ICAS 2017 Conference – Paris

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With the aid of Principal’s Go abroad fund, I had the opportunity to go to Paris in order to present my work in the 12th International Conference on The Arts in Society in The American University of Paris, which is organized by the Arts in Society Research Network in partnership with Pantheon Sorbonne University, and to organize a conference-workshop with the Editions Extensibles in the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris and the Centre Pompidou Library on the subject of Interdisciplinarity in the arts. Before my departure, I was concerned about the tight schedule of my activities, my successful performance during the activities and the time that I had to spent in commuting. Having to face this challenge, I had to carefully structure my daily schedule before my departure, to become familiar with the best available routes and means of transportation, and to include time for rest and activity preparation. From my experience, I have learnt that preparation and a schedule not only saves time but it also contributes to a better performance in such highly demanding activities.

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Time in-between the activities

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A walk around the quartier of the conference venue, 13me arrondissement of Paris.

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Exhibition Picasso Primitif in musée du quai Branly.

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Pont de l’Alma in full sunshine after a long conference day.

Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris

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Conservation Biology from the Perspective of a Research Assistant- Mexico

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Trying to summarise 6 weeks of an invaluable expedition in a way that justifies it is proving pretty much impossible each time I am asked ‘How was Mexico?’. I will say to anyone considering wildlife biology as a career, Operation Wallacea offer unmissable opportunities to immerse yourself in authentic and enlightening projects in various countries around the world. Working with a diverse group of volunteers and experienced academics, I learned more than I could have anticipated, and feel far more prepared and knowledgeable for working towards the career in research I hope to have one day.

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The first 3 weeks was spent living remotely in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a protected area of the Mayan forest. Here, we learned how to survey different animal taxa and forestry methods, before contributing to the biodiversity surveys collecting data.

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An individual of Artibeus jamaicensis, a fruit-eating bat common to the peninsula. Bat surveys involved setting up mist nets at night, and upon successful capture of an individual, it would be identified and processed for morphometric measurements before release.

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Here I am holding a Yucatan blunt-headed snake, during its processing. Another key group surveyed was herpetofauna, sampled on transect walks in the morning and at night. Encounters were recorded and if possible, temporarily captured for data collection.

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Our volunteer research assistants and dissertation students atop one of the Calakmul ruins on a day off’s visit. We were shown the Mayan city ruins by project manager and primatologist Dr Kathy Slater, who after living in Mexico for 15 years could confidently act as our private tour guide.

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Ornithologist Carmen Dionísio is holding the Yucatan peninsula’s famous blue-crowned motmot, known for its striking appearance and pendulum-like tail. Birds would be surveyed the same way as bats, but in early morning.

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The second camp we stayed at, Dos Naciones, used tarps dually for rain cover and collecting freshwater to be filtered to drink. The benches, fire, shower and shelves are made each year, as the camp is temporary. Sleeping facilities are hammocks with integrated mosquito nets.

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A keen eye will see the print of a jaguar. As large mammals are elusive, survey methods involve tracking them. I found this the most interesting terrestrial work, learning how to spot tracks and discern their identity and age. One similar to this was even found near our camp after we had a visitor one night.

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The local guides assisting with tracking had an impressive plethora of knowledge on forest life. Pictured is an acacia tree we encountered, with its protective acacia ants abound. Seeing this symbiosis that I had studied in lectures in real life was both astounding and consolidating.

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The latter 3 weeks were marine-focused. On scientific dives, we assisted with coral restoration and ecology studies. The first lionfish was encountered early; it is an infamous species that is widespread and invasive in the Caribbean, flourishing without predators and devastating herbivorous fish populations.

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A colony of Acropora cervicornis, or staghorn coral, one of the important, reef-building hard corals sought for restoration. On coral mapping dives, we would note important data on the condition and size of encounters, in order for healthy colonies to be returned to for assisting with their sexual reproduction.

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Coral biologist Jenny Mallon lives locally and leads the restoration efforts. Here is one of her nurseries, with new colonies growing, suspended from a line. Those that grow well are transplanted back onto the reef to increase 3-D complexity and encourage ecological reef diversity.

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Assisting a Masters student with her data collection involved conducting fish transects, where numbers and species of fish were recorded, requiring us to learn how to identify 80 fish. This four-eye butterflyfish is a positive presence, indicating reef health as it is sensitive to environmental changes.

Making clean water under the Andalusian sun

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Earlier in May of 2017, I travelled to Spain to assess the use of natural sunlight as a clean, free and plentiful energy source for water decontamination in the research facilities of Plataforma Solar de Almeria (PSA). PSA is in the Tabernas Desert and it is the biggest solar technology R&D centre in Europe. Below you can find some of the highlights of my trip, enjoy!

1- From the scientific point of view…

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Heliostat field for the collection of the solar thermal energy-view from the tower (central receiver) in PSA.

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Large-size parabolic-trough solar collectors in PSA.

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Heliomann-parabolic collectors concentrate the solar radiation onto the tubes where the wastewater flows through (PSA).

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This is the compound parabolic collector pilot plant where I carried out my experiments in PSA. The plant consists of 12 borosilicate tubes, solar reflectors, a recirculation tank, a centrifugal pump, connecting tubes and valves. The wastewater mixed with a catalyst flows through the tubes. The catalyst is then activated by the solar energy leading to the degradation of the organic pollutants in water.

