Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Or will you?

The quote from the title comes from Confucius, apparently. And he wasn’t totally right. Because sometimes work is hard. And you feel tired. Of course you do, because you put 100% of your efforts in what you do if you love it. But it is worth it, because you feel like you are contributing. Like you are part of something bigger and potentially can even change some things for better. And that is an amazing privilege.

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Today marks a whole year since I started working for Hampshire County Council. My post as a Field Studies Tutor at Calshot Activity Centre is the longest job I have ever held and also the first full time contract. It has been such a varied job it feels like the year just flew by.

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It involved everything from working as a castle custodian in a XVI century castle to talking to kids about plankton. I taught Biology and Geography to kids ranging from 9 year olds all the way to A-level students. I loved beach combing, trawling for marine creatures in the Solent, and decorating and maintaining aquariums in our marine classroom.
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I had a great time sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. I enjoyed working at the climbing wall and the ski slope, giving coaching advice and supervising safety. I even learned the basics of snowboarding in work time, which is pretty crazy. I am sill slightly terrified of track cycling on a velodrome though 😉
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It has been a wonderful journey, and I am blessed to feel like my work is meaningful. I have seen many kids change during their week long residential trips and I have seen them gain confidence in themselves. Some of the many hundreds that came to visit will perhaps be inspired to care more for the environment? I really hope so.
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Teaching the value of resilience, teamwork and the importance of taking on challenges, I had to work on these things myself too. I did not want to appear hypocritical in the eyes of the children I work with. I feel like I have learned and transformed a lot this year, due to the many personal development opportunities offered to me. I gained so many qualifications:
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  • D1 driving licence for minibuses (!)
  • powerboat level 2
  • RYA VHF
  • Kayaking level 2
  • Climbing Wall Award from Mountain Training
  • First Aid outdoors
  • Archery GB instructor
  • Snowsports England ski coaching training
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I received intensive training and developed useful skills in field work, customer service, health and safety and many, many more areas.
Also, I can tie even more knots now and know when to use them 🙂
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And all of this somehow happened while working alongside wonderful colleagues and fantastically supportive bosses. I really am lucky to have such employers.
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Living in the New Forest has also been wonderful. The air is noticeably clearer here than in the cities. Spending so much time in nature and pretty much never sitting in front of a computer is something I didn’t even know 21st century jobs can offer. Regardless of the weather, we go outside, learn outside and play outside.
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But the biggest highlight was being able to share my passion for environment and oceans in particular, with hundreds of people.
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I wake up every day energised and ready to tackle the challenges that will come. And I come home happy, to the slight annoyance of my housemates, who cannot believe that a working person can feel so satisfied.
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Bring on the next year and all the adventures!
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My first job as a scientist…

… was also the most unconventional job I have ever come across. What is weirder than spending hours sitting in a dark room, checking the effect of light strobes on behaviour of slimy, snake  like fish, dancing under the infra red cameras? Yeah, I pretty much provided fish disco. Every night. To fish that did not really want it. And all of that to hopefully help protect them. Because what if we could use light to deter fish from going into places where they could die, like for instance water intake systems of power stations?

I worked for a local aquatic consulting company and spent a couple months working at nights in the  National Aquatic Training Centre, UK. I supervised a project aiming to help protect the critically endangered European eels, Anguilla anguilla. 

Did you know European eels are more endangered than snow leopards? They are listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN’s Red List and their populations are at an all-time low.

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of this job, less so handling slippery eels. The job was however by no means easy. I had to help design and build experimental tanks using power tools, withstand the challenge of lone working for a few months and gain aquarium maintenance skills. All of which I am sure will come in handy in future.

Oh, and one night someone knocked on the door and brought a rescued juvenile crocodile. So this pretty much tops it as the weirdest job I have ever had.

 

 

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Captain Andrzej Drapella, my loving grandfather, has died.

“I worked on merchant ships, but when sailing I give my heart.” he used to say.

