Two students on a hike

Student Blog – Jadon

My name is Jadon Philoe, and I am taking part in the WiseOceans Marine Scholarship Programme which enables young Seychellois to gain skills and knowledge in marine conservation at various organizations in that field. This blog aims to describe the 2 consecutive months I spent at the University of Seychelles, undertaking various tasks and learning from a wide range of experts in order to grow a greater understanding of the nature around us and conserving and protecting our natural home.

The Study of Otoliths

My placement began 5th September 2023 where I was welcomed by Sir Murray Duncan. After becoming acquainted with the campus, I was brought to the MSC Lab where Sir Murray began familiarising me to the study of otoliths. Otoliths which are calcium carbonate structures found inside the heads of bony fish. Their common name is “ear stones” and they function as an aid for fish in balancing and hearing. Each fish has three pairs of otoliths (Sagitta, Asteriscus, Lapillus), which vary in shape and size. Otoliths are also not attached to the skull or any other bone but they float in fluid filled sacs in the inner ear. Following this I was introduced to the main research focus – fish aging.

When viewed under a microscope you can estimate the age of a fish by counting the number of translucent rings found in the growth zones of the otolith structure. After being trained in this identification process I was tasked with estimating the age of the source fish for many slides of otoliths. This is not an easy process! Firstly, it can be difficult to differentiate whether a ring is 2 or more or just one ring due to the ring having varying width at times. Secondly, the quality of some of the slides was poor. This meant that the reading of the translucent rings was almost impossible and at times the angle of the slide may not show the rings of the otolith well. Here, I had to manually hold the slide, tilting the slide under the microscope and re-adjusting the focus simultaneously. 

When it comes to reading Otoliths a person needs patience and focus

Sir Murray

By studying the annual growth of the otoliths we can increase the understanding the life cycle of fish species. This is due to the fact we can ascertain it’s growth rate across different times throughout it’s life. With this information we can provide the fishing industry with a range of lengths the fish reaches before its life expectancy is reached, allowing fisherfolk to more efficiently capture fish – releasing them if they are below the range. Ultimately, this could improve the economy.

During this project I requested to participate in lectures given to the Environmental Science 3rd-year students. Here, I gained an insight into the research projects they were working on. I was surprised to learn of the large variance in project type! Lots of different projects can be undertaken when studying this course, all of which contribute to the sector.

Environmental Sectors Laboratory

Following the otoliths project, I was placed under the supervision of the Environmental Sectors Lab technician Bianca Marzocchi. Here I was taught basic processes and procedures within a laboratory setting. I was also introduced to their main research focus –  testing the water quality and aquatic life of rivers and sea of the island. I was guided through the three experiments conducted on water samples collected from selected sites and taught about the aquatic life they study in order to determine the quality of the water. At first this felt overwhelming – it proved difficult to keep up due to the precision required in the experiments, specifically in identifying macroinvertebrates. However, after practice I  gradually became both more effective, and faster! 

Working in the Field

In addition to gaining experience in the research laboratory I aided the collection of the samples from the field. Field study areas included Police Bay, Anse Royale, and Val en D’or. I was taught the method of gathering the water samples as well as the format at which to write down the data we collected. Furthermore, I gained experience in collecting macroinvertebrates to check their diversity. Taking several hours, the collection process proved tiring, but I enjoyed this aspect greatly.  

The SASS5 Workshop

Also during my placement with the University, I was selected to attend to a workshop organized by the Gaea organization in order to learn and practice the SASS5 (South African Scoring System version 5). This is the aquatic biomonitoring method for water quality used in the South African region. It involves applying a point system where macroinvertebrates species are given a numerical value and depending on what species is present in a sample their values are added to create a total value. This ‘SASS’ score for the site is then used to determine the water quality. This workshop was delivered by Dr. Juan Tedder and lasted four days. After the training was complete our class were awarded certificates and were now qualified to perform the SASS5. I found to be great as it was both interesting and provided me yet another skill to add to my CV. 

BRUV Calibration

During the final month of my placement I  joined Dr. Stuart Laing who introduced me to the usage of BRUV (Baited Remote Control Video), a system used in marine biology research to view marine activity. This was an exciting experience for me as I was intrigued by the technology they use to record quality videos of marine life. Dr. Stuart familiarised me with the calibration process of the systems cameras, explaining how the calibration was undertaken using a computer software know as CAL. The process of using CAL involves inputting various data and also pre-recorded videos. Despite this system often being portrayed simply, it was incredibly complex, which I found captivating. 

Final Thoughts

My experience at the University of Seychelles was both knowledgeable and exhilarating as I got to be interactive with the work and was encouraged to ask questions to further my understandings on topics. The individuals I studied with were very willing to teach me, and were creative with their methods of doing. I truly feel that the environmental sector is a place where anyone could fit in to! I hope after my completion of the program to enrol in order to study the Environmental Science course and decided upon a future career that is well-suited to my both my interests, and skills. With what I have written this concludes my personal experience at the University of Seychelles.

The Marine Scholarship Programme (MSP)

Offering in-depth practical and theory training centred around the marine environment, participants will develop skills to increase opportunities for employment. The Programme, based across Mahé and the inner islands, includes six months of core training delivered by WiseOceans and GVI Seychelles and three months of placements with our partner organisations in both the public and private sectors. These placements will be tailored to participants’ individual interests and skills, helping to build connections and experiences in the workplace.

Thank you to SeyCCAT for funding the Marine Scholarship Programme

Learn more about our Marine Conservation work here

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