12 July 2009

How one person can begin to make a change

Coming to Vonitsa as a research assistant happened naturally for me. The Mediterranean Sea and its beautiful coasts, is a region very close to my heart, and I immediately knew that I had to be a part of the Ionian Dolphin Project.

It was late evening when I arrived in Vonitsa. I managed to block out the lively music from the packed tavernas and focus on the lectures and terms racing through my mind. I reviewed the highlighted papers that were rolled up under my arm and I was certain that I was prepared for my first time working in the field, and my first time with any cetaceans in the wild.

My first sighting of a group of bottlenose dolphins came sooner than I had expected. Alongside the Earthwatch volunteers, on our first trip towards the center of the Amvrakikos Gulf, two adults stretched on the surface and peered out in our direction before an entire group of dolphins came into sight and began to forage. I felt the adrenaline immediately, and of course my mind went blank. Thank you Joan, for always getting me back on track.

As a Biology student you become overwhelmingly aware of the accumulating threats facing marine mammals and their sensitive habitats. As most of these threats occur on a global scale, they are often difficult to grasp and they only become a constant reminder that you are just one individual. Ultimately, it becomes all too easy to get lost in your studies and to lose sight of your way and where to begin to make change.

In the short time I’ve spent in Vonitsa I’ve learned more than I could have prepared myself for. I feel like I’ve grown more as a Biologist during these ten days than in my five years at the University. Thank you to the Earthwatch volunteers for sharing their time, from the dedication in the field to the painful belly laughs over dinner.
On my last day out in the Gulf we sighted two calves with their mothers foraging by their sides. It is with these experiences, when science becomes something tangible, something that you can share with others, that all the lectures, the stress, and the long nights finally make sense again, and you remember that this is how one person can begin to make a change.

Iva Popovic, Canada/Serbia

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