Goal: Build the next generation of marine wildlife researchers
In 2007 I began working with the South African Marine Predator Lab as a creative design outsource. After attending the company’s internship in 2008 where I got to spend every waking moment with great white sharks, I promptly decided – fudge my current life, I want to do this.
I pitched to the company owners that I would join on site to oversee the production of all creative and design work, in addition to building tools to assist students with their projects. Around this time, they were recognising the growth potential of both the internship model and other sectors they’d built contacts in, such as ecotourism.
Soon after arriving in South Africa in 2009, the company was renamed ‘Oceans’ and child-entities which inherited this title were established for the target areas. Of these, further developing the internship offerings of Oceans Research was identified as the critical priority.
Method: Teach them useful practical skills
Much of the internship program was based around data collection for the studies of our on-site post graduate students. The fundamental workings had been established in the year prior to my arrival. Although my initial focus was on building marketing and communications materials for the program, I soon became more involved with the deliverables and broader strategy. Probably because I kept nagging them to let me.
First and foremost, as the needs of our Post-Grad students could vary considerably (as would weather conditions in Mossel Bay) it was important to establish a series of additional modules to ensure students were consistently engaged with relevant activities. Critical to this and the long term success of the internship, was our focus on the skills developed in these modules being relevant and applicable in marine wildlife research at large. We increased our engagement with local community and wildlife projects, with outreach practices further enhanced by our aquisition of the local aquarium. In addition to hosting educational talks, we were able to give students hands on experience with a variety of practices related to aquarium management.
While great white shark research remained our primary focus, subjects broadened considerably to include local cetaceans and smaller shark species. Students were therefore able to develop skillsets that would appropriate when interacting with more widespread species of marine wildlife. As the diversity of our programs and number of students grew, my focus shifted to general program management. I was responsible for ensuring that every student received as varied an experience as possible and that all of our projects got their fair share of resource allocation.
Eventually, we rolled the same model out to marine research stations in Durban (South Africa), The Skeleton Coast (Namibia), Ponto do Ouro and Zavora (Mozambique). The fundamental system for operations meant that additional practical and theoretical modules could be added to a program with relative ease and over ten years later, the Oceans Research internship continues to be hugely successful.