilla Seah: aquarist, dive instructor, marine advocate

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you would have come across some of Priscilla Seah’s articles. A graduate of the University of Tasmania, this 25-year-old is one of the 70 aquarists in S.E.A. Aquarium. Yet fishkeeping wasn’t exactly on her wish list during her growing up years, let alone becoming a dive instructor.

She spills the beans on her journey to becoming an aquarist, as well as her aspirations.

Do you come from a family that keeps lots of fish?

Well, I come from a nature and animal loving family. Over the years, we have kept a number of different animals, including fish and two terrapins.

My family often goes on nature walks together.When I was 14 years old, we went on a guided tour to the Chek Jawa mud flats. I was amazed by the diversity of wildlife I encountered. The trip left a deep impression on me, and was probably one of the first things that inspired me about marine life.

What subjects did you study in school? Were you already planning on an animal-related career?

I studied biology in secondary school and had initially planned on becoming a doctor. But the ocean appeared to be my true calling. I went on to study fisheries management at the University of Tasmania where I learnt about global issues such as overfishing, policy making and the science and research behind those policies.

During this time, I went on a 1-year exchange programme to Copenhagen where I specialised in marine mammals. It was there that I was introduced to the fascinating world of fish keeping and had my first back-of-house experience.

My first trip to the back of house of Den Blå Planet Aquarium in Copenhagen.

How did you end up as an aquarist at S.E.A. Aquarium?

A few months after graduation in late 2015, I chanced upon the job opening at S.E.A. Aquarium, sent in my application and passed the interview. As I wasn’t a certified diver back then, I was delegated to non-diving duties such as cleaning tubs, food preparation and Ray Bay sessions where I facilitated guests interacting with the rays.

Shortly after, I picked up scuba diving and became a PADI certified diver. From then on, I was able to take on more challenging duties such as dive feeding.

Feeding time at Shipwreck Habitat!

In the past year, I’ve also had the opportunity to expand my job scope and skill set, such as planting corals at Rainbow Reef, and learning how to take care of these unique marine animals. It was a steep learning curve as I have never taken care of corals before but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Checking on my labour of love at Rainbow Reef. Image credit: Kent Jubela

We heard that you’re also a certified dive instructor now?

Yes. I guess I’ve always enjoyed sharing my knowledge with others. So it somewhat became natural for me to work towards becoming an instructor. In October 2017, I finally became a PADI certified dive instructor. Now, apart from my duties as an aquarist, I also conduct diving courses such as Open Water Diver and Discover Scuba Diving.

Teaching Discover Scuba Diving with my colleagues Kent Jubela (first from left) and Zulfi Mazlan (first from right). Image credit: Zulfi Mazlan.

What are the challenges of being a dive instructor?

I enjoy teaching others to dive but it can be very stressful being an instructor. For example during assessments, it is easy to miss the candidates’ mistakes underwater, especially when bubbles obstruct our view. So we need to be really focused and ‘eagle-eyed’.

What else have you been up to?

In the past 6 months, I have been involved in a number of education-related events. Such as Guardians of the S.E.A.A.‘s ‘What the Fish?!’ conservation night where I was one of the guest speakers.

In line with the topic of sustainable seafood, I spoke about various sustainable practices within the S.E.A. Aquarium, including sourcing for sustainable fish feed.

Last October, I was invited to my alma mater Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) to share about working in the aquarium industry.

SCGS held a careers fair last October where alumni like myself shared about working in our respective industries. I hope I’ve managed to spark an interest in marine biology in my juniors.

Earlier in March this year, I was again invited to SCGS to conduct a sharing session during Assembly where I spoke to secondary two students about my work as an aquarist, the challenges of working in this industry, and potential job opportunities in the marine environment and biology sectors.

Couple of months back, my friend who is a preschool teacher asked me if I would be interested to do a sharing session on marine animals at her school. Being eager to share my knowledge and experience with kids, I agreed without hesitation.

I showed the kids pictures of the animals I care for in the aquarium. When I started talking about sharks, they instantly broke into the ‘Baby Shark’ song! They were really adorable and inquisitive.

I’m very lucky to have a job in which I’m doing what I love, and loving what I do… 15 year old Priscilla would be so awed.

Teaching and sharing give me a great sense of satisfaction. Moving forward, I hope to continue trying out different things at work, and also to get more involved in education-related activities to share my knowledge, and hopefully inspire others to understand more about marine life and conservation.

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