Tessa Hempson

Oceans Without Borders Programme Manager and Principal Scientist

Tessa grew up on a farm in the savannas and escarpment forests of South Africa, an environment that instilled in her a passion for ecology from a young age

After a year in Tasmania as a Rotary Scholar, she began her undergraduate studies via correspondence with the University of South Africa (UNISA) while travelling and working in scuba diving.

In 2003 Tessa returned to South Africa to complete her BSc in Botany and Zoology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), followed by a BSc Hons in Zoology, a field course in the Kruger National Park with the Organisation for Tropical Studies (OTS) and an MSc in Conservation Biology from the same university. Her study subjects ranged from the impact of elephants on savanna vegetation and bat community ecology to the effects of dynamite fishing on coral reefs in Tanzania.

After graduating, Tessa worked as a conservation manager for the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST), sailed the South American coast, volunteered as a researcher on the Aldabra Atoll World Heritage Site in the Seychelles and managed diving and marine logistics on Vamizi Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago of Mozambique. She then decided it was time to fulfil a lifetime aspiration of pursuing a PhD in coral reef ecology at James Cook University. Her thesis focused on the effects of coral reef habitat degradation on large predatory fish on the reef, with study sites in the Seychelles and the Keppel Island Group and Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

To supplement her PhD student stipend, Tessa worked as a helicopter underwater evacuation instructor, training soldiers and pilots for the Australian Defence Force. During this period, she also had the privilege of working on two natural history documentaries, one focusing on the interaction between bull sharks and crocodiles in South Africa’s estuaries, and the other a film about the spectacular reefs of Vamizi Island in Mozambique.

Since completing her doctorate, Tessa has embarked on a new chapter, this time in marine conservation and research in East Africa, as the Principal Scientist and Programme Officer of Oceans Without Borders, working in conjunction with the Africa Foundation and &Beyond.

Career Summary:

  • 2018 – present: Senior Marine Scientist & Programme Manager, Oceans Without Borders
  • 2016 – 2017: Orpheus Island Research Station Teaching and Support Staff, James Cook University, Australia
  • 2014 – 2017: Helicopter Underwater Egress Training Instructor and Safety Diver Accredited by the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation, Careflight and ERGT Australia
  • 2011 – 2012: Marine Activities & Logistics Manager and Scuba Diving Instructor, Vamizi Island Lodge, Mozambique
  • 2011 – Researcher & Scuba Instructor, Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles Island Foundation
  • 2009 – 2010: Conservation Manager, Sustainable Seas Trust, South Africa
  • 1999 – 2001: Scuba Instructor and Coastal Skipper, Sodwana Bay, South Africa, and Dahab, Egypt

Key Achievements:

  • PhD in Marine Biology from James Cook University
  • Number of articles published in peer reviewed publications
  • Appeared as presenter in two nature documentaries
  • Recipient of numerous bursaries and academic awards
  • Presented at various international scientific conferences, including two International Coral Reef Symposiums

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