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Art and science: Win-win for SAEON and its vacation volunteer

By Lara Atkinson, Offshore Marine Scientist, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Jessica Eggers after her scuba dive in the kelp forests

Jessica Eggers contacted me from Australia in August 2015 asking whether there was any opportunity for her to spend some time with the SAEON Egagasini Node during her planned December holiday.

Jessica was currently completing her second year of studies towards her Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology at the James Cooke University in Townsville, Australia. She was going to be joining her family in Cape Town for Christmas and was hoping to spend a few extra weeks volunteering at Egagasini. Jessica also mentioned that, aside from marine science, she quite enjoyed art.

Knowing that I am always needing some extra ‘hands’, I agreed that Jessica was welcome to join us at Egagasini. What a beneficial arrangement this would prove to be!

Jessica duly arrived at our offices on 1 December and after exploring her interests and seeing her line sketches, I immediately knew that her talent could be put to good use. Jessica’s in-depth knowledge of marine invertebrates, attention to fine detail and her remarkable artistic talent combined in a unique set of skills that I immediately applied to improving SAEON’s Offshore Demersal Invertebrate Identification Guide.

Detailed line sketches

Over the next three weeks, Jessica compiled 27 beautiful, detailed line sketches of a diverse range of marine invertebrates to incorporate into the identification guide. These sketches will help non-specialist researchers or observers onboard vessels to get a quick understanding of scientific terminology used for different animal body parts in the eight phyla covered by the guide.

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Jessica designed a series of cover pages for the different sections of SAEON’s Offshore Demersal Invertebrate Identification Guide

Jessica compiled 27 beautiful, detailed line sketches of a diverse range of marine invertebrates for the guide

Jessica moreover designed a series of cover pages for the different sections of the guide - Echinoderms, Crustaceans, Molluscs and a fourth category combining five other phyla represented in the guide. All in all Jessica’s artistic contributions have greatly improved the general appearance and user-friendliness of the guide.

With Jessica freely sharing her unique combination of skills with us, we ensured that she also benefited from us during her three-week volunteer duration. Through SAEON, Jessica participated in a postgraduate open day seminar series at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where a diverse range of research topics were presented.

Jessica got the opportunity to interact with postgraduate researchers from UCT and from the German research vessel, the Polarstern, that arrived in Cape Town during Jessica’s visit. She also participated in a mini-workshop hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which assessed the different underwater visual techniques and tools currently used by South African researchers.

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Jessica’s line sketches of a hermit crab (left) and a sea urchin


Scuba dive in the kelp forests

Although we could not facilitate for Jessica to participate in any sea surveys during her short visit, we did ensure that she got a guided tour of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' research vessel Ellen Khuzwayo. Charles von der Meden (postdoc fellow) and Hannah Raven (intern) moreover ensured that Jessica’s one desired activity of a scuba dive in the kelp forests, was successfully achieved.

Overall, hosting Jessica Eggers as a short-term vacation volunteer was a very rewarding experience, not only in achieving an array of beautiful diagrams and cover pages that enhance the identification guide, but also in terms of meeting such a dynamic, motivated and inspired young researcher.

Jessica has returned to Australia where she will be completing the third and final year of her BSc degree, but she has expressed keen interest to return to South Africa soon, perhaps through another internship opportunity, or perhaps even to pursue her postgraduate studies.

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