Having completed two months of my Southampton University internship working on the Blue Marine Foundation’s (BLUE’s) Solent Oyster Restoration Project, I can confidently say that it has been one of the best internships I have undertaken, allowing me to better understand the world of restoration and advancing my future career. It has also been one of the muddiest internships I have had!
The internship kicked off with the Portsmouth Seafood Festival – a two-day event in June where BLUE set up an educational exhibition to inform festival-goers about the important role that oysters play in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Most people had heard about the project through its recent Countryfile segment with John Craven, which focused on broodstock oyster cages at one of BLUE’s sites on the Hamble.
Through a game (designed by me and called ‘Hungry Oysters’), we were able to engage the younger generation in the project. The game helped us find out what children already knew and also helped to expand their knowledge of the threats facing oysters and other marine creatures. To our great surprise, we found that they already knew what microbeads were and how they could negatively impact marine wildlife.
Allowing me to showcase my own creativity and ideas at the exhibition helped to further develop my communication skills, particularly in conveying scientific knowledge – a key skill for marine conservation!
In July, I attended the project’s working group meeting, the purpose of which is to bring together different stakeholders, from government organisations to local fishermen, to discuss the project and to make decisions. What surprised me the most about this meeting was how engaged the fishermen were and how willing they were to contribute ideas.
Observing the effective communication between the working group members made me admire the fishermen and BLUE and its partners for trying to work together to achieve a common goal of restoring the native flat oyster to the Solent.
Fieldwork was one of my favourite parts of the internship and entailed checking the oyster mortality inside the cages that hang under pontoons across the Solent. During fieldwork days in June and July, we had a lot of interest from passers-by asking what we were doing with the oysters in the cages. It was great to see the public taking such an interest in the project.
While fieldwork is fun, it can be physically demanding at times, with a few cuts and a lot of mud expected. Mud is a big part of fieldwork, even when you think you are going to be working on pontoons. I made the unfortunate mistake of wearing trainers on mud flats when helping to set up sting winkle traps – a predator of native oysters. After walking into thick mud, I lost my balance and fell over – let’s just say the journey back was not a comfortable one!
Fieldwork days also mean you get to meet new people (volunteers come from all over the country), have a chat with some of the BLUE team based in London and even have a laugh – especially when someone gets squirted in either the eye or mouth by a sea squirt (it happens a lot!).
Back in the London office, I was tasked with writing a review of oyster restoration and its suitability within wind farms – something the project is exploring. This required me to review technical documents and present them in an easily digestible style for BLUE’s oyster team.
I was also tasked with creating fun oyster facts to share on the project’s social media platforms. This desk-based work gave me independence within the project and also allowed me to put forward my own ideas in a creative way that a lab-based internship may not have.
The best aspect of working with BLUE is the team. Everyone is so welcoming and encouraging. You can walk into the Somerset House office in London and, although it is incredibly busy, everyone will introduce themselves to you and help you with any problem you may have.
This experience has been thoroughly enjoyable and further instilled my drive and desire to work in marine restoration after I have completed my MSc in marine biology.