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He was one of the longest working and most recognisable persona in the maritime history of the country, he used to be the President of The Sail Training Association Poland and received an enormous amount of awards and recognition, which would be impossible to list here.

To us he will always be an example of an excellent captain with all the qualities that this role demands. Andrzej Drapella has influenced and taught many and we will remember him for everything he has done and for the youth he has inspired. Below are just some of the yachts he sailed on, creating memories in the hearts of those who had the pleasure to sail with him.

Although he was known as an excellent sailor, to me what set him apart, was the fact that he had a very deep understanding for people. His success as a captain comes down in part to his successful crews, who respected and trusted him implicitly. Even the pirates boarding his ship came to respect his calm and good sense. He used to tell me as a little girl that when pirates boarded his ship, his concern was only ever for his crew. He offered pirates cigars and rum, showing them where to find the money and ensuring they left every man and woman in his care unharmed. His calm was similarly useful not so many years ago, when pulled over for speeding. His diplomacy and wry smile were still enough to win over the hearts of his adversaries.

One of the memories I will always keep is the feeling of grandfather’s pride. For some reason he was always very proud of me, sometimes if felt unfounded, but nevertheless very nice. He would always want to listen to my stories. When he could barely walk, he would still show up on all important family events, even if it took him an hour to walk from the car to home. He would just do it quietly and pretend it was meant to be a lovely walk.

I think he had a way of making people feel valued. He always made me feel special, that he was so proud of me. He would always want to celebrate things, have a reason to toast or take me for pizza, because he was not a very good cook himself 🙂

Thank you for taking me to Arctic with you. I will remember it forever. I wish you had danced on my wedding, like you said you would.bf57cd1a28ed0a47bb95f6e32c316733--sailing-boat-sailing-shipschopinKapitan Borchardt azawisza czarny

 

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Shark tagging expedition

During the first two days we have successfully tagged and released 9 sevengill sharks. Their size ranged from 1.6 to 1.9m. Then on the third day we sailed up to Saldanha Bay, a sheltered and protected lagoon where we found large female sevengill sharks, the biggest one of which was 2.5m long! In total we managed to tag 15 sevengills, all of them were released safely and swam away unharmed. The expedition has totally exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions and luck.

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All of the sharks swam away unharmed, but will now contribute vital data to conservation. Photo: Dimitry Sharomov

 

We all got to experience what it takes to handle a shark. Your own safety comes first, but safety of the shark is a close second. These sharks are quite strong and powerful, and can inflict painful bites if handled inappropriately. Everything went smoothly however and nobody got hurt.

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Releasing the largest sevengill female (2.5m) Photo: Dimitry Sharomov

The tagging procedure:

Shark’s health is always monitored and a constant flow of sea water over its gills is kept. A small incision is made in its abdomen and an acoustic tag is placed internally, the surgery is finished by putting on a few stitches and covering the incision with antibacterial gel. Then a small fin clip for genetic studies is cut. All the necessary measurements are taken. Samples of blood and muscle biopsy are collected. These will help with analysis of hormones and stable isotopes. Finally, a PIT tag is placed under its skin. This microchip is similar to what you put on your pets to identify them. In future, in case of recapturing the same shark, this tag will instantly inform the researchers that the shark already has an acoustic tag inserted.

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Here I am taking a small muscle biopsy for analysis of stable isotopes. Photo: Dimitry Sharomov. 

The shark is now ready to be released back into the water and we all watch as it swims away.

Well done team!

Thanks to the Shark Spotters, Dr Alison Kock, Two Oceans Aquarium and Mike Horn for this incredible opportunity.

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Visit to the Shark Spotters

It is 5 a.m. and I am up. There is food to prepare, bathrooms to clean and deck to scrub. We all share the duties though and each day we do something different.

