Nikolaj Buhl - Conservation & Environment, Diving & Marine Conservation in Cambodia
In June 2015, I had my first conversation with the staff of Projects Abroad. They told me about the project, what to expect and the purpose of the project, after the first meeting I was persuaded. Six months later I was sitting on a small speedboat, which just took off from the mainland and was heading to Koh Sdach.
I felt prepared for everything, and I was mentally ready to stay abroad for 10 weeks plus another 14 weeks of travelling afterwards. I met a bunch of volunteers and staff members whom I now regard as my friends. When you spend 14-16 hours together each day, you learn a lot about people; both their strengths and weaknesses. Right now we are 3 volunteers and 3 staff members, which allow us to bond in a different way than if we were 13 volunteers.
Life as a volunteer
We work during the week days from 8am until 4pm, with a two hour lunchbreak in-between. A normal work day usually consists of different interesting activities. We can divide it into on-land activities and diving activities. On-land activities consist mostly of beach clean-up, trash management and teaching English in the local 4/5th grades.
Once I finished my Advanced Open Water Course, I started participating in the surveys we conduct under water. We have three different survey times, which makes our diving experience diverse. Seahorse surveys are done by slowly drifting over the sandy areas and scanning the bottom for signs of seahorses, it’s always good to bring a good amount of patience, because we rarely see any seahorses.
A whole different type of experience is the reef survey. We mark a line on the reef with 50 meters of tape; afterwards 3 surveyors swim along the line and write their observations on underwater slates. One person count fish in family categories, another one count invertebrates (sea urchins, crabs, worms etc.) and the last one note what kind of substrate (coral, sand, rock etc.) there is along the line. Last but not least, my favourite survey, the D.A.D dive, or clean up dive.
Equipped with scissors, knives, gloves and nets we dive down and gather plastic bottles, cans and a lots of nets which often are entangled in corals. This is my favourite dive because you can easily see the difference after you removed a net, and perhaps you gave a coral structure a chance to survive.
My placement in Cambodia
A lot of volunteers who arrive here usually ask how we spend our evenings. Because surprisingly we have a lot of spare time, from around 7 pm until sleep catches us. Although normally time fly with UNO, card games, some pretty tough games of hide and seek (it gets pitch black around here), movies and just talking and getting to know each other. Occasionally we just want some quietness in the evening and then we respect each other and spend the evening with a good book or just sleeping.
The last couple of weeks I have been working on my personal project, which is an opportunity the staff gives us to do find something interesting we want to create when we are not working. I have chosen to build a raft out of recyclable material, and so far I have built the frame of the raft and gathered almost 500 plastic bottles.
One of the most memorable moments I’ve had on Koh Sdach was Christmas Eve. We cooked our own meal, followed up by a game of secret Santa (everyone bought a gift, and then a random person in the group received your gift). Even though almost all the gifts were useless, but we had a hilarious time unwrapping them and guessing who bought the gift we received. After our little game we had dessert and we volunteers danced around our homemade Christmas tree singing Norwegian and Danish Christmas song. Apparently volunteers from Italy and Germany don’t know about our crazy Scandinavian traditions, but after our dance session they all seemed a little bit jealous of our amazing countries.
As you can hear life on Koh Sdach is pretty easy and most of all a lot of fun. But I would say that it is not for everyone. If you are the kind of person who prefers western cuisine, clean environments and a hot shower, then Koh Sdach is not your place. With that said, if you’re looking for a unique experience with lots of campfires, lovely Cambodian food (as well as some western) and brilliant diving, then Koh Sdach is your paradise.
The time I spend here has been one of the most fulfilling chapters of my life. It has given me a chance to really slow down, and appreciate what is important in life. You learn that to be happy there is no need for TV and phones, all you need is a bunch of nice people and a paradise like Koh Sdach. So now I will put down close down the computer and enjoy my last 4 weeks on the Island and whatever they may bring.
Read more about Conservation in Cambodia.