To finish off Volunteers week – One of our amazing Volunteers, Amy Jefferies has written a blog for us about her experiences as a volunteer!
Before you read Amy’s awesome blog, we’d like to introduce to her! Amy is a hardworking and bubbly young woman and we LOVE having her as part of team Lobster. She is currently studying at Exeter University and gives up her Saturdays to help look after our Lobsters! Not only this but Amy does loads of extra work for u; she’s helped to organise releases with local marine groups, ran some of our Mini Marine Biologist sessions AND does amazing things like writing a blog post for us! We want to say a huge thank you to her for volunteering here at the hatchery and for all the extras she does – Thank you Amy!
A Day in the Life of Hatchery Volunteer Amy…
Working alongside the National Lobster Hatchery technicians Jackie, Chris, and Ben is a great experience and one I would highly recommend. I have gained numerous skills and experience in the aquaculture industry which can be applied in my later life. At present, the experience is expanding my knowledge on how to successfully rear a vulnerable species like lobsters, and to aid their conservation and populations in the wild that are currently threatened.
I have many duties I attend to on a regular basis, the first is normally a simple cleaning of the raceways of the hatchery and the visitor centre, this is where the juvenile lobsters are kept, my job is to remove all uneaten food and waste products. Once all waste has been removed, the juveniles are fed a mixture of specially formulated pellets, these are allocated based on the size and ages of the juveniles to optimise their growth.
After the lobsters themselves have been looked after, I check over the visitor centre displays. The glass of these areas builds up algae very quickly and can sometimes accumulate uneaten food particles, as these displays are what the visitors see first, it is important that they are clean to demonstrate the high standard of care given to the lobsters at the hatchery.
Another very important duty I must carry out every visit, are a series of water chemistry tests. These tests detect levels of Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrite as well as the pH and salinity of the aquarium environment. It is important that these levels are monitored regularly as high levels of Ammonia specifically are extremely dangerous to the lobsters as it is toxic. If any of the levels are unusual, a technician is informed promptly, and the appropriate action is taken. This typically involves a water change, and further daily monitoring of the results of the tests.
Helping transfer the juvenile lobsters is my favourite part of the day. Chloramine-T is used to wash the lobsters, giving a certain time for the transference of the juveniles to trays. If a specific batch hasn’t been washed, then there isn’t as much of a rush into moving the individuals. The relocation of the lobsters from the tanks to the trays is carried out using a baster. This is the most efficient and effective way to move the lobsters without harming them, whilst optimising speed. Once every cell in the tray contains an individual lobster, all are counted to determine the overall survival rate. After this has been calculated, the juveniles are loaded into aqua hive tanks. This is a piece of equipment that consists of a round cylinder that circulates food and running water through it; allowing the lobsters to moult and grow without the interference of predators. As a result, within these tanks, the lobsters grow from their larval stage to their benthic stage, the juveniles are then kept in the aqua hives until they are fit for release in the wild.
The hatchery has 2 different brood tank systems; a warm water system and a cold-water system. Female lobsters are brought into the hatchery by local fisherman around the Cornwall area, they either have black eggs, or red eggs underneath their tails. The colour of the eggs is an indication to the hatchery technicians about how long the eggs have until they hatch. The cold-water system will slow down the hatching process if the eggs are close to hatching close to the time of their arrival at the hatchery. The control of these stages increases the success and survival of the lobsters as they are in a more controlled and prepared environment. The brood systems are a vital component of the hatchery, so their upkeep is critically important. The brood systems are cleaned frequently as a result, using a net to remove waste and uneaten food to improve the water quality and conditions for the buried hens.
Occasionally, I get the opportunity to assist in checking in new brood stock. I get to do this when licensed fishermen bring in the buried hens. The claws of the females are then taped up, and genetic samples are taken from every individual. The buried hen is then added to one of the maternity wards until all of her eggs have hatched.
Throughout the time I have worked at the hatchery, my confidence has greatly improved. So much so, that I now aid the technicians with the maintenance and enhancement of the recirculating aquaculture and aquarium systems. I do this through completing water changes, and backwashing each of the 6 systems. On top of this, I have been learning the controls for all of the systems as there are plenty of valves and pipes to learn but I’m getting there! I also have improved my public-speaking skills, as I frequently go into the visitor centre and engage with the visitors and inform them about what happens behind the scenes of the hatchery, whilst expressing my enthusiasm to the public about the work and milestones we are achieving behind the glass.
In the Easter holiday period, I accompanied technician Chris and the organisation ‘Friends of Fowey Estuary’ down to Readymoney Cove where a simple rockpool release was executed in front of the public. This allowed further engagement with our visitors as we had to wait for the tide to go out, so we talked through the different life stages of the lobsters, with the hope of educating the public a little more. I really enjoyed the experience and we even had our own personal photographer for the day (Thanks Dani!).
So far, the experience has been amazing and it is a privilege to work with such amazing and passionate people. I cannot wait to continue my experience alongside the hatchery after my summer break. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity you have provided me with, and I look forward to continuing the experience and further developing my skills.