The plan is to leave the boat early and head off to Fish Hoek.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town

Cape Town Marina, V&A Waterfront

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

Sarah Titley from Shark Spotters explaining how the shark exclusion barrier at Fish Hoek works

Fish Hoek used to be regarded as one of the most dangerous beaches in the world. Some serious shark attacks caused fear among the local community. But since 2004 an NGO that uses pro-active methods of minimising the shark-human conflicts operates in the area.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

A shark spotter’s observation point above the Muizenberg beach

Shark Spotters have a trained and dedicated team and keep a constant lookout on some of the local beaches. They use a series of huts in the mountains to look out for sharks that pose a potential threat. If such a shark is swimming towards a beach they will evacuate everyone. Up until now they have recorded 2020 sightings of great whites, but evacuated the beach only half of the times.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

Inside the Shark Spotters office, Muizenberg beach

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

A white shark can  often mistakenly take a surfer for a seal

 

What is so great about the Shark Spotters?

I think that the simplicity and the effectiveness of their approach. Many countries invest huge amount of money testing complicated technologies that often do not work at all. And it turns out that simple and relatively cheap can be very effective.

What is  Shark Spotter equipped with?

Polarised sunglasses with a yellow filter, binoculars, an in depth knowledge and a lot of patience. The spotters are also thoroughly trained in first aid response.

What is special about the shark barrier they deploy?

Each day, early in the morning, the Shark Spotters set up a shark exclusion barrier at Fish Hoek beach. It is different from the traditional shark nets and is much more environmentally friendly. It is a unique system that proved to be very effective and at the same time kind to the wildlife. It is the only such system in the world that is set up and removed on a daily basis. This means that in the daytime, when beach goers visit Fish Hoek, they have a safe area to swim, completely isolated from the rest of the bay. In the evening Shark Spotters take the barrier away. This minimises the risk of entanglement of animals during the night, when nobody monitors the beach.

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Pole to Pole Shark Project, South Africa

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I am very pleased that magazine Poznaj Swiat has offered its media patronage for my trip to South Africa for the Shark Project, the first socio-environmental project of the Pole to Pole expedition. Aboard Mike Horn’s Mercedes Benz sponsored sailing vessel PANGAEA we will be tagging sevengill sharks and contributing to the research on these poorly understood animals. Together with a team of dedicated shark biologists from Sharkspotters we will insert acoustic tags that will help reveal migration patterns of these sharks. Read more on http://www.mikehorn.com/shark-study/

Z radością informuję, że magazyn Poznaj Świat objął moją wyprawę do RPA patronatem medialnym. Na ich stronie i w magazynie będziecie mogli przeczytać o moich wrażeniach z pracy z rekinami.

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Więcej informacji znajdziecie tutaj.

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Expedition aims to uncover sevengill shark mysteries

Leaving in just 6 hours! Stay tuned and follow this amazing expedition.

Shark Devocean

The coastal cowsharks of South Africa are about to receive dedicated research that aims to shed light on their enigmatic ecology. 

Guest blogger: Zofia Drapella

broadnose-sevengill-shark-portrait The broadnose sevengill shark is a member of the cowshark family, Hexanchiformes.

I am currently on my way to the shark capital of the world – South Africa’s Western Cape – to swim among some of the ocean’s largest predators. The Shark Project, the first of several socio-environmental projects that form part of Mike Horn’s Pole to Pole 360 expedition, aims to raise the profile of the human threat against sharks, and show that sharks themselves are more misunderstood than malevolent. With a group of dedicated divers from around the world, we will assist with pioneering shark research and attempt to banish the “maneater” myth.

pole-to-pole-360 With the support of Mercedes Benz, Mike Horn introduces an expedition worthy of the 21st century. Pole to Pole 360 will…

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shark tales #1: who is the real victim?

In less than a month Shruthi and I will join Mike Horn aboard S/Y PANGAEA for a Shark Project. We are hoping to break the stereotypes associated with the bad image sharks get in our media and make you believe they are truly incredible animals. Here is an excellent blog post written by Shruthi about how media tend to value sensationalism over facts. And the facts and statistics show you that sharks are not the mindless killing machines many people perceive them to be.

