Kate Jackson - Diving & Marine Conservation in Cambodia
Last year I spent 2 weeks off the coast of Western Australia learning how to scuba dive. During that time I developed a love for the underwater world. After I finished my degree I felt compelled to branch out of my comforts and try something new and adventurous, something involving the marine world which I loved so much. The Projects Abroad Marine Conservation Project in Cambodia was the perfect fit.
Cambodia is an amazing country with amazing people. The initial culture shock of the crazy traffic and busy streets was overcome when I left the city and was confronted by sweeping green fields, small traditional villages and the friendly, hospitable locals. On the way to the Projects Abroad office on the island of Koh Sdach, the bus stopped so that we could all watch an elephant as it strolled through the jungle! It was such an amazing thing to see on only my second day in the country.
Arrival to Koh Sdach
When I got to the island, where I was to spend the next 3 weeks, I was greeting by the lovely staff working there. The Projects Abroad office/accommodation was a stilted house over the water, located in the middle of the fishing community on the island. The Projects Abroad house was a great place to live. The dorms were big and roomy and the deck out the front was a great place to hang out at the end of the day and to watch the amazing sunrises in the mornings.
I started working on the island the very next day. An average days’ work on the island started with a scuba diving session in the morning. During these scuba dives we would either do a dive training course, a dive against debris (which involved cutting away fishing nets from the coral) or seahorse surveys, where we would scour the ocean floor searching for endangered seahorses to record.
During these dives, I not only improved my skills in diving but also learned a lot about marine life and marine pollution. I was then put to work developing a presentation to deliver at the upcoming workshop. The workshop was designed to inform the community about marine pollution, and to educate them about ways to manage and control waste on the island. This workshop was definitely one of the highlights. It really involved the community in trying to solve the trash management problem. During the afternoons, it was common for all of us to head out to the beach and do beach clean-ups. After a big days work we would often head to the restaurant on the beach to have dinner as the sun set over the water.
As much as I loved working on the island, the weekends were always something to look forward to. There was always so much of the island to explore. Trekking through unexplored jungle to secluded beaches, to then snorkel between islands, was one of the best ways to spend your free time. We would also take the night bus to Koh Kong, for a weekend of riding motorbikes through the countryside to remote temples and old statues that have been overgrown by the trees and vines.
Independent travel in Cambodia
Cambodia has such a vibrant culture and amazing countryside. After I finished working with Projects Abroad, I spent two weeks travelling around the country. Phnom Penh is a metropolis of tuk tuks, motorbikes, markets, tourists and cheap elephant pants. Just trying to weave through the ongoing traffic is an adrenaline rush! The temples at Siem Reap are a true ‘wonder of the world,’ and an unbeatable tourist destination for anyone going to this country. However, despite the excitement of the city and the amazing centuries old temples, I much preferred my time spent out of the bigger cities. Sen Monorom is an amazing little town on the eastern border.
I spent a weekend there riding and washing the elephants with a local woman who had been living in the jungle for four years. I also spent a few days in the south cost in Kampot and Kep. There are some beautiful beach islands around and plenty of adventures to be had.
The Cambodian Projects Abroad Volunteer program is definitely worth considering for anyone interested in becoming immersed in an entirely different culture and way of life. It can be confronting at times, but it is such an eye opening experience which makes you appreciate how happy people can be with so little. The marine conservation program is such a great option because you are so involved in the island community. It is also a great opportunity to see the beautiful south coast of Cambodia, and scuba dive in some amazing coral reefs.
My advice for future volunteers is to immerse yourself in the program and the community as much as possible. In the short three weeks I was there I had the opportunity to do so much: I presented at the workshop, got my advanced scuba diving licence, participate in several beach clean-ups and dives against debris activities, drew up a draft cartoon to educate children about Projects Abroad and learnt a heap about marine life... and even picked up a bit of the language.
It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend anyone who is looking for a good cause and a bit of adventure to undertake this project.