03 maio 2022

O testemunho No. 2 da Afrodite (SPEA)


Hello everyone 
Already halfway through my volunteering program with SPEA -Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves. I am thinking  that only 3 months are left and I get stressed about my next steps. Can I say that it was worth it after 6 months of experiencing it? Definitely. When thinking of my background and that is not exactly and directly related to biology and nature conservation I realize that if not through volunteering and if not through the ESC program I would never have the chance to experience something like this.
I realized that I do love working for environmental conservation and environmental education projects. It feels unreal to me sometimes to think that actually there are jobs that are based totally in the outdoors, and that naturally protected areas need so much attendance and workforce to keep flourishing. I had no idea that these kinds of jobs existed and I was amazed to find out. In the last three months, I have been visiting Berlengas islands to carry out conservation work. It was so special to get to know the islands as if they are animate creatures which in a way they are. Their every formation, track, cliff, rock, bird colony, fauna composition. I could never imagine such a small island having so much to show. It's every side that touches the ocean having a different name as if they are street names in a big city. The stories and myths that it withholds within the knowledge of the very few habitants. The lighthouse keepers, the nature police and us, volunteers and biologists. The 6 of us inhabit an island and stay in the lighthouse. It felt like the earth was this island and nothing else existed. Just us on a big rock surviving in a continuous battle with the ocean waves crushing on its every edge. A vibrating ecosystem that would seem as nothing special for a couple of hours but the more the time, the hours and the days spent there, the more it revealed to me, how much treasure it withholds, how much knowledge and purpose it carries for the protection of biodiversity and the continuation of life.
What does a day in Berlengas feel like? We would wake up in the morning to breakfast with fresh Portuguese toast and coffee. Telescopes, binoculars and ready to climb hills all day long. We would cross the land and reach the edges, set up the tripod and zoom in the telescope lens to watch a nest of ‘Galietas’ from 300 meters away on a deathly cliff! We would watch for hours until she decides to get up so we can see and count her eggs or chicks! Now you can imagine not all of them would be so cooperative, some of them would even play games of on purpose maneuvering so we never get a chance to make a clear observation! Others would stand up for a second and as we crazily rush into setting the lens at the right spot she would sit down immediately once we are able to watch her! Now tell me if that is not on purpose! The ‘good’ news is that we have to do that for more than 100 nests across the island which can barely be finished within 5-6 days! Isn’t it boring? One might say so, but I quite enjoyed this part of just sitting watching the ‘galieta’ and the ‘galieta’ watching me for hours and hours. I don’t think I needed my patience any more than in this case before.
At lunch time we would have someone cooking a very Portuguese amazing food like ‘calderada de peixe’ or ‘massada de peixe’ were my favorites! Wine, coffee, and aguardiente was part of the menu too! And the plenty of cakes which I was asked to make because it seems like it made them very happy! In the afternoon we would either check the mouse traps to see if they trapped a mouse and or we would record the fauna species per square meter of land and per percentage of coverage! Fun stuff! Other tasks would include recording species traffic for the census using the telescope! That was not easy! Imagine having the view of a highway of birds which are at least 10 km away from you and by their way of flying and colors you need to identify what species they are, how many they are and what are they doing there! I wish they could just tell me straight away! It feels like being in the middle of a motorway and trying to identify the date of manufacturing of each car based on its emissions! This was such a random comparison but whatever! And my next favorite part is dinner. Same as lunch.
And while one might think that at night we would go to bed and rest we actually had to wear torches on our foreheads and get outside in the middle of the night, climbing cliffs with the moonlight as guidance and the torches on our heads blinding each other! Why?? Well because we had to go and extract those poor birds called ‘cagarras’ from their nests in the ground and then measure their every body part and give them a ring! Just imagine you are sleeping in your bed in the night peacefully and a giant hand drags you out and starts measuring you with a ruler, then stuffing you in to a bag and weighting you and as if you are not fashionable enough in your pajamas you from now on need to wear a bracelet with a number! That is how a non-biologist sees all of these… Of course the poor ‘cagarras’ had to fight back and it was a bloody fight with our hands full of scratches since their beaks are quite deathly! And we would be doing this all night long, coming back home at 2 am in the night!
So that was a typical active day in the berlengas in the high season which is spring and everything is flourishing! There would be some days that nothing would happen and we cannot get out of the lighthouse since the wind splashes are about 70km per hour which would most likely cost you your life if at the edge of a cliff! Did I have accidents on those cliffs? A few yes. It is not the safest type of job, but definitely one of the most exciting ones I have done with all these risks that come with it!

So that was a small taste of my conservation work in Berlengas which seems like a world I would never thought existed and I feel so lucky that in one way or another I had the chance to experience it! Definitely one of the greatest gifts that I got from the whole volunteering experience so far. Let's see what comes next, what steps will I take, and I will soon be starting to plan my life after this program. I am so glad I chose to do this program and it definitely exited all my expectations by far. I never thought of this experience being sooo interesting! I am grateful to SPIN and SPEA for choosing me as their volunteer.

April 2022, 22nd.

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