This Volunteers Week, we’re taking the opportunity to give a big shout out to our fin-tastic volunteers and interns working with us here at the NMA. Their hard work and support has meant that, with their help, we can continue looking after our amazing animals, carry out important scientific research, promote our charity’s message of Ocean positivity and conservation, as well as inspire the general public.  

We spoke to some of our brill-iant volunteers, working with both our Animal Husbandry Team and Ocean Discovery Rangers. Read on to find out about their experiences volunteering with us.

Emily Gray – Animal Husbandry Intern

Emily is a Student at Plymouth University who plans to continue on to study a Masters Degree in Marine Policy, Aquaculture and Fisheries.

How long have you been interning with us?

I started the Husbandry Internship back in November 2020, mostly working with tropical fish in the Biozone area. I’ve liked it so much working here, that I was offered to do an Aquaculture Internship and stay on working with the team.

Tell us a bit about your intern experience.

It’s always different day-to-day, even though you’re doing similar things, there’s always something different going on and it’s very interesting. The other day we moved one of the Eagle Rays down to quarantine, so I was able to help out with that. Plus feeding the Turtle, Sharks and Rays in the Atlantic Ocean Tank is also very fun!

I was able to dive with some of the Sharks too! We go in and make sure they’re healthy and happy. We’re also hoping to do a breeding project where we breed Clownfish, Damselfish, Bangai Fish. There’s some back of house in our Biozone area, ready and waiting, we’re just hoping they will spawn now.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering doing an internship at the NMA?

“It’s a lot of work but it’s opened my eyes to different areas of work that we can actually do, because I wasn’t interested in Aquaculture until I came here and realised that I really enjoy it! It’s really good work and very sustainable. You just don’t know until you try!

Marta Martín – Animal Husbandry Intern

Marta is currently a final year Biology student at Plymouth University. She moved from Barcelona to the UK in September 2020 for an Erasmus in Bangor. She’d planned to stay for only 3 months but liked it so much that she’s stayed a little longer and has now been in the UK for 8 months.

Tell us about your intern experience.

I’ve liked it very much! The mornings start with cleaning the tanks, doing routine maintenance and then we feed the animals. I help feed the Jellyfish and the Atlantic Ocean tank animals, like Friday the Turtle, the big sharks and Eagle Rays. The Rays splash you when you feed them, it looks funny when you see it but when you get really wet and cold, it’s not so fun. I love feeding the Sharks the most, the Nurse sharks are my favourite!

Why did you decide to do an internship at the NMA?

I needed to do a placement for my degree in Biology, and I wanted to do a placement in Husbandry so I found the National Marine Aquarium and was lucky enough to come work with them.

I really enjoyed visiting aquariums in my life when I was travelling around and whilst at home, so I love being a part of the process, taking care of the animals and seeing what goes on behind the scenes.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering doing an internship at the NMA?

Volunteering is so rewarding so I encourage you to just apply and see what happens. There’s a lovely team and great environment at the NMA. You’ll really enjoy it!

Jill Bee – Ocean Discovery Ranger Volunteer

Jill is our longest serving volunteer, volunteering at the NMA for over 20 years now! After retiring she went on a six-week trip to Australia and, when she came back, was inspired to work with marine animals and volunteer at our Aquarium.

Tell us a bit about your volunteering experience.

“I love volunteering and talking to people about the different animals. The Rays, Sharks and Turtle are my favourite to watch and talk about. I have studied them so much working here over the years that I can usually tell when the Eagle Rays are going to give birth.”

Jill is well known throughout the Aquarium as the Eagle Ray whisperer. Whenever she’s predicted the date of an Eagle Ray birth, she’s been so accurate that our Animal Husbandry Team heed her advice and know when to prepare for the new births.

What’s been your best experience volunteering with us?

“My best experience was when UShaka and Mandela, the Sand Tiger Sharks, moved to the NMA from South Africa in 2015 as part of a conservation breeding programme. They were so tiny and now they’re huge so it’s been fun watching them grow.”

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering volunteering at the NMA?

“Go ahead and do it! I love volunteering here and the team are great. I came in knowing nothing about any fish and now I know so much about all of them. There’s always more things to learn too.”

Chris Pinhey – Ocean Discovery Ranger Volunteer

Chris has been volunteering with our Ocean Discovery Rangers for just over a year now. He wanted to go into conservation work so chose to volunteer at the National Marine Aquarium to learn more conservation, different marine animals and how best to protect them.

Tell us a bit about your volunteering experience.

“I’ve loved it and really enjoy talking to people and making them aware that when we go to the beach or go to the sea you don’t see all the animals that live there. You might see some fish, crabs, maybe the odd starfish but there’s a lot more than you’d expect. There’s so many weird, wonderful and entertaining ocean animals that I love making people more aware of so that they can go away knowing more about them and how to protect them.”

“My dream is to continue working here in the future so volunteering at the aquarium has been a fantastic way for me to get to know the animals, the team and work out if this is something I want to do in the future, which it is! I definitely see myself still working here in five years.”

Which animals are your favourite?

“The Octopuses are my favourite animals at the Aquarium! They’re amazing with all the abilities they can do like squeeze down to small sizes, change colours depending on their moods and emotions. They’re so different and unique compared to a lot of other animals.”

“Nudibranchs I also find really fascinating! They’re a type of sea slug, which are quite bizarre and unique at the same time. They eat anemones and adapt the skin cells of the anemone for themselves so that they have their own stinging cells. My favourite is the Blue Sea Dragon! They like to float on the surface of the water, using their suckers to feed on Portuguese Man O’War Jellyfish and adapt those stinging cells for themselves too. They’re a bit like real life Pokémon in the way that they evolve.”

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering volunteering at the NMA?

“You pick up a lot more from volunteering than you might think. Learning from other volunteers like Jill, who has volunteered for 20 years and knows so much about the animals moods and signals. She knows when all the Rays and Sharks are about to give birth and things like that. She’s like the aquarium psychic!”

“Volunteering is such a learning experience and a great way to get your foot in the door and grow connections. You also see what the people and the atmosphere of a work place is like. There’s such a friendly atmosphere here at the NMA! It’s great working here and my best advice is to go into volunteer work without expectations but just wanting to learn.”

Thinking about volunteering with us? We’re always looking for passionate individuals to join us!

Click here to check out our Volunteering & Work Experience opportunities

The National Marine Aquarium (NMA) is the UK’s largest aquarium, located in Britain’s Ocean City, Plymouth. It is run by the Ocean Conservation Trust, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the Ocean.

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