My name is Colby Thomas and I am here working on Ascension Island on a Blue Marine Conservation Placement. From an extremely young age I have always been intrigued by the natural environment. Living on Ascensions’ sub- tropical sister island, Saint Helena, for my entire life, has undoubtedly exposed me to the wonders of nature, from minute endemic snails hidden within lush cloud forests, to gigantic whale sharks ploughing through crystal clear waters.
As a young boy I had the privilege of helping my dad with his dive company; this provided me a multitude of experience from learning to tie knots to boat operating in varied sea conditions. Besides the many skills it has taught me, being out on the boat with my dad and other family members has exposed me to the sheer beauty of the ocean further convincing me to devote my life to protect it. Being accepted to the Blue Marine Conservation Placement on Ascension Island was truly an astonishing feeling.
Upon arrival one of the first things that caught my eyes was the towering green mountain engulfed by a ring of clouds. As the plane moved closer, I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of peculiar craters in the sand on the beaches, only to realise after that they were the doings of green turtles covering their nests – excitement immediately assembled inside of me.
Since arriving the placement has exposed me to many experiences. Light trapping has given me a first-hand and up close exposure to the minute organisms that occupy our oceans and form the basis of food webs. Other tasks include catching grouper to analyse their stomach content using DNA technology. Catching Spotted moray eel to extract gonads, otoliths, amongst other samples allowing growth models to be made. I’ve also been tasked to assist with the creation of video and booklet displaying the beauty of Ascension’s marine environment and the people of Ascension’s love for the ocean. This has exposed me to the pure value of Ascension’s waters to the people of Ascension. Another filming experienced involved filming Councillor Alan Nichols for the COP26 UK Overseas Territories video.
Read more about our Ascension Island project work.
Ascension has however presented many challengers since arriving. The recent presence of Galapagos sharks in astounding numbers has restricted our diving operations. However, this unusual phenomenon has given me the opportunity to tag these amazing animals, bringing us a step closer to understanding the sharks and their peculiar behaviour on Ascension. Working with the CRACAB project has allowed me to aid with one of the world’s first assisted migration projects. Works under this project involve setting up restoration sights at higher altitudes for the endemic Ascension Euphorbia to be moved to in the hope of saving this species from extinction.
Whilst on Ascension, I’ve also had the pleasure of helping the other teams within the Conservation Department. I’ve assisted with seabird monitoring on the remote corners of the island and aided in invasive clearing work. I’ve lead school lessons, educating the younger generation about our oceans and I’ve assisted with plant work at our endemic nurseries. Similarly I managed to assist with several explorers events, which involved taking the children of Ascension to nature areas and teaching them about the environment.
Learn how the Ascension Island Marine Protected Area safeguards a unique natural ecosystem at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean.
In conclusion being on Ascension for the Blue Marine Conservation Placement has been a remarkable experience; it has exposed me to the working environment and at the same time displayed the beauty of an astonishing island and further reminded me about the need to protect such a precious ecosystem and our planet as a whole. This placement has undoubtedly supported my future goals of going to university and thereafter using conservation and sustainable business practices to holistically protect the world’s natural environment.
Photo: Coby Thomas diving during his Blue Marine Conservation Placement.