Volunteering vs Interning
Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself surrounded by the vastness of the ocean, its shimmering waves and enigmatic creatures beckoning you to explore its mysteries.
For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to become a marine biologist and immerse myself in the wonders of the deep blue. However, in Belgium, the options in marine biology, both academically and career-wise, are limited. So studying biology, I was determined to gain valuable field experience, as a preparation for a Master’s degree in marine biology. That is how I first ended up at Marine Dynamics Academy as an International Marine Volunteer in September 2022. Now, in July 2023, I am here again but this time as an intern. Having experienced both, I can now try and compare them.
A mesmerizing adventure
Now picture this: September 2022, the sun shining bright and reflecting on the water, when I arrive in Gansbaai as an International Marine Volunteer, brimming with excitement and curiosity. As a volunteer, you have the privilege of sailing the seas every day, a front-row seat to witness the magic of marine life. The thrill of being aboard shark cage diving vessels Slashfin and Apex Predator and Marine Big 5 vessel DreamCatcher, was unparalleled. The days were filled with beautiful encounters with Southern Right whales and their adorable calves.
In July 2023, fate brought me back, but this time as an intern. The arrival of June-July heralds the beginning of whale season in Gansbaai. The Humpback whales gracefully paraded through the waters, and later in the month, Southern Right whales followed. As a volunteer, I was fortunate to witness more Southern Right whale sightings in September, but I witnessed more Humpback whale sightings in July as an intern.
But let’s not forget the sharks – thrilling and awe-inspiring creatures that stole my heart. Again sightings were different comparing both months. In September, the Bronze Whaler sharks graced us with their presence, while July unveiled a different spectacle – fewer Bronze Whaler sharks, but more Broadnose Sevengill shark and Shorttail stingray sightings. Additionally, right at the end of my internship, the Great White Sharks visited Marine Dynamics’ vessels Slashfin and Apex Predator. But remember, the ocean is a stage of nature’s ballet, and every performance is an unparalleled experience. And, if you want to visit Gansbaai but you are still figuring out when I highly recommend checking out the daily blogs about the trips and their sightings.
Volunteering: Gateway to ocean conservation
Volunteering, a gateway for all with a love for the oceans, doesn’t require prior scientific knowledge. As volunteers, our contribution to marine conservation was invaluable. By supporting the crew, we allowed the marine biologist onboard to focus on educating and inspiring clients, fostering awareness and possible solutions for the many challenges the oceans are facing. The connections I forged with people from around the world created a tapestry of global unity, all united by our love for the ocean.
Interning: World of scientific exploration
On the flip side, interning was a world of scientific exploration and knowledge. The internship embraced me with open arms, encouraging me to dive deeper into data collection methods and analysis. Lectures laid the foundation for the practical aspects that followed. From snorkeling and fishing to tagging benthic shark species like the Leopard catshark and Dark shyshark, to deploying BRUVs (Baited Underwater Remote Video surveys) and analyzing underwater footage. Many educational activities, were enriched by getting to assist the marine biologists onboard during the boat trips on the weekends.
A treasure trove of wisdom
As an aspiring marine biologist, both experiences were a treasure trove of wisdom. Volunteering immersed me in the world of megafauna conservation, igniting a fire within me to protect these creatures. Interning, on the other hand, gave me an intimate glimpse into the daily life of a marine biologist, a blend of thrilling adventures and the excitement of data analysis, which is a true desk job, but allows this field to be so varied.
Cherished bonds and unity
Yet, the most cherished memories are the bonds formed with fellow ocean enthusiasts. After long days of exploration, we would gather around for dinner, sharing stories of our sightings and adventures. The joy of hearing their stories, sometimes feeling a tinge of envy, but above all, basking in the happiness of their encounters – these moments united us.
So, dear reader, whether you are drawn to the splendour of volunteering or yearn to dive into a scientific internship, remember that the ocean has a world of magic waiting for you. And allow me to finish this blog post with one last message: embrace the thrill of discovery, revel in the joy of connection and let the oceans’ beauty inspire you!