Note – published in Nov 2020 but backdated for sequencing purposes.
Blue Resources Trust (BRT) is a marine research and conservation organization based in Sri Lanka, co-founded by Daniel Fernando, a Fellow of the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund. As part of encouraging the next generation of researchers, BRT offers scholarships for Sri Lankan students carrying out their undergraduate or graduate dissertation research in the marine field. The Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) has helped support the BRT elasmobranch project since 2012. This year MCAF are helping ensure that we can keep our field station open and continue running the BRT scholarship-internship program. The following is a blog written by Thilini Apsara one of the recipients:
By Thilini Apsara
My research journey began in mid-June this year. Due to the adverse COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country, we started our journey in the morning following health and safety measures. My friend is with me too. We traveled on a road that passes through beautiful paddy fields towards Batticaloa, the capital of the Eastern Province. As we cross the Kalladi Bridge, I was reminded about the stories of singing fish – a legend associated with musical sounds made by fish which can be heard in full moon nights. Going beyond that, a lagoon ecosystem appeared. We traveled further along with directions from Google and about an hour later we arrived at the Blue Resources Trust (BRT) field station, near Pasikudah Beach. There we were warmly welcomed by the staff and received an explanation of the organization and its current activities.
As an undergraduate of the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, I got an opportunity to work with BRT. I am currently staying at their field station, working on my final year research project. My research topic is about a stingray genus called Neotrygon (commonly called maskrays). To study their feeding ecology, I am analyzing their stomach and gut contents. My friend is also here, doing an age and growth study of them. This is the very first time I am studying elasmobranchs so I am very excited about it!
As an intern, when I came to the institute, I felt very close to that environment due to the warm welcome and friendliness I received from all. The BRT team provides me all the necessities to conduct my research, including accommodation, food, work-related travel, as well as support for the collection of fish specimens from fishing harbors and landing sites. So it is very helpful to me. They also help supervise and provide all the guidelines related to my research work to make my project a success.
Typical morning at Valachchenai fishery harbor.
Exploring the beauty of east coast during my free time.
This is the first time I have worked with a non-governmental organization. It is one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had in my life. There I have the opportunity to work with a variety of people, including local and foreign researchers. It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to experience something new outside of university life. Also, the environment is set up to carry out my research project in a very relaxed manner.
I had the opportunity to participate in field surveys documenting shark and ray landings in Sri Lanka. It was a good experience about how to work in the field and I learned a lot from it. These days I am working on prey identification of the stomach and gut contents of maskrays, which gives an idea about their habitat and feeding ecology. Knowing habitat is an important aspect in conservation. I also learned a lot about sharks and rays and the importance of studying them. I still have three more months in my internship so I have the opportunity to learn more about them.
With the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country, working on my research project, and attending university lectures, it can be a bit tiring, but working with the Blue Resources Trust team is very interesting. Therefore, I hope to successfully complete my research project with this opportunity.