For volunteers week we spoke to our former Aquarium volunteer, Sophie, about how her experience has helped her forge her own career.
My name is Sophie Palmer and I am a former volunteer at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. I spent a number of years volunteering once a week in the Aquarium working with Jamie Craggs the Aquarium Curator. When I started, Project Coral had not been set up but the Aquarium still housed an impressive coral display.
On my first day, Jamie and James Robson, the former Deputy Curator, walked me through the various stages of jellyfish husbandry, which would become one of my duties over the next few years. I was also taught how to maintain various tanks and displays and specific feeding practices.
In the early days of my volunteering, I was shown husbandry techniques of various animals including tree and dart frogs, giant clams, flamboyant cuttlefish, corals, and of course jellyfish. These practices required a variety of skills, such as maintaining habitats, observing animal behaviour, experimenting with different diets, reading research papers, counting eggs, and fragging (making cuttings of) coral for further growth and research.
It was an exciting time to be working at the Aquarium. Project Coral was set up and as it started to build momentum and gain recognition, the Aquarium acquired sophisticated equipment to maintain the corals, and I was learning more about water chemistry and how the new equipment worked.
Jem, one of the aquarists, showed me how to maintain the live food that was fed to the animals at the Aquarium. These included different types of algae, Artemia, and Mysis.
Michelle Davis, the new Deputy Curator, started to involve me in jellyfish husbandry in more depth and suggested I attend a weekend workshop run at The Deep in Hull. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about breeding and maintaining jellyfish as well as networking with other jellyfish enthusiasts.
In 2017, two new aquarists started at the aquarium - Chris, who has a strong background in pathology, and Chloe, who is now revamping the flamboyant cuttlefish breeding programme. Having Chris and Chloe there in the last few months of my time volunteering proved invaluable as I was able to shadow two extremely knowledgeable aquarists.
I loved my time volunteering at the Aquarium. It helped me onto the path of a fantastic new career - I now work at an aquarium and seal sanctuary in Northern Ireland - and the team there are really enthusiastic and happy to teach. There is no lack of passion at this Aquarium and it makes all the hard work you put in worth the effort.