Breeanne Fryers - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
When I started my journey with Projects Abroad in Thailand I had been a graduate from the University of Guelph for just under a year. I achieved my degree in philosophy. Before ever having graduated I had always intended to take some time off from school to spend travelling. After working for a year post-grad I put aside four months to travel around South East Asia and Europe.
To get started with life in a foreign country I wanted to try to find a volunteer organisation to become involved with. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon Projects Abroad and found the Thailand eco-project. After some research it seemed like the perfect way to get on my feet while being alone in a new part of the world. I committed to a month with the organisation.
Arriving in Thailand
I spent one night in Bangkok before catching a local flight to the province of Krabi in the South-West region of Thailand. Before going my parents and I had done some research (to appease their worries) on the political situation in Thailand. What we found was that any disrupt would be quite far from my project placement in the town of Ao-Nang.
When I arrived at the Krabi airport there was a friendly Projects Abroad staff member there to greet me and help me with my bags. We drove for about an hour to my new home at the resort, Dawn of Happiness, situated on the beautiful Ao Nammo beach. We were nestled in cabin style rooms in the forest that runs along the beach. It was amazing how close we were to the wild life. Every night around 7pm the forest erupts with sound. I don't know why or even what makes this noise, but it’s indescribable. You literally have to raise your voice to speak over it.
Occasionally, if we were lucky, at night we got a visit from one of the cutest little monkey-sloth creatures in the world; a slow loris. The slow loris has become a vogue pet to own in the past few years and their numbers are steadily declining. At Dawn we had at least two wild ones that would crawl into our open air common area at night to grace us with their cute little faces. The locals running the resort adore the little creatures and always leave a banana within reach for them.
The staff at Dawn of Happiness was adept with English and were very friendly and helpful. It was great how much of a relationship they built with the volunteers. Not to mention the food they cooked for us! Colourful curries, rice and sometimes comforts from home like chicken fingers.
My Conservation Placement
Our week started on Mondays with helping various environmental groups working in the area. One of these was called APE (Association for Protection of the Environment). While I was there we did trail cleaning and built a small bamboo bridge for the path. The idea was that it would become an educational nature trail where schools could take students to gain some hands on knowledge about biodiversity and ecosystems. I enjoyed doing this though it was usually the hardest work.
We used machetes to cut bamboo and once you get into the rhythm of it, it's really fun! The feeling of accomplishment was palpable for the whole group upon completion of the bridge. On Fridays we would all head out to a beach, local or a bit farther out, and split into groups to do a beach clean. The amount of rubbish collected at the end of the day was weighed and brought to an appropriate disposal venue. Frequently we would have friendly competition between the teams for who could collect the most waste, which always added some fun. It was really nice when you could see the difference 10 or 20 people can make in a couple hours.
The most exciting part of getting involved with this particular Projects Abroad trip was our activity from Tuesday to Thursday; scuba diving! In order to get certified with your advanced course it takes about 5-6 dives. This includes a fish ID test where you learn the name and underwater hand signals for 50 species of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. Once you have completed the certification you start doing dives with the group. Some of these dives will be debris clean up where we dive down and pick up rubbish we find. Or the other option is a reef check, where we count and tally numbers on the 50 at risk species we learnt in our ID test.
All the information is processed and input into databases by volunteers. The diving instructors are all so friendly and helpful. They always make sure you feel as safe as you are (very!). By the end of my month I definitely felt like some of the instructors had become my friends and mentors, and was always happy to have an interesting conversation with them on the boat rides to and from dive sites.
Diving itself is incredible. All around you in the reefs there are beautiful fish. On my first day we saw two sea turtles and a stingray. There's nothing like the feeling of being 20 metres under water with creatures all around you and looking up to see schools of fish swimming above you. It is a truly unique experience.
On our free time we were able to explore the town of Ao Nang, which was just a quick and cheap bus or tuktuk ride away from the resort. Besides that we were only forty minutes away from the bigger town of Krabi. On my very first night I joined some of the other volunteers to go to the weekend night market there. Such amazing food, art and people!
Besides this, the group I was with made trips to nearby Railay, PhiPhi Island and Koh Lanta. All are beautiful and famous destination spots in Thailand, which we got to experience to the fullest without interrupting our volunteer activities in the slightest.
One last story to leave you with recalls my second weekend with the Thailand eco-project when it was Songkran, or, Thai New Years. It is also known as the water festival. The celebrations in Bangkok go as long as a week, but in Ao-Nang the main festivities were had over the weekend.
On the Saturday our volunteer liaison got us all together and into the trucks to go to a nearby temple to pay alms to Buddhist monks and experience just a part of the Songkran ceremonies. Afterwards we were set free to enjoy celebrating Songkran the traditional way: water fight! The water festival is celebrated as a giant water fight in the streets, with locals and visitors donning waterproof bags and huge water guns to soak each other to the bone. Within ten minutes I felt like I would never be dry again. It was one of the best celebrations I’ve ever experienced, and it will very hard to top.