In year 2012, the Earthwatch Community Volunteers Fellowship has given the opportunity to 5 young Greek scientist/students to join the Ionian Dolphin Project/Dolphins of Greece expedition as Earthwatch volunteers. These five fellowships have been granted to those candidates that have demonstrated a solid background on marine conservation and that have also shown to be eager for learning as much as possible by participating actively in our research in the field. The hands-on experience given to these highly motivated individuals allowed them to gain some skills very difficult to be learned otherwise. This pioneer initiative in Greece has been possible thanks to the support of The Chesonis Family Foundation and Earthwatch.
Collaboration between the Ionian Dolphin Project and educators/researchers from the main Greek Universities organizing marine conservation and biology courses has been crucial for the identification of the best candidates. However, a large number of applications have been received and many candidates have been left out of this initiative. Contacts with other research centres and universities have been already made to include more students in the selection process in the future and to guarantee that these fellowships are granted to the best possible candidates.
Elena Politi and Giovanni Bearzi, IDP pioneers, gave me a similar opportunity back in 1998; when I came to Greece for the first time and I had my first dolphin sighting ever. I must confess that, at least to me, that was a life changing experience. Since then, I have been actively involved in cetacean research activities in a number of different projects and have had the chance to work with 500+ volunteers from more than 40 different countries. I find particularly important to be able to give a similar opportunity to Greek students. I hope that this initiative will continue and that other young researchers will have the chance to receive that kind of “kick” that will motivate them to pursue a career in the field of cetacean research and conservation. Find below some comments left by the 5 fortunate 2012 Fellowship recipients.
“As the last day of the program comes to an end, I couldn’t be more thankful about the opportunity I was given to participate in the Dolphins of Greece expedition. I gained a great amount of knowledge about the cetaceans and especially the dolphins of my country, their populations and the problems they face. More importantly, by having the chance to participate actively in the different aspects of the research and applying the methods I read so much about during the fieldwork was of great importance to me. Unfortunately, this experience is rarely available for biology students or graduates in Greece.
Moreover, I was amazed by the passion and dedication of the researchers in charge and for their attitude not only towards the local marine environment and the problems that the dolphins face, but also towards the local people and their relationship with the dolphins. Working with them gave me a great example of how environmental conservation should be applied, a subject that I am more than keen to work with in the future. Their presentations, guidance and mentoring, were all very inspiring. Heading towards the studies for my master’s degree and having always had a great respect for the sea and the marine creatures, I am leaving this project with more inspiration to study and work with marine animals.
Lastly, I am grateful to have met people from all around the world and share great moments, opinions and experiences. I hope many students like me will have the opportunity to join this great project.”
Maria Rakka; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. (Team 1; 17-24 April 2012)
“The experienced gained by working side-by-side with the scientists of the Ionian Dolphin Project was extremely helpful for my future work on marine mammals. I will use everything I learn here for my BSc Thesis, about the presence and abundance of bottlenose dolphins in Finikunta Gulf in Pelloponese (Greece). During my Thesis, I tried to do photo-identification of the dolphins present in my study area but I did not have much success. This opportunity has allowed me to learn this technique and to gain much more detail about the methodology itself. This experience is just the beginning, of a long way that I will have to go through during my development as a scientist. I would like to work with cetaceans in the future and my participation in this project has provided me a very valuable experience, which I intend to use in a possible project at my university for my future PhD project.
The work carried out in the Amvrakikos Gulf in the context of the Dolphins of Greece expedition allowed me to do long observations of the behaviour manifested by these amazing creatures in their natural environment. It was an ideal opportunity to get a better understanding also about these animals’ conservation needs.
However, This was more than just an educational experience; I got the chance to make a dream come true and for 7 days I worked with animals I admire and I want to study more in the future. It was also a great opportunity to meet people with a lot of experience in this field, and also other highly motivated and interesting volunteers.”
Mirto Turgely Provata; University of Patras, Greece
“Being a part of the Ionian Dolphin Project has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It more than fulfilled its promise, as I came away with more knowledge and experience than I expected to gain. Having seen how the research is conducted and spent a considerable amount of time studying dolphins in their natural environment, my desire to devote myself to the conservation of Cetaceans is strengthened.
The study area of Amvrakikos Gulf is decidedly unique. During our hours of dolphin observations we spotted some newborns, which, naturally, I now consider the most adorable sight ever. The fact that their mortality rate is significantly high in the Gulf due to pollution is just one of the many indications that something has to be urgently done. Their cuteness is an additional stimulus in this direction.
Working with Joan and Ioannis was a privilege. Watching a so experienced scientist at work was an excellent motivation for me and I am inspired to follow their lead. Thank you for allowing me to participate in this great project. I really hope that many more Greek students are giving a similar opportunity in the early future.”
Maria Gkaragkouni; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. (Team 4; 29 May-5 June 2012)
“This proved to be the most interesting and educational experiences I have ever had. First of all, the project fully met my expectations as far as obtaining knowledge is concerned. I learned a lot about cetacean’s ecology and behaviour. In addition, I also developed skills related to data collection and analysis. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to participate in professional scientific fieldwork. We were encouraged to share our thoughts, concerns and opinions with the scientists of the Tethys Research Institute and had numerous discussions on a wide variety of subjects related to biological conservation.
In Greece, the opportunities to gain real experience on marine mammal research are almost nil. Thus, it is really crucial that young researchers and biology students are given opportunities like this one. Despite its educational value, most Greek college students cannot afford the cost to participate as Earthwatch volunteers in projects like this; therefore, I am very grateful for this amazing opportunity. I hope that this initiative will have continuity in the years to come and that other fellow students will be able to live this enriching experience!”
Orestis Stavrakidis Zachou; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. (Team 4; 29 May-5 June 2012)
“This Fellowship has given me an incredible opportunity. As a biologist, currently orienting my professional career towards the research and conservation of the marine environment, this project was for me more than I had expected. My knowledge about Greek cetaceans and the bottlenose dolphin in particular, has been greatly expanded during the time spend at the Ionian Dolphin Project. Being able to participate in the study and observation of these animals in their natural environment has been truly inspiring. I have become much more motivated and willing to contribute actively to marine conservation.”
Ioannis Efstathiadis; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. (Team 14; 5-12 September 2012)