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Volunteering as a marine research assistant in Cuba

In November I signed myself up to volunteer as a marine research assistant for Operation Wallacea in Cuba. The expedition includes work off the coast of the Isla de la Juventud, Cuba’s second largest island, to take coral and benthic surveys as well as shark tagging and manatee assessments. The project also includes an assessment of the introduced lion fish population, which is decimating the ecosystem in the Caribbean.

I initially found out about Operation Wallacea from my college mum Leona, a second year Natural Sciences student at my college who is helping me get through first year! She brought me to an Opwall meeting at Van Mildert college for location choices and fundraising advice. After looking through the starter pack, which features amazing locations such as Madagascar and Indonesia, I eventually decided to take part in the expedition to Cuba. The 2 week project was completely full so I took the plunge and booked onto the 4 week programme- made more daunting by the fact I have never travelled by myself before.

Shoal of tropical fish over a coral reef

The location and nature of the project posed issues that I had not even thought about. The research in Cuba is purely based on marine organisms which involves diving and living on a boat for a portion of the time. I was advised to purchase biodegradable products such as shampoo for use on the boat, which I found hard to find and some products were difficult to use. Reef-safe sunblock was also recommended as it would not be logical to harm the very habitats we are trying to protect. The main issue with these products was the price tag! However I eventually found a product with a great review for protection, even if I do end up looking like Casper for 4 weeks…

These added extras greatly increased the cost of the trip, on top of flights and expedition fees. However, I was lucky enough to receive a Travel Bursary of £300 from Josephine Butler College, to go towards my travel fees. I found out about the bursary before Christmas and applied straight away – it has been a great help towards the cost of this research expedition and is a great way to help students get valuable experience and skills.

I will be writing a follow up blog describing my experiences on my research trip to Cuba once I return.

For more information on Operation Wallacea see http://opwall.com/

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