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Robert Owen - Conservation in Thailand

Group on the beach

I was the first of the two-week specials to arrive in Thailand. I landed to an onslaught of rain, the airport was very efficient and within no time I had my bags and had recognized Chane’s smiling face. The next staff member I met was Mon in his green Saab. After a short drive through the Thai countryside to my home away from home in Chong Pli, I met my instructors. They were very kind and I soon settled in.

After catching up on some sleep, I made my way to the main house and met all of the regular volunteers. They were all very welcoming and took me to nearby Ao Nang. In Ao Nang there are many things to do, such as rock climbing to mini golf. Once I had returned from Ao Nang I was shown around what was to be the main house and had a delicious dinner made by the resident cook.

Muddy at the mangroves

Over the next few days there was a flood of two-week specials and by Sunday we had a full group of eighteen. We all bonded quickly, despite the fact that we were all from different countries and of different ages.

Monday was the induction day and the beautiful Chane and Marie escorted us around nearby Krabi, where we visited the local mangrove walkway and were introduced to the mangrove ecosystem. We were then taken for a traditional Thai lunch in Ao Nang. We then returned home to a huge dinner that satisfied us completely. The boy’s then made their way to Chong Pli house for some Jenga and male bonding.

The next day we were lucky enough to have Mr Suwat as our instructor. We had a small talk on the day’s activities and then were flung into a grueling four hour video which could send just about anyone to sleep. The only thing that got the group through this video was the thought of the pool session straight afterwards. We were driven to a nearby swimming pool in a hotel resort. Where were had the pool to ourselves and Mr Suwat was able to teach us the basics of scuba diving. Everyone picked it up really fast and soon we were all zooming around the bottom of the pool.

After beach clean-up

On Wednesday we finally got to dive in the open water. We were all pretty nervous but our instructor Sam was very reassuring and continued to give us sound advice. The sea was rough and the rain was lashing our neoprene-covered bodies as we prepared for our first descent. Underwater everything was calm and everyone was engrossed in the wealth of wildlife. We all picked up the basic skills pretty quickly and were eager for our next dive. We dived for the next three days at different dive sites all over the bay. By the end we were all confident in ourselves and I’m pretty sure everyone had fallen in love with diving. Who can blame us when you get to see amazing marine wildlife in crystal blue water?

Later in the week we had a mass beach clean-up, involving all the conservation volunteers and 630 kilos of trash (as the Americans called it). We spent the day picking up all of the rubbish off the beach and sorting it for recycling. By the end of the day we had all decided to reward ourselves with a night out on the town. Which turned out to be a great night.

Different kind of diving!

The following day we had our exams, which everybody passed with flying colors. Our great instructors Sam and Mon can be thanked for all of our passes. We were then rewarded with an elephant trek which was interesting to say the least. We were able to have a guided tour of the jungle by those who know it best.

After a celebratory night out in the town we were shipped of to the mangroves to explore and be educated. There were mixed feelings about the mangroves but personally I enjoyed the waist deep mud and the smell of sulphur crawling up my nostrils. Our guide Dominic had an amazing ability to make anything seem interesting, EVEN MUD! After having a good explore through the thick mud and entangled roots it was down to work. We filled numerous bin bags with rubbish in the mid day heat and by the end we were all ready for the final two days of diving.

We traveled to nearby Ko Phi Phi, where we saw numerous creatures from turtles to sharks. The two days at Phi Phi were possibly the best dive days we’d had but there was always the thought of them being our final dives lingering at the back of out minds and we made the most of every dive.

Dinner time

We rounded off an amazing two weeks with a trip to the local fisheries department where we got to feed super sized fish and clean Nemo’s tank. At the fisheries we learnt about what the local people are doing to protect the whole ecosystem from the mangroves to the reefs. All in all, the trip was a life experience that I will never forget. I would recommend it to anyone who has an open mind or just wants the adventure of a lifetime and to meet lifelong friends. Though I have one piece of advice for you, don’t scratch your bites.

Robert Owen

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