I stumbled upon the EVS program by coincidence one day when I was on the hunt for a job or an internship and I remember reading the project description and thinking: “That’s it. That’s what I will do.” And I was right! I arrived in Croatia mid-June, completely stomped by the heat wave that hit me when I stepped out the airplane, to commence a five month long internship with a marine conservation NGO called “The Marine Explorers Society – 20000 Leagues” that basically runs (mostly) as a two person operation: Hrvoje, founder and principal researcher of the organization, and Barbara, his right hand and partner in crime.
On my first day we traveled to an island off the south coast of Croatia called Mljet where we would spend two months working together with another international environmental organization called Operation Wallacea. They operate as an educational science institution by bringing in groups of high school or university students on a weekly basis and getting them involved in marine research activities and educational presentations. My role as junior scientist consisted in assisting with several research activities involving sea urchin and fish surveys, sea grass and noble pen shell monitoring as well as setting up BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys) and participating in the marine ID workshops. Apart from those tasks, I was encouraged to undertake a personal project. As part of a long-term vision of mine, I decided to present lectures on shark biology and ecology to promote change in the public´s general perception of these often misunderstood and misjudged animals.
To tackle the issue of plastic pollution, which Croatia´s seas unfortunately suffer from to a big extent, we surveyed a hidden bay where we conducted scientific beach litter monitoring for the purpose of giving the students a more insightful understanding of the real scope of the problem by involving them directly.In spite of having a fully packed schedule, there remained plenty of time for us to explore the island and all its beautifully untouched corners. While two months seemed like a long time at first, my perception of time got completely distorted and towards the end I wished none of us would ever have to leave the island.
However, even though I had to say goodbye to some incredible personalities, it was not about to get boring. After a week-long rest from the intense yet wonderful summer camp time, we packed our stuff once again and headed to a different island: Telascica. Amidst the labyrinth of bays and smaller islets lies a hidden natural treasure that hosts a few bungalows and camping grounds where we would set up tent for about 10 days. With only one shower at our disposal and no electricity in the morning or in the evenings, it became a trip of the survival kind. Since we spend all our days out on the sea either cleaning up trashed bays or locating and counting pen shells, a shower seemed kind of redundant anyways. Our lunch would either be some nutritious chocolate cookies or dinner leftovers and fruit.
But as marine biologists we enjoy the rough and simple lifestyle and we were lucky enough to experience beautiful weather and even enjoy a few scuba dives in remote locations around the island before heading back to Zadar, our next destination.Zadar is the organizations home base and the city where I would officially live in for the remaining period of my internship. It was honestly a relief to get some time to change the pace and get some office work done, which can also be fun.I couldn’t rest for too long though because I was required to attend a much overdue “on arrival meeting” organized by the national agency in charge of the EVS program in Croatia. This meeting was taking place a long way away from Zadar and I got introduced to Croatia´s charming old-fashioned railway system (I hope the sarcasm shines through). Nonetheless, the week in the tiny yet relaxing little town of Orahovica with other international EVS volunteers turned out to be fun and stimulating for the mind.
Upon my return to Zadar it was almost time to prepare for yet another trip to a different island, much closer to home: Silba. Silba had been mentioned many times throughout my stay and I felt a lot of curiosity about it. The plan was to stay for two weeks while hosting two separate groups of students from the University of Zadar, who would undertake some underwater activities including collecting a biodiversity inventory and trying out a scientific protocol called “squid pop” to evaluate predatory pressure around some coastal areas. We got the opportunity to go scuba diving on most days in order to complete those tasks and spent our days in or around the water.
It was the first time since June that temperatures dropped and one could finally cuddle up in a thick blanket at night or wear a sweater. It was perfect since the summer tourists had gone and had left the island empty and silent, which was emphasized even more by the fact that almost no motorized vehicles were allowed on it. The whole town felt cozy and sleepy. In contrast, we had plenty of people staying at our rental apartments, hence there was no time or reason to feel bored. Again, I felt really sad to leave.My last few weeks in Zadar were spent relaxing in the office and organizing my departure. It felt surreal that time had flown by in such an unforgiving manner, but I guess it comes with age. This was not a place and these were not people that I was ready to leave, but I had found a job opportunity that I needed to pursue to fulfil my career goals, therefore I needed to part ways. My parting gift was to be able to give a lecture on sharks at the University of Zadar during a marine biology class.
I am grateful for the opportunity I was given by Hrvoje and Barbara to grow as a scientist and person with so much freedom and trust and to have gotten the chance to participate in their research and educational activities that they care for with so much passion and love. But mostly, I am grateful that I was lucky enough to meet them, as they are incredibly generous and caring individuals. Without a doubt, I would do it all again.
About the author : Carolina is a volunteer from Spain who came to the organization under the EVS (European voluntary service) framework to assist with our research and educational activities in 2018. She completed a BSc in Biology in 2015 and has since then focused on gaining experience in the marine biology sector. She has worked with several NGO’s focused on shark research and outreach and became a PADI Divemaster in 2016. She has incorporated an educational project on sharks into our outreach program.
Marine Explorers Society 20.000 leagues gathers ambitious, comprehensive and creative researchers whose primary interest is marine biology. Members of the Society have wide and professional experience in organizing and carrying out various projects.