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While on duty, here I am mixing the reagents before adding them in the recirculation tank (PSA).

2- One, two, three – ready, set, go!

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The Desert of Tabernas has been the film location for many classics such as Cleopatra, King of Kings, Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon a Time in the West, Indiana Jones, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and many more!

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The Cathedral in Renaissance style-one of Almeria’s must-sees.

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Alcazaba of Almería; a fortified complex dated back to the 10th century-a view of the gardens.

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Panoramic view of Almeria and its port from the Alcazaba fortress.

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Beautiful ladies in traditional dresses celebrating the El Rocio- the most important and colourful Pilgrimage in Andalucía.

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Panoramic view of the charming city of Granada.

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The picturesque Alhambra- a citadel and palace, the most renowned Andalusian Islamic monument. Sierra Nevada can be seen at the back.

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At Malaga, Pablo Picasso’s birthplace-view of the promenade.

During my work in PSA, I gained access to unique experimental facilities and analytical instrumentation. This visit was also an exceptional opportunity for scientific networking and promotion of future collaborations. Nevertheless, as well as the specific research benefits, PSA was an educational experience overall, since the diversity of ongoing research (i.e. solar power generation, solar water treatment and high-temperature industrial processes) make it the ideal place for everyone that would like to know more about solar energy.

This international experience was of great benefit to both my academic and personal development. I had the opportunity to experience the Spanish lifestyle and learn a lot about the Andalusian culture. The highlight of this trip? The people that I met and the new friends that I made!

Game Capture and Conservation in Zimbabwe

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Soon after a last minute panic over a wayward passport stuck in an Embassy in London, I found myself on Edinburgh…Road, in Harare – just one of the visible colonial legacies left in the old british Rhodesia, or modern day Zimbabwe. I had been worried about fitting back into the Game Capture and Conservation Team who I had previously stayed with before. But the work started straight away, and I slipped into the manic rythem of the team.

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Much of the land across Zimbabwe ha been converted into agricultural spaces, infringing on ecosytems that hold an array of biodiversity.

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As a result of human pressure, animals have been pushed to marginal lands, or high input ‘protected areas’. Wildlife has been converted into a tradable commodity by the conservation movement in Southern Africa in an attempt to preserve the species unique to this region. Conservation has moulded into an industry, and thus ‘protected areas’ have emerged as a result, allowing animals to graze freely and away from human threats. Fences have been erected and constantly patrolled to keep poachers out.

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Zimbabwe is home to vast landscapes, where there are always surprises as to where you will find humans living.

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To restock areas and improve gene pools, animals are caught and relocated (usually between these protected areas). Funnel shaped bomas are constructed out of wires, and black plastics, and down which animals are herded using a helicopter.

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At the bottom of the funnel, a ramp is constructed so that the animals can run straight into a waiting truck with modified animals crates.

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Not all animals can be caught like this, but antelope such as Impala, Kudu, Zebra and Wildebeest are effectively caught this way – some times with some encouragement.

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Smaller antelope such as Impala, Blesbok and Tsessebe can be caught in a net boma.

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This time however, the nets are arranged into a horseshoe shape, and are herded inside. Also hidden inside the boma are capture staff, who run up and man-handle the antelope once they get tangled in the net.

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Larger animals, or those that do not herd are captured using drugs. Specific drugs are used in specific doses for different animals. The drug is loaded into a dart, which can then be fired from modified rifles.

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Rhinos are a prime example of one such animal. They are darted from the air, and followed on the ground using directions from above. Rhino de-horning has become common place throughout the region as poaching intensifies.

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The animal can then be reversed using another drug. The horn is cut just above sensitive tissue – it works much the same way as cutting a finger nail, if you cut too deep, you will cut flesh. Therefore care is taken to just cut the horn, and keratin from which it is made. But even still, some Rhinos will be poached for the little horn that remains.

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Animals are transported large distances to be relocated, for instance from Zimbabwe, overnight through Zambia and offloaded into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The trucks were driven straight through Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.

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Once the animals are caught, the staff could relax until the trucks return from offloading animals.

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But soon, the job continues and the early rises start again so that animals could be caught before the African midday heat.

Nafplio: Greece’s First Capital

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Because of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was able to travel to Greece for the Olympia Summer Academy. Growing up, I was fascinated by Ancient Greek history and Greek mythology, so visiting Greece was a dream come true. I spent two days in Athens, exploring the capital and the Acropolis before traveling to Nafplio, Greece’s first capital. I spent two weeks in Nafplio with the Olympia Summer Academy, taking two classes on international relations and nationalism. Our afternoons were free, so I was able to experience the city as well. Nafplio had many museums and historical buildings to offer, including the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, the Archaeological Museum, and the Palamidi fortress. I did not speak any Greek before landing in Athens, but I learned a few key phrases to get me by: “parakalo” means “please;” efcharistó” means “thank you;” and “kalimera” is “good morning.” It was a wonderful experience, and I will definitely be returning to Greece as soon as I can!

(All photos are the property of the author.)

Athens Parthenon

 

Athens Street Art

 

Athens Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards

 

Epidaurus Theatre Cat

 

Epidaurus Theatre

 

Mycenae Archaeological Site

 

Nafplio Abandoned Boat

 

Nafplio Folk Museum

 

Nafplio Church

 

Nafplio Central Statue

 

Nafplio Beach

 

Nafplio from Palmidi Castle

 

Nafplio at Sunset