August Period

Lily Tomson (UK, UWC AC 2010-2012)

As part of my IB ‘Reflections’, something which I also use this blog* for, I apparently need to evaluate my August Period.

I spent five days of August Period on MEMS camp. This involved learning boat handling skills, and helping my fellow MEMSies by doing boat cover for them, while they did a few dives, in order to qualify for the PADI Advanced Award. We stayed in a Field Studies Centre in Dale, Pembrokeshire. The food was wonderful, and the other visitors good company: one group took us up to their laboratory, and explained the marine conservation work which they were conducting around Skomer Island. We had a lot of fun together as a group: as well as conversations and discussions, we had a campfire and a few of us swam under the moon.

MEMS is often tough, and it doesn’t get much harder for me than diving trips. It’s not much fun watching your friends do something that you’ve always wanted to do, but not being able to join them. The previous trip I went on was fun because of the people and the location, but I can’t say I enjoyed sitting on a beach in the rain too much. In fact, I spent the second day listening to the AV results in the minibus, which, although fascinating and very worthwhile, hardly felt like service! However this trip was far better for me: I had the chance to actually do something, to gain transferrable skills, and to help out my service. It took a lot of discussion and emails before I was able to do anything, so I guess I’m pretty proud that I carved out this niche for myself in my service.

At the start of the period, I brushed up safety skills, basic navigation etc. I was in a little RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat, a boat with concrete/plywood hull and inflatable sides, which was incidentally invented at AC) with one of the diving instructors, and learnt a few tricks and ways to drive more safely (and quickly!). By the end of the week, I was swimming out to pick up the boat on my own, and looking after whoever was in the water until they were done with their dive. I found dive cover a lot of fun, though rather challenging at first: if I were keeping an eye on snorkelers or sailors then they would be easy to spot, and talk to if they had problems, whereas, once underwater, divers are pretty hard to spot. You have to keep an eye out for occasional bubbles, which signify approximately where they are. There’s a time lag, and you have to bear tide and drift in mind to get a decent idea of where they are. You also have to be very careful to stay close enough that if anyone pops up, you can look after them, but not so close that they could hit their heads on the hull, or (the scariest thing) the propeller!

But most of the time in the boat is pretty peaceful- so long as you keep an eye out in all directions, and remember where the ferry comes in, there’s time to enjoy the beautiful coastline, wildlife, and sea. I love being on the sea, and so I enjoyed myself, simply sitting on it, and feeling the rise and fall of the swell underneath me. I rescued a juvenile fisherman’s float and weight when it came undone, towed a few of my friends in when they got tired or ran out of air, and placated the ferry driver when he repeatedly nearly ran over my co-years!

The five days gave me ample time to practice boat handling. It’s very easy to drive around fast, but learning to be accurate and mobile with a boat is far more useful! While doing safety cover, I practiced turning on the spot, coming along buoys in such a way that drift and tide brought me gently to a standstill, launching and returning to shore safely and without destroying the hull on the pebbly shore; skills which I’m sure I’ll be using in the future.

However, something which MEMS constantly faces is the question of how much what we do constitutes service. This something which I think the whole college struggles with, especially with increasing strictness of the demonic ‘Health and Safety’, and a lack of funds and initiatives. Given current national unemployment, organisations hardly want to spend time and energy educating and working with minors, many of whom struggle with language, when they have a ready supply of adults, desperate to spruce up their resumes. How can you make four or five hours a week into an efficient and effective service? I personally battle with the purpose of every session: how can a group of young people with few skills in marine conservation make a difference? MEMS leaves every one of us with no illusions as to the challenge of creating change, even in an area with so many problems and issues. We have no adults holding our hands or organising our projects- everything returns to us. The amount which I feel my service-mates and I have learnt from this is leviathan.

The contribution that teaching people to dive will make on the marine environment is hard to measure. In the short term, all that it seems to create is clouds of dust and disturbed lobsters. Yet I firmly believe that the long-term impact of four generations of MEMSies (our first years being the fifth generation) on how we live our own lives, advise our friends, colleagues and families, is a major one. What we have learnt will be spread across the globe through whoever we meet, as well as the work which we plan to do in the future. In addition, the possibility of one of us entering business, government, or any other position in which policy is decided, is moderately high. Therefore I feel that the knock-on benefits of teaching young people to dive and handle boats are potentially immense. Waste and overfishing of our marine stocks will leave us with no marine sources to eat within a few years, unless we both reduce consumption, and change our fishing methods, in the next few years.

Closer to home, the total wipe-out of indigenous oyster populations on the Bristol Channel through competition with American species (brought over accidentally on the bottom of tankers) is a major issue to be discussed and addressed. We’re starting a breeding project, and hope to put in 20 oysters in the next few weeks. We are organising a project to monitor water salinity and mineral content in the Bristol Channel, as well as one to talk to restaurants in Cardiff which continue to sell shark-fin soup. Our education projects are continuing to go well- I’m helping with a Brownies session next week, and continue to email out and pin up petitions around the school. There is a lot going on in my service, even though it feels at up-hill battle at times! Our first years are lovely and very engaged, and I’m looking forwards to a further year of projects and initiatives!

*Article originally published on her personal blog:

-United Words-


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