The goal for this trip was to take part in volunteering work with the Non-Government Organisation (NGO), Roaya. I would be helping children aged 11-18 understand the effects that litter has on the local reefs and how they can prevent these impacts worsening in the future. I was also out here with students from Glasgow University, helping them on their projects and so I was amply known as the ‘expedition pet’.
I initially got involved last year when I met the Glasgow Expedition advisor Guy Henderson at The Dive Show in Birmingham. I said I was interested in helping out and a few emails later I had my flights booked for a month away! What drew me back again this year was my experience from last year. I loved living truly ‘off grid’'; it was new and instantly refreshing. I was also drawn again to the amazing science that I knew I would be taking part in in a truly unique environment. I also adored the people and staff I met last year, and I couldn’t wait to see them again.
The average day consisted of waking up at 7:30am for breakfast, followed by a team meeting at 8:10 to organise the day. I would then help out in the projects described below or in other volunteering roles, if it be diving or out on the RIB. The working day ended at 5:00pm with tea at 7:30pm, and generally, everyone was asleep by 10:00pm. The days were long and hot but always contained something new and exciting.
Though there were a whole host of projects occurring, I helped in three. Third year student, Rachel Mawer, was dropping cameras off the side of a RIB boat, studying fish communities at depth. Crashing over the waves, it was my job to log our position on a GPS and fill in details such as time and depth of the drop on a diving slate. The heat at times was unforgiving with the lack of shade but I slapped on that factor 50 and even to my own surprise, there wasn’t a burn in sight!
Another third year student, Daniella Laing, was looking at clownfish at a depth of 20-25 metres. If you think this is particularly deep for clownfish, you would be right and the quantity of them at this depth was even more surprising! Over 200 anemones coat a mound of rock off the coast and the clownfish that live here are bold. Many clownfish never venture more than a few feet from their anemones, but these guys would wander 4-5 metres from their home and this apparent boldness is what Dani was interested in. The work consisted of measuring a 1.5 metre transect, placing a camera on the end of it, and recording the clownfish for 22 minutes at 20-25 metres. We repeated this once more at a different anemone and then collected both cameras at the end of the dive. Dani would then analyse the footage in the lab.
The third project was with student Thomas Insje from the University of Hull. He was also monitoring boldness surrounding humbug damsel fish on the house reef. Thomas’s project was simple but effective. With no expensive or heavy equipment to rely on he would simply scare the fish and measure the time it took until ¼ of the colony re appeared and then ¾ of the colony to re appear. I did over 20 dives with Thomas and enjoyed them thoroughly.
The charity work we did was varied. We organised mangrove clean ups where our biggest find was 1,540 bottle caps (making us question the push on removing plastic straws). We were also invited to a kindergarten graduation of a local school and held an activity day for the children where they learnt about coral and conservation through a variety of workshops and games. This day in particular was highly rewarding!
But it wasn’t all work. I took a few days off, one of which to visit Luxor! The city is famed for being home to Valley of the Kings and Karnak temple. Valley of the Kings is the famous resting place of the Pharaohs that ruled Egypt for 3000 years and Karnak is a vast complex of pillars (some over 20 metres high), obelisks and temples. The scale of the place is simply awe inspiring and it is almost impossible to understand; it is huge! In the evenings, free time was spent telling stories, grabbing coffee in the local town, playing chess, backgammon and even a bit of poker (playing purely for ice creams of course)!
Working with the students was a truly fantastic experience and I met some incredible people. It gave me a detailed insight into how rewarding (and sometimes painful) science can be. If it be equipment not co-operating, software breaking or just simply the sea being too rough, there was always something to tackle. This kind of environment hones your problem-solving skills and you learn that generally, science barely ever plays ball.
As I go into my second year at the University of Plymouth I look forward to applying the skills I learned out there. Independent thinking and problem solving being the biggest two. It was refreshingly new to be encouraged to come up with solutions by yourself instead of immediately going to an authority figure. This also raises your self-confidence when you put those solutions into place and lo and behold, it works! I also found my critical thinking skills to improve as well. It takes guts to step back from a project you have been working hard on and say to yourself ‘Is this actually any good?’ or ‘Is there an easier way of doing this?’. I learnt not to get too attached to my work and be flexible when it comes to constructive criticism. I can certainly see all these skills coming in useful for years to come at the University of Plymouth.
I would just like to thank everyone that I met out there including all the students, staff and the other volunteers. I would also like to thank the fantastic children we worked with and the guys at Roaya that made it all happen. So long Egypt, see you again soon!