Rachel Keating MSc on turtles in Thailand

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MSc Applied Ecology

Our latest blog post is from one of our MSc graduates, on working in turtle conservation…

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One of the many idyllic scenes on the islands we are working on!

I graduated from UoG in Autumn 2016 with an MSc (with merit) in Applied Ecology. Since then, I have been lucky enough to start working in Thailand with an international volunteer organisation, GVI (Global Vision International).

I began working as field staff on the conservation programme in June 2017, and I am soon to take over as the project coordinator. The programme is based in the south of Thailand which is a very beautiful area, and we have several national parks within close reach. There are two main focuses to the projects here; the first is working with local turtle conservation centres and the second is conducting biodiversity studies on two local islands.

We work with two local marine turtle head-start centres, where we are conducting research into the benefits of enrichment for captive turtles, in order to increase their fitness for release back into the wild. We are also looking at rates of infection in the turtles and at how we can reduce this. We are working with the centres to improve the conditions for the turtles, and we are teaching the staff about turtle biology and conservation. Head start programmes like this are controversial nowadays, and many believe that they are not the most effective form of turtle conservation. However, I believe that by working with these centres we can increase the chances of these turtles surviving to become breeding adults, as well as doing a great deal of environmental education with the hundreds of tourists who pass through the centres.

The islands where we are studying biodiversity are largely undeveloped and relatively unexplored, which is an extraordinary opportunity as there are few habitats like this left, especially in Thailand! There are thought to be endangered and critically endangered species on the islands, including the sunda pangolin, and through our research we are hoping eventually to secure some level of official protection for the islands. The islands are very different to one another, despite being only a few metres apart at their closest point. One is very hilly and is covered with very dense, ancient rainforest; whilst the other is mostly flat and savannah like. This presents a number of challenges when designing a study to encompass both islands, but this is a challenge I feel prepared for due to my experiences with UoG.

By completing my MSc at UoG, I was able to build up my knowledge of scientific processes and procedures, to practice writing and critiquing scientific papers, and perhaps most importantly to learn a lot more about field techniques and how to apply them. The experience of designing and carrying out research projects under the guidance of incredibly knowledgeable and supportive staff has been invaluable to me, and I would not be in the position that I am now without this experience and the qualification gained.

Rachel Keating

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