Brett Jones - Diving & Marine Conservation in Cambodia
It has been a few months now since I left the tropical island of Koh Sdach where I spent three months living and working on Projects Abroad Cambodia’s Conservation project. Whilst I’ve settled back into daily life here in Australia, I will never forget the incredible people I met and experiences I gained from my time in Cambodia.
Living in Cambodia
Life on Koh Sdach is about as relaxed as you can get; you’re on Khmer time of course, so no one is in a hurry. The first week of your project is filled with learning how to dive, where you become a certified PADI diver. Anyone thinking about doing so should jump on the opportunity. Being able to breath underwater enables you to venture into a whole new world full of weird and wonderful creatures. The coral reefs surrounding the islands of the Koh Sdach archipelago are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The coral is massive and in some cases hundreds of years old. The waters are teeming with schools of trevally and colonies of giant clams. The occasional stingray or even a sea turtle can be spotted if you’re particularly lucky.
Diving on this project gives you the opportunity to explore an ecosystem rarely seen by other people, especially tourists, which the locals depend on so much for their food and livelihoods. Unfortunately this ecosystem is facing increasing pressure from fast growing development in the region. The introduction of trawling and the development of a new port are just two of the major threats to the sustainability of these reefs. This is where the volunteers come in.
Days are filled with reef surveys, seahorse surveys, D.A.D (dive against debris) dives, beach clean ups and recently, placing sediment traps. All of which are an effort to both monitor and clean up the reefs. Of course, this task cannot be successful without the support of the locals. So a huge focus of our work on the island was engaging the community.
Work at the local primary school teaching English is one very rewarding part of this experience. The kids really seem to appreciate you being there and they always have huge smiles on their faces. While I think many of the locals just saw us as silly Barang (white people), interviews conducted with some of the fisherman and youth of the village showed promising signs of support with a desire to move towards a more sustainable fishery and improve the quality of the water.
The work you do on the island is certainly rewarding. But one of the best aspects of this project in particular is the people you meet. This goes for not just the locals on the island, but all the other staff and volunteers from around the world too. You get to live and work with an awesome bunch of likeminded people from a diverse range of backgrounds. You share the experience of a lifetime together and it may sound corny but they really do become like family whilst you’re on the island.
We would spend our spare time exploring the untouched jungle that engulfs a large part of the island, taking care to avoid the wild monkeys who can be particularly unpleasant. Or on the weekend we might get a local fisherman to drop us off on an uninhabited island where we would spend the day snorkelling, swimming and chilling in the sun, and the night by a bonfire and swimming with the florescent phytoplankton.
The time I spent on Koh Sdach is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. It is a chance to slow things down and really appreciate what is important in life. You forget about your phone and your worries and get to live in paradise with some incredible people.