As I work through my last week at Archipelagos, I begin to reflect on my time spent here. I remember back to the first day where I walked through the gates of the research base. There were two small labs and three slightly larger offices spaces. One office with two walls full of marine, flora and fauna books; the other office an enclosed terrace with three rows of tables and plastic patio chairs. A slightly over grown garden surrounding the base and an outdoor kitchen with three blue picnic tables. The first day of work came and I had no idea what was going on, little to no experience on marine mammals or much lab experience to bring to the table. I was afraid to participate in any projects because of my lack of knowledge and experience. I was afraid that the other interns would think that I were stupid and question why I were even here. I didn’t know anyone and for the first few days, I had been alone because my roommates were on holiday and when I looked around the base to meet people on the first day I only found ten people. At this point I began to think, what had I gotten myself into. It was all so new, the people and trying to understand the different accents, figuring out where everything on base was, what rotas were and how they worked. I was lost, but I knew that it was only the beginning and that was how it was supposed to be. I had to keep reminding myself to step out of my comfort zone, put myself out there, try new things and eventually I would begin to catch on.
Fast forward a week or so and my roommate finally returned from holiday, I had began to make some friends, I was starting to learn new lab skills and started to work on my first project on microplastics and water quality. I was making small progress. Progress I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t admitted to our supervisor, Vitor, that I knew nothing about this type of lab work, that I didn’t know what to do or how I could contribute. After speaking with Vitor and Paul, the coordinator of the microplastics project, I found out that Paul came in with the same amount of knowledge about microplastics as I did, none. I then knew that if I wanted to contribute, I needed to do a lot of research. My first week of work was strictly reading articles on microplastics where I learned about the ffects on health and microplastic analysis protocols. After I had some time to gain some background knowledge, I felt more confident to help Paul with the analysis and later on his report.
Each week I progressed more and more by engaging in other surveys and asking questions without the fear of being thought stupid. I realized that the interns here aren’t here to judge others based on their knowledge and past experiences, but they are to educate others about their research. After the first week I began working with the artificial reef team and I learned how to identify over twenty Mediterranean fish. In the fourth week, I started my own project with the terrestrial team. Along with the artificial reef, I am working with the Golden Jackal populations on the island of Samos. I am analyzing their diets and looking to see if there are any correlations between the different populations around the island.
In the end, I am sad to be leaving at the end of this week. I have made so many memories, friends and experienced more than just professional work experience. I have challenged myself by running across the island, climbing Mt. Kerkis, swimming to another Greek island, fishing with local spear fisherman, climbing the waterfall in Potami Falls, learned how to identify over 50 species of Mediterranean fish in less than a week and so much more, but I find that the most important part that I have learned during this internship is the history of Archipelagos.
Archipelagos first started at a research base located in Athens and has been moving to various Greek islands to focus on marine research and conservation over the past twenty years. It is an NGO that has partnered with the EU Mediterranean Advisory Council for Fisheries, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Mediterranean Science Comission, along with many other marine research based nonprofits. During the summer Archipelagos depends on interns to help with their projects and data collection, but during the winter Archipelagos partners with universities around the world to host field courses for students studying marine mammals and ecosystems, terrestrial animals and ecosystems, communications and public media.