This year Sea Watch has opened again its door to young, aspiring marine biologists to join the Cardigan Bay team for one or two weeks at a time to get their first taste for what lies ahead of them. Recently, the New Quay team was joined by GCSE student Tara McQuillan, who assisted the team in all aspects of field and office work, ranging from collecting data from land to assist during boat trips. Read on to find out more about her experience!
My name is Tara McQuillan and this blog post is all about my work experience with the wonderful Sea Watch Foundation.
First off, I’ll be sharing a little bit about myself with who ever is reading this. Enjoy…!
It all started when I was seven. I have never been able to remember what swayed me into wanting to become a marine biologist, but all I know is that I loved the ocean and everything in it (excluding plastic, of course) and I wanted to become a marine biologist when I grew up. Maybe it was our annual camping holiday to Cornwall – where I was constantly surrounded by the sea. Maybe it was watching the awe-inspiring documentaries presented by David Attenborough, or maybe it was when I visited the Bournemouth Aquarium and feeling a surge of disbelief when I saw what our oceans are home to. Anyhow, all I knew then was when I grew up I wanted to learn, discover and protect our precious oceans.
From then on, I was given lots of books about the oceans, cetaceans, sharks and many of it’s inhabitants by my parents (who were very keen to help my love for the oceans grow) and my passion developed into something extraordinary, where anything marine related became that of an extra ‘school lesson’ where I’d teach myself in my free time. Naturally, my interests evolved into anything encompassing the environment and, (fast forward seven years,) I am now a huge enthusiast for geography. Currently, I am at GCSE level and I am studying the mandatory subjects and my options which are Geography, History and Spanish. All of which are going very well so far!
In year 10, at Stopsley High School, all students are given two weeks off for work experience. I knew that, in a landlocked county, I was going to have to look past home for anything relevant to my fascinations. Aware that two weeks of work experience was a worthwhile opportunity, I began searching and calling up lots of research centres, associations and aquariums in search for a placement. It was a struggle and exceptionally difficult to find anywhere that would take on students under the age of 18. Luckily, the SWF were there to cast out my disappointment!
Despite having a prodigious interest for the deep, and dolphins being one of my favourite animals, I never really read as much about cetaceans as I did about sharks. Nevertheless, working at the SWF I knew it would be an opportunity to expand my knowledge. And so, as I am writing this, it is (sadly) my last day at the SWF and so far, I have been on three boat trips to survey cetacean sightings around Cardigan Bay, one of them being a one-hour trip, the other lasted two-hours and my third boat trip was a day survey, whereby we followed a transect line. The day long survey was the highlight of my time here at the SWF because we encountered so many bottlenose dolphins, many of which came up close to the boat where I could even look a dolphin in the eye!
I also had the chance to learn how to operate and use a hydrophone! In addition, I have been on land-watch, which involves looking out to sea from the pier and recording sightings and effort of cetaceans and their behaviour, and I have been taught how to input effort and sightings data into the excel and online database, which involves using formulas to find exact coordinates.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the work environment here at the Sea Watch Foundation is amazing. On boat or in the office, I am surrounded by a bunch of welcoming, kind-hearted girls who are all so encouraging and knowledgeable, where we all have the same interests – which makes it very easy to start up a conversation! I have acquired a fair amount of information from the interns and all my curious questions have been answered.
Overall, I have had an unforgettable experience. I have learnt so much, met so many amazing people and spending time in a beautiful village, by the sea, doing what I love has been incredible. I am pleased to say that I would still like to pursue a career in the environmental/marine field and it is reassuring to know that the skills I have gained here are transferable and whether I become a marine biologist, oceanographer or even a hydrologist, they will come into use.
For any students looking for work experience, who have similar interests to my own, I would totally recommend making the most of your opportunity and emailing Katrin for a placement!
All the best,