As part of my undergraduate degree I participated in an Erasmus+ Internship at the Centro de Investigación Marina (CIMAR) in Santa Pola, Spain from January to April 2017.
Santa Pola is located in southeastern Spain, approximately 30 km south of Alicante. The center itself was founded in 2005 in cooperation with the University of Alicante and the City of Santa Pola. Originally, the center functioned as an army barrack for the Spanish Carabiniere Force from the 1920s until the 1940s when the force was dismantled and merged with what is nowadays known as the Guardia Civil. Although some restorations and refurbishments have been carried out throughout the years, the majority of the building remains in its original state.
Due to the strong theoretical emphasis of our degree program, I was very keen on learning and developing my practical skills in the field. In particular I was interested in completing my internship at a center that focused on topics related to marine biology, as I felt that further knowledge in the area would be of great benefit to me in the future.
I have long been a fan of Spanish culture and language, so when the opportunity arose to complete my internship abroad, I immediately knew I wanted to pursue the chance of interning in Spain. I chose to search for an internship within the Valencian Community in particular, as this region was previously somewhat familiar to me and I found the area interesting from a marine management point of view. Spain in general is a fascinating country when it comes to sustainable coastal management, as the country has nearly 5.000 km of coastline that is divided between two very different marine environments: the Mediterranean in the south and east and the Atlantic in the north.
During my internship I was able to participate in several different types of activities at the center. A typical working day at CIMAR started with measuring the temperature and salinity of the sea at the beach nearby. This was done using a thermo-salinometer and the results were marked in a register kept at the center. The aim of registering the measurements was to recognise any anomalies and study potential reasons behind them.
While measuring the temperature and salinity I would also observe the shoreline for any changes in its composition or any unusual findings, for example large amounts of posidonia oceanica, which naturally exists in the area and is considered “litter” according to conventional beach goers. In reality posedonia oceanica is a marine plant whose abundance is a sign of good water quality.
During my internship I had the opportunity to gain practical experience in many areas of field work, one of which was through participating in a project collecting sediment samples in the Santa Pola salt marshes. The aim of the project was to collect sediment samples from three different locations in the Bonmatí salt mines, located a few kilometers south of Santa Pola. Sampling was carried out using a Van Veen grab and all samples were observed and labeled on site. Afterwards each sample was fixed using formaldehyde solution and at a later date analyzed using a microscope.
In addition to collecting samples, the surrounding flora and fauna were also observed and a final presentation on the project outline, data collection, observations and results was then prepared to summarise the project and presented to local authorities as background material for an upcoming project.
Another project I cooperated in was collecting samples on a vessel with a team of staff from the University of Alicante as well as the Instituto Español de Oceanografía. The aim of the activity was to collect sediment samples from several points in the Mar Menor bay using a Van Veen grab. Samples were collected from various locations and depths ranging between 6-8 meters. Samples collected with the grab were then observed, strained and labeled onboard the vessel. Upon returning to the laboratory pH levels were measured and all samples were fixed using a formaldehyde solution to be analyzed at a later date.
Furthermore, I had the opportunity to assist in the data collection as part of a UA student’s Bachelor’s Thesis on the terrestrial flora and fauna at several locations along the Santa Pola coastline. Participating in this task allowed me to get to know and be able to recognize some of the most common terrestrial and marine fauna found in the Santa Pola area, many species of which are common in the Mediterranean region and the Levantecoast.
An important part of CIMAR is its participation in environmental education. In addition to offices and laboratories used by staff of the University of Alicante, CIMAR’s facilities also include an exhibition hall with a vast collection of findings originating both from the Santa Pola-Alicante region as well as other parts of the Spanish Mediterranean. The exhibition hall is open to the general public daily and guided tours of the center are organised weekly. This offers any interested members of the public the opportunity to get to know the centre its mission and in addition learn more about the local marine environment.
The center also offers guided tours and visits for school groups, vocational learning institutions and adult-education centres interested in learning more about marine and coastal environments. These groups come from both Santa Pola and the surrounding areas as well as other regions of Spain. The centre also collaborates with foreign learning institutions. Participating in the organisation of these visits was very interesting because not only did it allowme to learn more about CIMAR itself and the different species found in the Mediterranean, but in addition I had the opportunity to connect with the visitors themselves and participate in environmental education activities, which I find very important.
I was given the opportunity to assist in UA’s Ciencias del Mar Bachelor program’s practical lessons, which was again an interesting and different type of experience. One such practical included the observation and collection of marine fauna samples in the littoral zone as well as laboratory work and data analysis of the samples collected.
I also joined the students aboard a research vessel as they collected samples in the area around the Alicante Bay. In this practical students learned to use GPS positioning devises, different types of grabs and nets for sample collection, visibility observation using a Secchi disk, fixation using formaldehyde solution, etc. My primary tasks were to assist students using the thermo-salinometer as well as aid them in visibility measurements using the Secchi disk. Participating in the students’ practicals was interesting and rewarding because not only did it allow me to gain practical skills myself but also I had the opportunity to get to know Spanish students and compare experiences as university students in marine-related fields.
In general I was very pleased with my internship experience at CIMAR. I was taken in with open arms and a positive attitude that carried throughout the entire period. I had the chance to participate in many different activities despite my internship taking place during winter months which is generally considered “low season” at the centre.
My goals going into the internship were to get a better understanding of how a marine research center functions as well as develop my skills and knowledge regarding practical field work and marine biology in general. I feel as though I accomplished these goals during my stay. I am able to identify some of the most common terrestrial and marine vegetation in the area of Santa Pola, I have gained practical experience collecting samples, I got a glimpse into the world of environmental education and in general I feel as though I have a much better understanding of the marine research field. I believe that all of these skills will be helpful in my role as a coastal manager.