Student - November 12, 2009

On an uninhabited island

Michiel Faber, eighth year forest and management student, spent six weeks on an uninhabited island in Canada. He carried out field research into brooding sea birds.

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I was dropped from a helicopter on Triangle Island, together with three other researchers and crates of food. The four of us stayed in a cabin six by three metres big. Warmth came by way of burning driftwood in our little wood stove. We obtained electricity from solar panels. Rain water collected on the roof was filtered and used as drinking water. I caught fresh fish from the sea with my own hands. The cold sea water was my bath. Swimming trunks were not needed; there wasn't anyone else around.
Emergency button
A few years ago, a female researcher was brought back from the island after two weeks because she could not stand the loneliness. Our only link with the outside world was a satellite telephone with a shaky connection. We also had a gadget with an emergency knob which we were only to use when something really terrible should happen, which ruled out such matters as a broken leg. The gadget sends a signal via the satellite and with any luck, a helicopter would arrive within 30 minutes. In our contract, however, it was stated that this could take two hours.
Vomit
As part of my research, I had to catch birds at night and collect their vomit. I wore dark-coloured clothes to camouflage myself and a helmet as protection from birds swooshing against my head. I would hide in the bushes and wait till a bird landed nearby. I would then turn on my headlamp and try to catch that animal as one gone crazy To make itself lighter and better able to escape, the bird would throw up its food. I would collect this vomit in a jar to be examined later.
Tossing
I also studied bird behaviour from a little observation hut on top of a raised ground. Once, I slept there so that I could wake up early in the morning to observe the birds. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my sleep and thought it was a bird having flown against the little hut. It turned out to be an earthquake.
Each day, I worked for two to three hours. So I had the rest of the day to fish, wander around, rest, make furniture from driftwood and watch the animals. I saw orcas tossing sea lions to one another and their huge bodies rising completely out of the water. It was truly wonderful. I'll go back next year.' / Christoph Janzing

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