Olivia Yorke-Dunne – Youngest Scientist in Residence

Sea bird flying

Olivia rises to a challenge: this summer, she was the youngest ever Scientist in Residence for Project Ocean Awareness on board tall ship Pelican of London.

Olivia had just completed her GCSEs when she expressed her interest to become a marine biologist to me. Knowing her as resilient and determined, I suggested to consider becoming one of our Seas Your Future Scientists in Residence this summer. Olivia’s eyes lit up and her parents were very supportive of the idea.

Our Scientists in Residence are usually undergraduate or postgraduate students or young professionals in relevant fields, such as oceanography, marine biology or ecology, geochemistry and other marine sciences. So, Olivia had some catching up to do: I asked her to pick some Citizen Science projects out of the portfolio I put together for Seas Your Future, and then we worked through them in some detail.

Olivia was also quick to learn new skills in her own time: for example how to identify porpoises, dolphin and whale species, and she even introduced her family and friends to the identification of clouds and seaweeds. We also developed her research project together.

Olivia and I aboard Pelican of London collecting plankton in Bristol Harbour.

In July, Olivia came on board. We met on Pelican at the Bristol Harbour Festival and tried out some of the equipment on board, for example the plankton net, microscope and sediment grab.

We also met with Leanne Hughes, Scientist in Residence for the coming fortnight, who would be Olivia’s mentor on board while she was taking part in sail training.

After becoming familiar with the routines on board, taking part in the watch rota, for example helming the ship, keeping lookout, working on deck and aloft to set sail, she helped out with Leanne’s outreach projects.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Leanne and one group of trainees, and welcome the next group of trainees as the Scientist in Residence for the next voyage.

When she came back, she said:

It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! I gained more confidence in myself and more knowledge and understanding about science in general. But specifically the effect we’re all having on our environment, as in every sample from the plankton trawls I found micro plastics and the use of boats hugely affects the Secchi depth of the water”

Olivia’s report is not only a summary of the science work she has undertaken while she was Scientist in Residence, but also an insight in the personal development young people undergo while on board and a testimony to her ability to overcome the challenges life at sea throws at you:

We would be delighted to have her back on board next year.

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