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“why on earth would you swim with sharks?”

“do you have life insurance?”

“you’re nuts!”

“how on earth can you let your daughter do such a thing?”

Sharks after all are pretty dangerous creatures. From their multiple rows of sharp teeth, agile bodies that slice through the water to their extraordinary sense of smell – especially of blood! The latest Hollywood movie, ‘The Shallows’ seems to have captured these attributes pretty well. It follows the story of a stranded surfer, trying to survive a great white attack, and fortunately murdering the shark in the final moments before it attacks her. Phew.

We’ve all heard the stories. A shark attack story rarely misses our headlines and a quick google of ‘shark films’ shows us a great variety of horrors and thrillers to help us better experience and understand the terror these creatures bring about. 

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Maybe it is a good thing after…

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World Turtle Day!

So apparently it is world turtle day today and I couldn’t resist to write a short post about marine turtles. They hold a very special place in my heart. One time when I had a chance to witness the turtles nesting and tiny juveniles hatching I couldn’t contain my emotions and simply burst into tears, amazed by the beauty of our planet.

There are seven species of sea turtles and six of those are threatened or endangered.

The threats to the turtles include:   bycatch (accidental capture and entanglement in fishing gear) the loss of nesting and feeding sites to coastal development, poaching, and pollution including plastic.

DSC_0116.JPGThe Watamu Turtle Watch is not obly a rehabilitation centre, but also a community hub and a place that helps  educates the public. Outreach and education are crucial in conservation.

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At a turtle rehabilitation centre it is crucial to take regular measurements of the turtles to see whether their weight is correct. 

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I still cannot help but look at the dangling gear, we were freshly qualified, but still, it is so embarassing! But instead of photoshoping in out, let’s understand why divers should never have anthing dangling, otherwise it can easily destroy the delicate elements of the coral reef. 

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This was definitely the biggest and heaviest turtle.

 

ascention turtleAt Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic I had the opportunity to witness green turtles nesting. Together with a marine biologist Daniel Moore, we went to the Long Beach and saw over 30 female turtles emerge from the water that night to lay eggs. We were equipped in red headlamps, which do not disturb the turtles. Once the female find its preferred spot (it cannot have any trash of light pollution) it digs a hole and starts laying eggs. It then enters a trans and you can even take flash photography, since the turtles won’t be disturbed at that stage (though I still only took two photos).

 

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This was easily one of the most memorable nights of my life. 

There are many incredibly dedicated and hard working people who want to protect sea turtles.

Some of those I had a chance to meet and if you want to learn more, here are the links to the projects they set up:

http://www.watamuturtles.com

http://www.cairnsturtlerehab.org.au/

http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/our-species/marine-turtles/

 

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The journey to the deepest part of the ocean

Making the nearly 11-kilometer descent to the deepest place on Earth, exploring the ocean floor, conducting scientific experiments, collecting samples, and returning safely to the surface requires a very sophisticated craft. It needs to be capable of withstanding tremendous pressures, if it is to explore the place less understood than the farthest reaches of space.

In 2012 James Cameron, in a sub like no other, conducted a dive to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. Unfortunately I was one of the last people to see the sub, prior to its damage in a fire during transportation. I was so incredibly impressed to see the vessel, investigate it and realize how small the sphere where the pilot sits is. I did not want to leave the place and asked the scientists thousands of questions. Here I was, touching something that reminded me of how amazing humanity can be, of how we can use technology, our ingenuity and hard work to explore, learn and act. I felt shivers down my spine. Maybe, one day, a woman will also dive to the deepest part of the ocean, I thought.

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Standing next to the submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER

This journey has only once been made prior to Cameron’s dive, by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh. On 23 January 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deep (the deepest southern part of the Mariana Trench). This was the first time a vessel, manned or unmanned, had reached the deepest known point of the Earth’s oceans. The two pioneers spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor, but unfortunately the landing caused stirring up of the sediments and for the entire time the clouds of silt were everything that could be seen from the portholes.

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