Studying Environmental Sciences and Sustainability at the University of Glasgow, Rowan was enticed by an internship with Archipelagos for a multitude of reasons; the research areas relevant to her university studies back in the UK, the lab facilities available to her during her internship and Archipelagos’ own research vessels. During her internship, Rowan participated on various marine research surveys, on land and at sea, and helped in the development of two projects, along with other marine mammal team members. Although her principal focus surrounded marine mammal strandings, one of the projects she additionally took an interest in was the macroplastic data collection. This is a daily survey Archipelagos has been doing for over a year and a half, using the clean coast index (CCI) to quantify the cleanliness of beaches, comparing results seasonally.
The Mediterranean, as well as seas worldwide, experience numerous cases of animal strandings, when a marine mammal becomes beached on the seas’ shore, unable to re-enter the water or suffers a fatality due to injury, disease or anthropogenic impacts. Archipelagos Institute responds directly to many strandings, and is present at the site of the stranding as well as conducting necropsies, building upon our understanding of causes of death and post mortem impacts to the body.
When speaking about her involvement in various Archipelagos studies, Rowan said: “the aim of studying strandings so closely is to create a geospatial visual representation of the Archipelagos strandings dataset.” Throughout her internship Rowan developed her computer skills by using the newest version of QGIS – a computer mapping programme used to geographical map scientific information, integral to the communication of research and science. When talking about results, Rowan says, “We haven’t yet found any significant findings, however, I have identified the hot spots for strandings in Samos, which can help provide suggestions for people to work on in the future.”
However, “Conducting research on endangered animals can be particularly frustrating, I encountered gaps within the data from over the past 5 years, making it difficult to organise.” The reasoning for the limitations of the dataset is because Archipelagos relies on stranding calls on a volunteer basis. Therefore, in less populated and remote areas there will be no calls in the event of a stranding, thus no comprehensive data. These identified hotspots are due to higher human activity and a high possibility of people recording and spotting stranding.
To understand the cause of a marine mammal’s death after a stranding, a necropsy is performed. Rowan expresses that Archipelagos’ protocol for strandings has given her “a unique experience by equipping me with biological knowledge of marine mammals, which I wouldn’t have acquired at university.” One particular aspect she loved about her internship was that “you are invited to be involved and take part in elements of scientific work even if you don’t have much prior experience, such as participating with the necropsies, if you show initiative and enthusiasm, your participation is encouraged”. In addition to her project, Rowan participated in several marine mammal surveys including; monk seal monitoring, marine bioacoustics studies, microplastic and cetacean photo identification as well as boat surveys.
After two months in Samos, Rowan has contributed to multiple datasets that will be useful for future interns and those who are here for a longer periods of time. She confidently says, “I have accumulated a lot of field work experience which I can apply to my dissertation topic in my fourth year of University which will also give me an insight into the world of academia.” Her time here also led to the success of her new internship in fish ecology, tracking and mapping salmon smolts. We wish her the best of luck!