BY AIMEE MCINTOSH
What was the duration of your stay?
I stayed for 9 weeks, which flew by! When I first arrived it seemed like it would be a long stay on Koh Rong, but at the end of my 9 weeks stay it feels like I’ve been here no time at all.
What made you sign up?
After having graduated I wanted to fill a year getting as much experience and developing transferable skills for a career in Biology, before starting a masters. When the ‘Song Saa Foundation’ appeared it had everything I had been looking for. A conservation project with marine research (something I had never tried before) as well as the opportunity for some community work, as well as the added perk of living on a tropical island for nine weeks.
Mangrove survey techniques. – Never having surveyed mangroves before this was a great opportunity. Learning to survey mangroves was a day of ducking, clambering and crawling through the roots.
Career and development – In addition to the formal training, I have learnt and developed an abundance of skills including NGO development, community conservation programme management, data analysis and social media management for career development, along with many others! So many of the experiences I have gathered will be transferable in the future.
What has been the best moment of the expedition so far?
My best dive moment was probably a recky dive off of Koh Koun. We had a really good crossing, calm waters, glorious sunshine and once we arrived at the pyramid shaped island you could already see it was going to be a good dive with the rays of light streaming through the waters’ surface.
What are some of your favourite pictures?
What 3 words would you use to describe the foundation staff?
Enthusiastic, compassionate and hilarious.
Describe a day in the life of a volunteer
Your wake up call is the sound of Prek Svay coming to life, and occasionally chanting monks played threw the Pagodas’ loudspeaker. Then off to breakfast, often walking with children on they’re way to school in their pristine uniforms. Depending on the dive plan the morning is either spent doing data collation and prep, or loading up the long-tail boat and cruising off to that days’ dive site. Once at the dive site it’s a quick buddy check and then into the blissful water (most appreciated on a calm 34oC day!)
Regardless of the purpose of the dive you always see something. Abudefduf spp., Eight-banded butterfly fish, Urchins and a variety of corals are a common occurrence, whilst Blue spotted ribbontail rays and Barracuda are more elusive. Refuelling with a cup of milo and a picnic lunch whilst basking in the sun is a peaceful way to spend the dive interval before dive number two.
Afternoons and evenings are spent inputting data, reading whist enjoying a sunset, watching a movie from Ben and Marianne’s extensive collection or, on a social night; having a cocktail (or three) at Palm beach. Finally, it’s the walk back to Sala under the extensive starry sky, before tucking in your mozzie net and dozing off.
Describe your expedition in no more than 300 words
The best word to describe my TMCP expedition is diverse. I tried so many new and things during my nine-weeks, it has flown by.
The diving is obviously a major part of the expedition. I had the was able to visit eight different dive sites and as a result saw a variety of slightly different reef systems, whether it was M1-L where everything was in miniature, or Koh bong where there is loads of Turbinaria. It was brilliant to be able to explore so many different sites as well as know the data I helped collect will be of use in the long-term protection of the Koh Rong Archipelago.
The community aspect was equally as varied and enjoyable as the diving. Working with the children in many different projects, be it art, education or simply having a party was brilliant fun. I got to know many of the children and often spent the mornings on my days off drawing with them. On one occasion was treated to a dance lesson!
I will certainly miss playing with the children in Sala, and especially all their constantly smiling faces.
The final crucial component to my expedition was the Foundation team themselves. They are simply superb. I felt so welcome from the moment I was met off the boat, I felt at home very quickly. Whether it was during a scheduled activity or simply relaxing on a day off or over dinner, everyone on the team was always a pleasure to be with and it is entirely down to all of them that I have so many great memories to go home with.
This was a truly memorable experience; I will certainly miss being with the team and hope to remain involved with the Foundation in the future.