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A Coast Lines conversation

A Q&A with Coast Lines featured author Holly Hogan

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Holly Hogan (B.Sc.’87, M.Sc.’97) is a writer and wildlife biologist.

During her more than 30 years as a scientist, she has spent about a thousand days at sea conducting avian and marine mammal surveys and providing educational programming with expedition teams.

Her work has taken her to the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, and every latitude in between.

She has been interviewed for CBC Radio, appeared in a National Film Board series called Ocean School and provided expertise on seabirds and the impact of marine plastic for the award-winning documentary Hell or Clean Water (2021).

Ms. Hogan is a mother of three and lives in St. John’s with her husband, Michael, and an assortment of cats and dogs, depending on the day.

Her book Message in a Bottle is a clarion call to protect global oceans and the life they sustain, including our own.

It is the current Coast Lines Book Club selection for September–October 2023.

Hear from Ms. Hogan in the Q&A below.

JH: Where did your interest in marine biology come from/when did it begin?

HH: I was somehow born with a love for wildlife, and it has stayed with me my whole life.

My view was cast seaward in 1982, when I was hired as an interpreter at the Salmonier Nature Park — my first summer job, and the job of my dreams!

As part of the initiation, the student hires were brought to Cape St. Mary’s Seabird Reserve. A short walk along sheer cliffs and emerald green grass brought us to Bird Rock, covered with the nests of over 10,000 northern gannets.

A magnificent seabird with a five-foot wingspan, a pale blue sabre-sharp bill and pale yellow-stained heads.

In the ocean surrounding bird rock, gannets were tucking wings and dive-bombing en masse like a spray of bullets in the ocean, after fish.

The cliffs surrounding Bird Rock were covered in tens of thousands of other seabirds — murres, kittiwakes, razorbills. Whale spray as far as the eye could see — the capelin were inshore.

I was amazed and enchanted and have remained so ever since. After all these years, I still experience the wonder of it with the awe of a child, which is a gift.

JH: How did your education at Memorial University inform your perspective/world view?

HH: Oh my goodness, where to start?

I knew I wanted to study wildlife from the beginning, and Memorial University provided me with an incredibly rich education, as well as job opportunities to pursue that passion.

Holly Hogan, a white woman in her early 50s, wears warm and waterproof clothing while smiling broadly on a ship with water and icy cliffs behind her.
Author and marine biologist Holly Hogan
Photo: Submitted

As a Memorial University graduate student assistant to Libby Creelman, I spent months on a seabird colony studying Atlantic puffins. For three solid months, I observed and recorded their every move.

I came to know them intimately, along with the rhythm of life of all species on a thriving seabird colony. It was life-changing. I had the opportunity to work in a remote field camp in the Torngat Mountains of northern Labrador.

I worked with Memorial’s Whale Research Group under the internationally esteemed Dr. Jon Lien, and came to understand the threatening interaction between whales, fishing gear and the livelihoods of people who relied on the inshore fishery.

And my own M.Sc. supervisor, Dr. Bill Montevecchi, a recipient of the John Lewis Paton Distinguished University Professorship, shared his tireless passion, commitment and experience with immense generosity.

He was, and remains, an incredibly important influence as teacher, mentor, and friend.

JH: What take away do you hope stays with readers of Message in a Bottle?

HH: I want to share my experiences with the reader, to take them with me to these amazing place, and far out to sea on my personal journey of discovery.

I want the reader to experience the beauty and richness that I have come to know and love.

I want the reader to fall in love, too. And from that, I want the reader to understand what is at stake from plastic pollution and by extension, climate change.

I want the reader to be aware of what plastic is doing to the environment and to our own bodies — and finally what we can do about it.

In a nutshell, I want the reader to feel informed and invested and empowered.

To know that they have the agency to demand from the government and industry the changes necessary to protect the environment and ourselves.

JH: What is your Newfoundland and Labrador hidden gem?

HH: That’s like asking someone where their favourite blueberry patch is!

But this will come as no surprise anyway: whether shrouded in fog or bathed in vibrant sunshine, Cape St. Mary’s is a piece of heaven; a miracle on Earth.

At the very least, a hidden gem.

Coast Lines Book Club

Holly Hogan will appear with Shelly Kawaja (BA’02, MA’04, author of Raw Light of Morning) at Coast Lines and Coffee on Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus, in a panel discussion moderated by Angela Antle (BA’91, PhD candidate).

To register for this special event, please visit here.

Copies of Message in a Bottle are available through the Memorial University Bookstore.

Established in 2020, the Coast Lines Book Club encourages the university community and friends to connect through a common love of reading and interest in the Newfoundland and Labrador literary landscape.

All of the book club’s featured books are either written by alumni and/or faculty or have a strong connection to Memorial University.

Visit the website for more information on Coast Lines and how to join.

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