I am so proud and incredibly thankful that I decided to volunteer for this project.
I went into this, hoping to gain some real-life field experience in either a Marine Biology or Conservation Biology context- and I feel like I really did. It is by no means the most glamourous of placements or experiences, but it is totally authentic. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of looking at open ocean and listening to what at times felt like a completely empty sea, but when we finally did make a sighting or when good quality whistles and clicks were picked up on the hydro-phone, it was beyond satisfying. Even in those moments when you’re not finding anything and you may feel like you’re not making an impact to Cetacean conservation in that area, you realise that the sightings you don’t make or sounds you don’t hear, give as much information as when you do pick up something.
While volunteering during the heatwave that swept through Europe, there was an observation made that there were less sightings – which led to the crew speculating over dinner (which was always an amazing time together at the end of the day!) whether the heatwave was having an affect on the aquatic life’s behavioural patterns and on our sightings. Every part of the trip was valuable data even if you don’t realise it at the time.
If you want to get the most of this project, my biggest piece of advice is: Stick your nose into every aspect of it. Be almost annoying in your engagement and inquiries. Take the initiative.
The skipper (who is one of the nicest men on Earth) is also a major part of this project and he is incredibly dedicated- in other words he’s there to do a job and not to babysit you- if you want to understand how the hydrophone and spectrogram works (which you definitely do trust me), you have to ask and he’ll happily enlighten you. If you wish to learn about sailing and being at the helm- you have to ask and the crew will gladly tell you all about it. Getting over the initial shyness that comes from being somewhere totally new, with totally new people, was a challenge for me at first. Not wanting to get too much in the way, or interrupting the flow of the ship was on my mind, but once I forced myself to be a bit more confident in asking questions and getting involved- I very quickly became apart of that flow.
Living on a sailboat such as the Jean Gap was definitely a new experience, but allowing yourself to be adaptable and open makes it so much easier and I was surprised at how quickly I adapted. The daily duties were split equally and were very manageable, also just really cool to see what a different type of lifestyle requires chore-wise.
Do I think I made a big impact on the project? I’m honestly not too sure. I hope so. I hope my payment to volunteer helps the initiative continue, I hope my being there shows how interested people are to help and make positive change in marine conservation efforts and I hope that my being there did make an impact even if I don’t see it directly. In saying all that, being apart of this project definitely had a huge impact on me and I’m very proud and grateful of how much I learnt by being apart of this experience. I think that sentiment is shared by the fact that during my stay, previous volunteers made time to come out of their way, and during their holiday too, to help out again for a short amount of time.
Food was always amazing, chores were very easy and manageable, amenities were great (proper ones where we were docked) and good for that type of sail boat, crew was incredibly lovely, the days were long but it didn’t matter because the time felt well spent. Never once felt unsafe or
uncomfortable, in fact, I felt immediately welcomed. Transit to the Island and finding the ship was also incredibly easy. The ferries become your best friend in that part of the world and the project portfolio they send you is very detailed in all aspects of the project, including transit. A massive shout out to the projects leader Barbara- she was great support and very easy to get in contact with and answer questions.
I am seriously considering going back and staying much longer and I would definitely recommend friends of mine to come with me. I’m so gratified that in my short time aboard I learnt the initial lessons of sailing, learnt about scientific observation in the wild, learnt how to handle the technical equipment and interpret readings. I got to explore islands that I never otherwise would have seen; get a small taste of a totally different lifestyle; experienced being part of a crew and learnt about myself in the process.