Alumni Spotlight: Vanessa Gouldsmith


Vanessa was a Finance Manager taking a part-time Masters in Coastal Zone Management, who decided to escape the rat race and follow a long held dream to undertake volunteer conservation work abroad. The GVI Island Conservation project in the Seychelles allowed her to support her Masters by gaining practical experience and take the first step to fulfilling her dream.

Why did you choose this program?

I felt that the program offered me the breadth of experience I was looking for. The projects mainly related to coastal issues which fitted with my degree and would give me practical skills. I also thought that I would gain an insight into the pressures that this area of the world is experiencing from a climate change and increased tourism perspective.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

GVI gave me lots of information about the project and what I would need to bring, consider, and understand about the experience. They offered the opportunity to speak to others who had previously been on the project, and they were clear that the location was isolated and basic so I had a good understanding of what to expect.

I asked questions about exactly what we would be doing (as it was outside the main turtle and Lemon Shark surveying season), and they were able to give me a list of possible projects that were scheduled for the season. This helped me decide if this was the program for me or not.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would say approach this with an open mind. It is basic but you do adjust to, and actually appreciate, the simplicity of off grid island life. The island is rugged, and all the treks are over hilly terrain – good robust footwear will be a blessing and worth the extra weight in your bag. Read the kit and tips list and take it on board – although some kit is available on site containing fins, masks, etc.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day starts with 7 AM chores – these are team building and not too onerous – and by 7:30, we have breakfast made by the two on duty that day. At around 8 AM, you meet with the leader of your group and share the equipment needed for the survey before setting off. You could be going to one of the beaches to check for and log turtle nesting activity, or measuring tortoises for growth data, or beach profiling, among other projects.

At 12 noon, you are back for lunch and a break then at 1 or 2 PM, you will set of for the afternoon project (which could be any of the above, or if it is your day for snorkeling, then it’s a trip out in the boat to see what marine life you can discover).

If it is a shark day, you have the afternoon off and then at 5 PM head out to the lagoon to hopefully net juvenile sharks and add their growth/population data to the project. Dinner is normally at 6 PM, and then you can slip of and read, or join in cards or other games, or take a wander to the nearby beach and look at the stars.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was that I would be the oldest person and not fit in. This was a totally unfounded fear, and even if I had been the only mature person in the group, everyone would have made me feel welcome and included. All the volunteers and staff were brilliant, and we made a great cohesive group from the first day. In fact, it was a real joy to meet so many young people who are passionate about the environment and hear their stories of what brought them to the project.

Are there opportunities to see more than the island you are based on?

You get two to three days off per week, and that gives ample time to plan a trip to one of the other islands and experience more of the beauty of the Seychelles. The staff will drop you off on Praslin which has a bus that can take you around the island, or to the ferry port where you can get a boat to La Digue and have a weekend exploring there. You could also tag a trip to Bird onto the end of your trip – the snorkeling there is said to be amazing.