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My internship with Zavora Marine Lab

My internship with Zavora Marine Lab

October 18, 2021 at 9:14am

Name: Rose McDonald

Hometown: Miami, Florida

What is your major? Masters in Environmental Policy and Management

Where did you intern? MAR Expeditions: Zavora Marine Lab

What was your title? Research Intern

How did you get your internship? Since I was little I always wanted to see and work with manta rays. So, I focused all my efforts in finding an internship which would've allowed me to work alongside efforts to protect them. Fortunately, through my various efforts of trying to get an internship, a colleague and now dear friend suggested I look for internships in Mozambique — considering it is one of the few untouched coastlines with incredible marine biodiversity and many organizations are trying to establish marine protected areas along the coastline. I contacted MAR Expeditions and they were looking for interns to work in their marine lab with many different projects (including manta ray population studies) and decided to travel halfway across the world to Zavora, Mozambique. 

What were you doing there? I was assisting head marine biologist Nakia Cullain collect data towards her Ph.D. in elasmobranch community structure in relation to differences in environmental parameters, as well as collecting and analyzing data collected on Zavora's reef systems via scuba diving and snorkeling the labs' studied areas. 

What projects did you work on? Fortunately my internship was completed during FIU's summer semester meaning it was winter in Mozambique. This allowed me to participate in all projects the lab focuses on since winter is peak season for Humpback whales and manta rays in Zavora. I collected and analyzed data on Zavora's reef systems through collecting individual manta ray ID underwater photos, humpback whale population land surveys, fish surveys, and more. 

I assisted the labs work on manta ray population studies by taking underwater identification photos of individuals of both species of manta ray that visited the bay. This data collected allows for the lab to see manta ray sex, size, if the population has interactions with other populations along the coastline, what is causing injuries (predators, fishing lines or boats) and etc. 

I also conducted humpback whale population land based surveys by collecting data at the labs survey collection spot. Land based surveys consisted of using binoculars to record whale behavior in five hour time blocks. Whale sightings are also documented as points on a map which have been transferred into GIS maps previously to prove in a study that Zavora Bay is a breeding site for humpback whales. 

At each dive site I would partake in predatory fish surveys by documenting data on a writing slate whilst navigating through the reef. Data documented included species of fish found, abundance of fish and size estimation of each individual species.


How does your internship connect back to your coursework? This internship really connected with my coursework by allowing me to take in class learned skills and apply them in the field. In the EPM-PSM program the main classes that helped me throughout my experience have been conservation biology, environmental GIS, methods of sustainable research management and environmental resource management. These classes coupled together have prepared me to see how real world conservation work functions and how both field work and proper management come together with environmental policies to protect our marine ecosystems.

What is the coolest thing that happened during your internship? Diving in one of the best diving places in the world and be able to swim with humpback whales, manta rays and whale sharks. And also seeing many endangered and data deficient species such as the small eyed stingray, which I could have never have imagined to have gotten the opportunity to see. 

What have you enjoyed most about your experience? I enjoyed being able to work with manta rays, meeting amazing individuals looking to also make a difference and being able to both work and live in a third world country and really see how local communities depend on marine ecosystems. I really enjoyed making friendships with the locals and becoming a part of their community during my three months in rural Africa. 

What have you learned about yourself? I mainly learned during my time away that I am more resilient and patient than I thought I was. During my time away it was difficult at first to not have all the resources the U.S. has and how difficult it is to properly do research without the necessary tools always, but no matter the circumstance I was able to in the end achieve the work assigned to me and conclude my internship successfully. 

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? My best advice would be to start looking for internships as early as you can and to network with everyone in order to find one that you really want. Without expressing my wants and efforts for this type of internship my colleague would've never suggested it to me and I wouldn't have had the wonderful experience I did. 

How has the position increased your professional confidence? The research intern position at MAR Expeditions: Zavora Marine Lab has allowed me to be more confident in applying for jobs for post graduation. Now having this experience, considering I was able to partake in many different projects I feel equipped and knowledgeable to enter a professional role--versus before where I was more hesitant on applying. 

How has the internship expanded your professional network? This internship has greatly expanded my professional network. I have met many scientists and conservation professionals from all over the world throughout my time in Mozambique. It has also opened up many new connections in the US since many that have interned at MAR Expeditions in the past live here. Overall, I would recommend this internship to anyone and everyone interested in marine life.