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Turtles, Travelling and Scottish Shores

By: Lorraine Aldridge

My Placement Year 2019-2020

When starting my undergraduate degree (Marine Biology with Coastal Ecology) with the University of Plymouth I was excited at the prospect of embarking on a year in industry during my studies. Finding a placement isn’t particularly easy; it took a lot of organisation, forward thinking, research and applications before I found the right one and was accepted onto a 6-month Higher Education Placement with the field studies council.

However, work experience and placement years are hugely valuable, and I’d highly recommend exploring areas you might be interested in working in during your studies. My experiences are just a few examples of things you can do during a placement year and whilst at university.

I started my placement year by spending my summer collecting data for my dissertation in Grenada, West Indies, with an organisation called Ocean Spirits as a volunteer research assistant. Fortunately, I was awarded a local travel grant to assist with funding my travels to Grenada and I had an amazing time learning about sea turtle conservation. I collected data on nesting leatherbacks during night surveys such as egg counts, tag numbers, carapace measurements, and took part in nest excavations to determine success rates, as well as in-water surveys tagging and measuring green and hawksbill turtles during the day. We also helped with ‘Grenada Learn to Swim Week’ and attended eco club sessions delivered by the project at a local school.

In October 2019, I then went to spend a month volunteering with ARCHELON at the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, Glyfada! It was difficult seeing the injuries that the turtles had sustained due to human activities, but it motivated me to continue spreading public awareness. It was a tiring month, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The work included preparing fish, feeding, tube feeding, raising public awareness, cleaning and scrubbing tanks, and turtles and injury treatment. It was so interesting to learn each individual turtle’s personality and how to treat certain injuries. The highlight of the month was being able to take part in releasing 4 turtles back into their natural habitat – it was a very emotional and rewarding moment!

It was then in February 2020 that I embarked on my official placement with the FSC Millport, Scotland. A lot happened over the course of my placement, with changes, challenges and adjustments shortly after arriving on the island due to Covid-19; however I’m grateful for the experience I gained, despite the world being turned slightly upside down over the year.

Before arriving in Scotland I travelled to FSC Nettlecomb to take part in safety week where I achieved my Outdoor First Aid at Work certificate, National Water Safety Programme Level 1 & 2, and FSC Risk Management training.

Once I arrived on the Isle of Cumbrae, I started my role undertaking a huge range of tasks around the centre. These included helping with cataloguing the library, assisting with groups on site, grounds maintenance, and supporting the education team with course delivery, customer care, monitoring and surveying (such as WeBs), aquarium duties, maintaining field equipment, managing social media accounts, creating resources, report writing and updating displays.

Our roles and responsibilities changed slightly as lockdown was enforced in the UK; however, I was lucky enough to continue my placement and stay on the island.

My favourite part of my placement was working with groups and assisting in the delivery of the Family Wildlife course. We carried out a range of activities such as minibeast hunts, pond dipping, rocky shore bioblitz, beach art, beach clean, wildlife walk, bushcraft (shelter building and fire lighting), small mammal trapping, orienteering, hidden histories, team games and even a boat trip where we were saw Kylie, our resident dolphin up close to the boat!

Working in a close-knit team allowed me to appreciate how everyone’s role at the centre plays a part in smoothly running the educational courses.

Overall, my placement year provided me with a range of experiences that will further my employability and has allowed me to explore the career pathways I am interested in. I would fully recommend taking a placement year to anyone who gets the opportunity to do so. You won’t regret it!

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