Katherine Buczynski - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
It’s not a love of travel, but a love of culture. I’m a tactile person, I like a challenge and I want to know about all the cultures of the world. That’s why I decided when I went off to travel, it would be volunteering, specifically the Scuba Diving and Conservation project that Projects Abroad offers, because it gave me the chance to volunteer in a field I had a huge interest in, learnt first-hand about the Thai culture and to fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming scuba certified.
After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Neuroscience and studying like my life depended on it to get into a graduate Dentistry programme, I found myself incredibly displeased with my future outlook. One week before university classes started, I bailed and ended up taking flight to Asia where I was to travel for a year. Approximately two of these months I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad and I will be forever in debt for the eye-opening experiences during these months.
Arriving in Krabi
I landed in Krabi during early March; the Projects Abroad staff promptly whisked me away to my new home for the next month. Staying in the volunteer housing near Ao Nang is lovely; I stayed in a little hut with two other volunteers, all of us from different corners of the globe. Where we eat is my favourite area, a larger open hut sitting on a riverbed, across from a beautiful dense forest.
The place has a little Robinson Crusoe vibe to it, and the staff and volunteers are all really relaxed giving the place a great aura. But things get fast paced pretty quickly; straight away I was through reading my Open Water PADI certification and getting ready for my first test and a day practicing all the techniques in the pool with my dive instructor. Being so busy so soon really helped settle in and get to know the other volunteers, often bonding over our scuba homework.
Once I’d completed my first PADI tests I was ready to hit the big blue ocean. A normal day consisted of waking up around 6am, grabbing breakfast, a buffet offering all the breakfast staples of muesli, eggs, toast and fruit; then piling into the truck, heading out onto the boat that would take us to our dive sight for the day.
Conservation in Thailand
On the boat we would go over the dive plan for the first dive and plunge into the sea; we’d do various types of dives, some of us working towards qualifications and others doing Conservation projects. We did two dives each day and after the second dive we’d eat lunch on the boat (an amazing selection of Thai curries, rice, noodles and tons of fresh fruit, the sweet pineapple tastes so good after a day of diving).
Then we would head home, arriving anywhere between about 3am and 7pm depending on how far away the dives were that day. The afternoon we might walk to the markets, watch movies or just hang around studying up for whatever dive test we had coming up. Then dinner would be a home cooked Thai dish normally, fish or chicken curries, vegetable stir fries, and always a load of juicy fruit. I’d normally go to bed early as a day of diving tires you out more than you’d think.
This was what 3 days a week looked like, the other 2 week days were for different types of conservation work. Doing mangrove restoration, helping at the turtle centre in Phuket, beach cleans (we picked up 12925 cigarette butts in just a few hours once), helping paint a temple in the nearby area and being involved in the ‘princess project’ – where we got the chance to take underprivileged high achieving city kids to see the ocean and snorkel for the very first time.
During this time I learnt a great deal about marine life and just how precarious its existence is, these southern areas of Thailand have such a lot of beauty but the fishing and tourist industries along with careless waste and garbage management is leading to fairly catastrophic consequences that need urgent attention before it’s too late. I gained a newfound respect and love for the entire coastal eco-system.
Mostly weekends were a time to explore; my favourite was heading out to Railay Beach to rock climb and seek out the most secluded picturesque lagoon. Other weekend outings included hiking Hang Nak mountain, shopping in Ao Nang and checking out the local beaches, hiking around Khao Phanom Bencha national park and up to swim in Huai To waterfall, climbing the 1260 steps of the Tiger Temple (they lie about the amount of steps at the beginning!) and often getting a nice dinner or lunch in town where all the volunteers would come together and have a chilled night out.
All the volunteers were extremely friendly and inclusive; we were one very diverse family in the end with new members always being welcomed with open arms. The dive team was also the most joyful bunch of people, getting up at 6am isn’t always easy, but these guys make it worth your while. Their expertise in diving and the local dive sights was so appreciated; it dissipated any apprehension or nerves I had about diving.
My efforts during my placement left me feeling so content, the conservation work we did gave immediate results, simply seeing the beach a little cleaner or working on the mangroves, as well as having a lasting feeling of satisfaction from the work we did on fish identification and population surveys or teaching kids about the marine life in their own countries waters.