The first one was hard

Organising and doing long-term fieldwork in a remote area was like riding a rollercoaster in the dark. You never know when the next turn is going to happen and it comes when you least expect it. Well that’s what life is about anyway, but the rate of conflict and resolution seemed accelerated when you are far from your creature comforts. Doing it for the first time was like being trapped in a room and someone released the drop gate of… skittles (trying to see obstacles as opportunities here) that I had to swim through. They didn’t always come hard, but they came fast.

Here are some of the problems I noted down during the field trip (I apologise if some don’t make sense):

  • Couldn’t find dive logger communication cables – found it in a different box with the GPS trackers.
  • No dishwashing liquid and brush for days – it was left at the old campsite
  • No basin – made one
  • Sand in tent – built a foot scraper
  • Lead battery connected to the solar panel short circuited accidentally in strong winds and melted – somehow still works next day
  • Incomplete instructions for GPS trackers – thank goodness Sirtrack (the GPS tracker company) person checked his email on the weekend, and thank goodness for phone reception in a remote area!
  • Day of crazy wind and rain. Everything got wet – sunshine and more guy ropes to hold down the tent
  • Couldn’t find neoprene – found it.
  • One shovel – one shared drop toilet.
  • Needed someone to drop a volunteer off at start of 4wd track – asked the graduate ranger for a favour.
  • Not enough flipper tags? – found it!
  • More Sirtrack problems – do they not want happy customers?
  • One volunteer had to leave earlier than expected – managed to organise last minute volunteers to take her place in a couple of days.
  • Meeting volunteers I never met before – it’s ok. Just treat them like humans.
  • Seal catching – gotta catch ’em all. Epic unsuccessful day ~ 7 unsuccessful attempts at catching them – But finished with a win.
  • Supervisors have left me. Now I’m boss. Noooo – it’s ok just breathe.
  • Had to do my first ever tag recovery. And as boss in the field. DEEEP BREATHING – I did it. First successful tag recovery.
  • Forgetting to pack certain equipment in the field equipment tool box when they were needed in the field – make do with that you got. AND DON’T FORGET IT EVER AGAIN!
  • WANTED: pups that escaped during capture of female seals (studying mum and pup pairs so ideally, pup is caught at the same time mum is caught). Sometimes when pup runs into a group of pups it’s hard knowing whether the pup we caught was the right one – no solution yet but if only I could use a paintball gun… Just kidding, don’t think I’ll get ethics approval for that.
  • This particular wanted pup kept getting away – But we eventually got her in the end.
  • Some GPS trackers were not working as expected – but at least some do. Still, we are disappointed with the performance of these expensive trackers.
Preparing light-activity loggers for deployment in the field
Preparing light-activity loggers for deployment in the field

 

The toilet at camp. Poo with a view.
The toilet at camp. Poo with a view.

Ok, many of the problems seemed to be simple lost and found type problems. But being in a remote area makes you realise how we take these simple luxuries in life for granted.

My first PhD research fieldwork was completed in summer. I was in the field for 5 weeks (though the 1st week was for another seal related project called the annual pup count). However, I did return to civilisation for a day every 1-2 weeks to do a volunteer swap. Every time I got out of camp, I would stay a night in Kingscote (the main town on Kangaroo Island) due to the arrival times of volunteers and the difficulty of driving the 4×4 track to get into camp. The track is only 18 km long, but it takes about 1.5 – 2 hours to drive because of the rough and rocky terrain. That means driving at 5 – 10 km/h.

 

no we're not there yet

 

The fieldwork was mostly successful:

The good:

  • No accidents on humans and seals.
  • I learnt a lot. The most significant lessons were about being in-charge (something I don’t naturally feel comfortable with), organising fieldwork (finding funding, paperwork, bureaucracy, food and equipment, people, activity plans), and of course, a lot about the animal handling (catching seals, sedating them etc).

What could be better:

  • I only managed to recover 3 out of 6 expensive GPS trackers from the seals due to time constraint.

I had set a fixed departure date from KI by planning my return to Singapore shortly after finishing my fieldwork. The problem was that it wasn’t finished. I underestimated how long it would take to do a perfect job. I thought a month would be sufficient but didn’t account for the fact that the speed of recovering data loggers depends on when the tagged seals come back to land! Duh!

The whole experience was overwhelming at times. My mind was often occupied with things I got to do, and problems I had to solve which were unfamiliar to me. It would bring about feelings of loneliness, anxiety and discomfort. Sometimes these thoughts and associated feelings seep in even while I was training BJJ. That wasn’t not good. But the good thing was that I was aware of it. Because that meant I could try to resolve it.

Whenever I noticed I’m not being present in whatever I’m doing. It’s a sign for me to meditate. Meditation wasn’t really the solution, but more a method to bring me closer to it. Another thing I did to help me keep moving forward and staying positive was to keep telling myself – “Just keeping taking the next step. Doesn’t matter how small. What can I do next to progress?”.

I feel that many of the problems were magnified due to my personality and character at this stage. I always try to solve things myself first. But sometimes it might be mixed with a fear or hesitation of asking others for help. Some problems might have been easily solved but just asking. Asking for help – that’s something I have to work on. And that trait is probably linked to overthinking and not being true to myself. Whoa, deep. Hmm… time to meditate on it.

The office with a view
The office with a view

 

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