For the last year, I’ve had the opportunity of working on the Sea Deep team as a placement student; helping with shark conservation around Northern Ireland! Although there have been various challenges due to on-going COVID-19 restrictions, I’ve still thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ulster Wildlife and have gained skills that will be invaluable throughout my career! I’ve always been interested in marine life, and the conservation associated with this, but I tend to lean more to mammals (especially seals!) rather than elasmobranchs… in truth, I knew very little about our sharks, skates and rays before starting at Sea Deep – but this quickly changed!
My Year as a Placement Student at Seadeep!
Whilst I have spent time carrying out work from home, I’ve had ample field work opportunities with the Seadeep team, from surveying different shorelines to aiding anglers with tagging different skate species for the tagging project! These have provided some of my fondest memories. A particular highlight was my first egg case find – a thornback ray egg case in Portaferry, which had swept up underneath old fishing equipment! Since then, the Sea Deep project has taken me all around Northern Ireland to various shorelines, from the North Coast to the small country roads of the Antrim coast...I’ve picked up more small-spotted catshark eggs than I’d like to count!
My luck has been high on occasions and I’ve managed to pick up a few rarer egg cases; two blonde ray egg cases in March at Benone Beach and more recently an undulate ray egg case at Ballywalter on the Ards Peninsula, however a flapper skate egg case has evaded my efforts. My angling skills however didn’t match my ability to find egg cases! COVID restrictions did hinder a few boat surveys, however I did have the opportunity to attend both theory and practical tagging training. Regardless of my lack of fishing skills (I had never been before!), I managed to catch and tag my own thornback ray, which I think is pretty cool!
Aside from the memories, I’ll take away many valuable skills from this year. I carried out analyses on egg case data, with the results determining the next steps in for future conservation. I was heavily involved in data collection; Analyzing data showed the path taken for conservationists; from collecting data to presenting it as future plans for conservation. My experience with public work has also increased. I took part in a number of public beach surveys, where I learnt how to engage with the public from a scientific perspective. It also helped me to understand the need for citizen science on conservation projects such as Seadeep. Without the involvement of the public, the project wouldn’t have as much data as it does, hence lowering the impact the project would have!
I’d like to thank Heidi and Erin, as well as the rest of the Living Seas team for the great year! Getting to work alongside others with similar marine mindsets and having the opportunity to experience conservation from a hands-on perspective has boosted both my knowledge and awareness of the field, and offered critical experience for job opportunities after university… hopefully still in the marine conservation field!