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Internship Field: Ecology, Envirenmental Research

Major: Biology

Host: WWF, Fachbereich Meere und Küsten, Projektbüro Wattenmeer

Location: Husum (at the coast, south west of Flensburg)

Duration: mid August -- mid December 1999 (with an additional OSP research grant)


Description: main project: research on barnacle geese in mud-flats area

I feel I am learning skills that will be used later on in academic and perhaps professional settings.

Comments: 1. working on the project:
There was one central project for my internship with WWF. My work thus far has involved assembling and refining a data base that contains a list of all observations of color-ringed barnacle geese in Schleswig-Holstein and Niedersachsen. The barnacle geese breeds in Scandanavia and Siberia and then fly south for the winter. Several of the birds have been captured and individually marked with colored-plastic rings, each marked with a symbol. Using this method, a small. proportion of birds in a population can be recognized individually. Over the past ten years several thousand observations of these color-marked geese have been made, at various locations during their migration. All individual. sightings are recorded, along with date, time, location, parter status, and observer, and sent to the office here in Husum where they are entered into the data base. The first month of my internship was spent primarily working with this data base, entering observational information, and importing data files sent from various other environmental organizations. I am now done with assembling all of the data and am preparing the data for analysis.

There are several questions that we hope to answer from this data pertaining to the migrational patterns and behaviour of the barnacle goose. Much of this data will. require writing original computer programs, to organize and present the data in specific ways. This is a new area of work for me, and one that I am very interesting in learning. The analysis stage is particularly interesting to me. It is here that the scientific work becomes most conceptual, challenging, and exciting. The analysis stage will take some time, but at some point we will begin writing up our findings in the form of a scientific paper. I hope to write a draft in english, and assist in completing another in german. The completion of a scientific report containing the results of our analysis is the goal of my internship.

I have been involved with a number of other activities, indirectly associated with my project. On some weekends, and during the times when my supervisor is away, I have been going to a local protected nature area to observe the barnacle geese which are currently arriving in the Wadden Sea. With a telescope, I have been reading the colored-rings on some of the individuals as well. as learning first hand about the behaviour of the species. I also participate in the bird counts that take place every two weeks, at high tide. I have therefore been learning the bird species of the Waddensea, as well as becoming familiar with the coastal environment around Husum.

The work I am doing is very worthwhile. Though the work can be monotonous at various stages, I am very aware that I am progressing to a goal. I feel I am learning skills that will be used later on in academic and perhaps professional settings. Though I don't expect to continue working with geese, having experience with species monitoring and with various forms of data analysis will be useful in the future. I also appreciate the work I am doing here for the experience working in a non-profit organization as the WWF. Though my project is very focused and specific, I have access to a large amount of literature and information on environmental issues in Germany, Europe, and the world. That knowledge is very valuable.

Having essentially my own project has been the most rewarding aspect of my internship.

2. Educational benefits:
My internship is particularly important, because I see myself potentially working in an environmental organization. Simply observing how the organization functions on a day to day level is valuable, and gives me an impression of what it would be like to work here as a professional. The project I am working on also has long-term significance. I hope to come out of this internship with a scientific report that could be published. Such an accomplishment would be important not only for the experience in itself, but also for the practical benefit of having created such a work when trying to find a job, later in life.

The assignment is also important for me in improving my German and gaining a better understanding of the German culture. I speak english rarely, and have noticed a strong improvement in my German. My German could never have improved so greatly, had I not participated in this program.

Husum is very different from Berlin. Though the "moin moin" greeting is perhaps the most striking difference, living here has given me a more holistic impression of the nation. Things move at a very different pace here, and a simplicity of life has been maintained that is striking. I appreciate living in a community strongly tied to their identity and the countryside. Working in the context of nature protection has also given me an impression of Germany that goes beyond environmental awareness. The relationship between Germany and the quality of the environment is very interesing. Though 'untainted land' is rare in Germany, the commitment Germany has made to preserving what is left says a lot about the people. Issues and conflicts between nature conservation and other interest groups are treated on a much more public and politically rational level than in the States. This level of communication is an asset to the nation, even though nature conservation is seldom the highest priority. I believe the impressions of Germany that I have gained in my time will help me to better interpret and deal with conflicts and environmental politics in the states.

My German could never have improved so greatly, had I not participated in this program.

German language: My German skills have greatly improved. The greatest improvement has been in informal social situations. I have met many young people in the area, most of them students working as "Zivis" (Zivildienstleistende). My interactions with them in German is the primary reason for my improvement. I speak primarily in German at work as well, but given the scientific nature of my project and the importance of clear communication, I still speak a fair amount of English with my supervisor.

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