When Stew Robertson enrolled for the Diploma in Marine Studies he was hoping it would lead to a nine-to-five job on the sea to support his family.
Little did he know that when he graduated he would end up back in Motueka setting up his own conservation tour business in the Abel Tasman National Park and sharing his passion and knowledge of the idyllic region. Being self-employed, the master of his own destiny, is the favourite part of his new role but is also the scariest!
Stew (35) had spotted the Polytechnic course while he was surfing the internet and thought it would be a great way to expand his existing skills skippering water taxis in the national park. He came up to Tauranga, bought a house that weekend and moved his wife and two children here so he could start studying.
Three years later he had finished the two year Diploma as well as the University of Waikato Bachelor of Science majoring in biological sciences. As the course drew to a close, the Rena crashed into the Astrolabe reef providing an opportunity for Stew to put his skills to the test as part of a scientific dive team. He later used that experience to organise a large dive clean up in the Abel Tasman area. He works closely with the Department of Conservation on restoration projects and school education programmes in the region and conducts underwater scientific field work throughout New Zealand.
Stew says the Polytechnic course fostered his love for the marine environment and gave him the skills and inspiration to follow his dreams and goals.
“I felt like I was made to do the course. The mates I made will be mates for life and that was cemented by our camaraderie on the field trips and in the classroom. The highlight was diving after the marine invertebrates course - the marine environment opened itself up to me and what were previously pink and orange splodges of colour became identifiable species. Amazing!”
“My second and third year projects were studying fish aggregations on artificial reefs (ship wrecks). These were both incredible experiences. The third year project entailed organising teams of ten divers taking data at depths up to 34m. It was very nerve wracking trying to get all the elements together - the gear, the divers, the weather, the funding and good data. Pulling that off was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. All the skills I learned in that exercise I have put to good use in my career, in business, scientific diving and clean-up work. The course also gave me excellent writing skills which, in business, I often have to use at short notice.”
Stew says his tutors were excellent – approachable, helpful, inspiring and very supportive: “There were plenty of very early starts and fingernail biting weather calls without complaint!”
He would love to complete a Masters at some point and in his spare time he enjoys Jiu Jitsu martial arts and working as a DJ.
His advice to others considering tertiary study is to find a course they are passionate about and go hard!