Eco-volunteering with BICREF in the Maltese islands
It takes years of studying, observing and analysing to build a clear picture of what is out there in the world's oceans. This is what the Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF) in Malta does. Founded by Adriana Vella, conservation biologist at the University of Malta, BICREF's members have put their hearts and souls into their work with no material rewards for the past 10 years. All BICREF research and publications are funded with the help of sponsors, but none of the volunteers get paid and often have to use their own money when organising activities.
As I am due to begin a degree in Natural Sciences at theUniversity of Cambridge in October, I decided to try and gain some valuable experience of scientific careers in conservation in order to build up a portfolio of my future career options. Conserving marine life, especially cetaceans, is something I have always been passionate about, and so I decided to contact BICREF which gave me the opportunity to join them as foreign eco-volunteer. Through this work, I have learnt that effective conservation of any kind requires extreme determination and commitment.
As conservation biologists, researchers and volunteers, theaim is not to stimulate the public with records of rich sightings, but to create a clear picture of what really inhabits the Mediterranean and how its inhabitants are being affected by natural and human impact. This can sometimes be disheartening work, with few sightings and only raging sunburn as reward. It takes great dedication and strength, as well as an understanding that a day of few sightings is as important to biodiversity records and conservation as a day rich with dolphins, turtles,mantarays, shearwaters and storm petrels.
The work is not about enjoying a pod of dolphins performing around the boat, or partaking in a relaxing scuba dive along a reef; it is about collecting detailed scientific information. It not only requires the recording of biotic and abiotic factors and interactions, but also the detailed analysis of data to produce valuable conclusions that may take years of work to obtain after struggling for funds to cover costs.
It was impressive to note the great care taken by BICREF workers not to disturb the environment while making observations, as their aim is to research and conserve the natural world without interfering with it. As a volunteer with BICREF,I have seen firsthand the importance of achieving a balance between collecting data while avoiding becoming a nuisance in the organisms' homes. Unobtrusive behaviour comes before data collection; the organisms' welfare comes first. After all, members take time out of their studies, jobs and homelives to organise and carry out vital unpaid work, solely with the aimof promoting the protection of Mediterranean organisms and habitats.
People may wonder what all this research achieves. With ongoing efforts to promote and encourage the protection of coastal and marine environments, significant differences can be made. Publications are released to target diverse communities with posters, DVDs, magazine articles, photo exhibitions and radio and TV interviews.
Through this, BICREFis reaching out to the entirety of the general public. Presenting photos and reports related to the rich biodiversity of the Maltese islands allows the public to form opinions from accurate information regarding their wildlife and heritage.
BICREF also draws attention to things that the public can do to help conserve the environment. Placing a plastic bottle into a recycling bin instead of leaving it to be blown into the sea may seem like a small task, but it can be of huge benefit to the marine organisms that may eat it whenit arrives in their habitat.
There are many threats the marine world has to face on a daily basis, many of which BICREF works towards decreasing. However, it is not only the responsibility of BICREF; we all need to act now. I urge everyone to give something, small or large, to our environment. Be it picking up a plastic bag and safely disposing of it, or becoming an active BICREF volunteer. It can all make a difference.
The opportunity to work with BICREF has been invaluable to me, and I now appreciate the crucial work undertaken by Vella and BICREF, as well as the sheer dedication and passion required to work in this field. I will return home with wonderful memories and vital knowledge.
Indulge any interest you may have in the marineworld by viewing the BICREF website for a taste of the important conservation work done:www.bicref.org.