International Students Student stories Science Aloka Nethmini Benaragama Vidanalage (Sri Lanka)

Aloka Nethmini Benaragama Vidanalage (Sri Lanka)

What inspired you to choose JCU?

Growing up in Sri Lanka, I learned to appreciate the ocean and its invaluable resources, which hold great significance for my island nation. With the aim of making a positive contribution to the management of our marine resources, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in aquatic resources technology at Uva Wellassa University in Sri Lanka. Throughout my studies I realised studying aquaculture technology would help me contribute positively to the sustainable management of fisheries in my country and help enhance fish production to meet the escalating food demands of the future.

After careful consideration, James Cook University (JCU) emerged as the best next step in my journey. Not only does JCU hold the prestigious number one ranking for Marine Biology, but it is also a highly reputed university for aquaculture research. Its location in North Queensland was the cherry on top! The North Queensland region boasts the highest aquaculture production in Australia, with ideal environmental conditions for fish culture. In addition, the weather in Sri Lanka and Townsville is quite similar, meaning that I could learn new aquaculture techniques at JCU and easily apply them back at home. Looking back, choosing JCU was a great decision, and the similar weather also helped me acclimate easily to living in a new country.

What are some highlights of your JCU experience?

I started my JCU journey in February 2022 with rigorous coursework, where I learned a lot. I also had the privilege of gaining practical experiences like handling fish, managing feeds, and maintaining water quality through volunteering at JCU’s Marine and Aquaculture Research Facilities Unit (MARFU). This was an invaluable experience, and I ended up volunteering with them throughout my degree program.

The main highlight, however, has been my recent professional internship at the SeaFarms Pty. Ltd. Hatchery. SeaFarms is one of the largest aquaculture operations in Australia, selling their products under the well-known “Crystal Bay Prawns” brand. During this internship, I gained hands-on experience in a multitude of tasks, from live feed preparation to water quality and bacteriology analyses. I also had the opportunity to undergo training in other departments where I learned about algal culture and upscaling, broodstock selection and maturation, artificial insemination in prawn and even rearing larvae in different life stages through to harvesting them. This experience not only enhanced my technical skills but also allowed me to work on essential soft skills which are crucial for an aquaculture technician. It allowed me to build confidence in the industrial aquaculture setting and be a true team player.

What is one piece of advice you would give other prospective international students?

The best way to get the most from your experience at JCU, is to get involved! My involvement in the international student community at JCU through International CafĂ© and various student organisations enriched more than just my student life, it gave me the opportunity to make friends and enjoy life in North Queensland. It also brought me the opportunity to participate in Study Townsville’s ambassador program which allowed me to network with international students from other organisations and countries. We organised events, attended workshops, and explored the beauty of the region together. These experiences of working with other students and making friends from around the world helped me develop important interpersonal skills and eventually led me to sharing my student experience through an interview with the Townsville Bulletin newspaper.

Student working on campus as the CROC mentor

Image: Aloka and other CROC mentors on Townsville campus

What is next on your journey?

I am excited to finish up my time at JCU, and translate all the knowledge, professional experience, and hands-on skills from my master’s degree to my job in the aquaculture industry. I am confident that wherever I end up, I will be making a positive impact in the aquaculture sector and working on global food security in the future.

I will always look back fondly at my time at JCU and be grateful for my pivotal decision to study in Townsville and recommend this as a prime study destination to other students wanting to study marine science or aquaculture.