When Theo came to BU to study Applied Geography, little did he know that his course would take him to two continents and give him the opportunity to discover a whole new world beneath the surface of the ocean.
“I think I definitely made the most of my time at BU,” he explains. On his first placement, Theo joined a marine conservation project in the Bahamas and he has recently returned from assisting on a research project in Ecuador, working closely with Rick Stafford, a BU lecturer in ecology. The aim of this latest project was to survey marine environments to help create a predictive model that can estimate the effect that various changes, such as habitat loss and tourism increase, has on various marine species.
“We started out by doing a pilot study,” Theo reveals. “There was a rocky outcrop off the beach near where we were staying, so we snorkelled around it and Rick used that data to create a pilot model to test his theory.
“It was really cool to see that it worked, and it was great to learn more about how the algorithms worked before we moved on with the project.”
As a qualified scuba diver, the chance to travel to South America and dive off the coast of Ecuador was too good to miss. “There was some amazing diving,” he says with a smile. “On one dive we heard whale calls while we were underwater, they were really clear.” Although Theo wasn’t lucky enough to see these gentle giants while he was diving, he saw plenty of them from the surface.
He also found the research aspect of the trip helpful, particularly as he hopes to go on to complete a Master’s. “I’ve found the experience really useful, and Rick has sent me his first draft of one of the research papers he’s writing.
“Specifically, I want to study human impact on the environment, so I thought this project would be a great way of putting everything I’ve learned into practice,” he enthuses.
While Theo got a lot out of his trip to Ecuador, he also made his own contribution. “I speak Spanish, and that was one of the main ways I could help, because no one else on the team could speak the local language,” he reveals.
“I learned Spanish at school and then college, but I also went to some of BU’s conversation classes to improve it, so I was able to really help by explaining the project to local dive guides, talking to local fishermen to find out more about an area, and even just with basic things like finding us all somewhere to live.”
It’s clear that Theo really benefited from his time in Ecuador, but he says he couldn’t have gone on the trip if he hadn’t received some financial assistance from the Global Horizons Fund. “They were really generous and gave me £1,200, which massively helped because I wouldn’t have been able to do this project without that funding,” he states.
“I also got a small amount from the International Travel Grant, which made things easier as well. Rick was great about helping me find opportunities for funding.”
Although his travels in Ecuador came at the end of his course, Theo is very enthusiastic about the placement opportunities available to geography students. “I think the best thing about the course is the placements you can do. A lot of us did two short summer placements, each over five weeks, and they’ve been great because there’s so much you can do that’s related to geography. You can get really good experience,” he says with a smile.