Tina Griffiths - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
I arrived in Thailand around 8pm on February 11th, 2013. After searching for my luggage with a security guard for about half an hour I was finally set to leave the airport. I had spoken to the Projects Abroad Desk Officer, the day before I left for Thailand and she informed me that she would be picking me up from the airport.
As I went towards the exit I was met by a crowd full of smiling faces, each one wearing a Projects Abroad t-shirt to make it easier for me to recognize them. Everybody was so friendly, and they all made me feel very welcome. As I had arrived late, and they had finished work for the day, they decided it would be nice to meet me, and I'm glad they did.
After settling in to my room, I was given a quick tour of the place I would call home for the next six weeks, Dawn of Happiness. I was introduced to everyone who hadn’t come to the airport and then I headed to bed, it had been a long journey!
First impressions of Thailand
After a good night’s sleep I went for my introduction with one of the other new volunteers on the project into Ao Nang. The Projects Abroad member of staff took us on one of the local busses and showed us around the town. She helped me get a sim card for my cell phone and then we went for some lunch.
During the introduction day we went to the dive shop to complete the paperwork so that we could start diving the next day. This was very exciting and I couldn’t wait to get started. When we got back to Dawn of Happiness, I got back to learning the names of all the other volunteers. When I arrived there were another 21 volunteers for me to get to know, so I had a big job to learn the names! All the Thai people I met that day were so helpful and friendly they really made me feel that my six weeks in Thailand would be enjoyable ones.
Conservation dive days!
When I eventually passed my Advanced Open Water, after some minor hiccups like getting ill, I got started on some real work learning fish ID! I learnt about all the different types of fish and their signals that we would be recording on the research dives on land and then we went and practiced on the sea. Each item we had to identify had its own sign that we would use underwater because, obviously, we couldn’t talk under water!
After passing my fish ID test with 100% it was down to the real work! Three days a week we would dive either off Phi Phi or the local islands. Diving off Phi Phi was my favorite as the visibility was brilliant most days and the variety of different fish species we would be able to see was fantastic.
The dives I enjoyed most were the debris dives. It was such an amazing feeling when we would get back to the boat with our salvage bags full of rubbish that we had been able to remove. An experience I will never forget though will be swimming with sharks and turtles! It was so amazing seeing them in their natural environment and seeing how wonderful they are. It was also quite upsetting knowing that their numbers are falling due to illegal fishing.
Work on land
The work we did on land was just as amazing as the work we did in the sea! During my six weeks, we visited the Phuket Marine Biological center twice to help clean out the turtle’s tanks and make sure they are all well. There are turtles at the center who live there permanently because they would not be able to survive in the wild, ones who are there on a breeding program and ones that are there for rehabilitation and that will hopefully be released back to the wild.
Beach clean ups – Fridays were normally the days that we would travel around different beaches picking up rubbish. Although it sounds like a lot of hard and boring work, we always managed to have fun while we were working and still get the job done!
Reforestation work – on Mondays we used to work alongside APE foundation and we would do lots of different activities. My favorite part of working with APE was going into the forest to collect bamboo to make supports for the saplings in the tree nursery. It was very hard work but getting to use the machetes was lots of fun. I never knew that bamboo grew so tall! Other activities we did with APE included collecting seeds and cleaning the hot water springs.
Community Outreach - during the six weeks I spent in Thailand I participated in one outreach activity which was cleaning Krabi library with the volunteers on the care project. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other non-conservation volunteers that we didn’t get to see as often.
Free time in Thailand
During our time off we would spend time relaxing on the beach, going shopping and just generally having a good time. The beach at Dawn of Happiness is very quiet and private and is perfect for sunbathing and swimming when the tide is in, although there are sometimes cows that wonder up and down while being taken for a walk by the farmer!
Shopping in Ao Nang is definitely an experience, haggling is a must. I wasn’t very good at haggling so I would always take another volunteer with me. You can normally get the price of an item down to about half of what they originally ask for it.
Different islands – travelling to the different islands is definitely something that you should do! I went to Koh Phi Phi (twice) and Koh Phangan and I had so much fun! It is definitely an experience I wouldn’t have missed and I would have liked to go to other islands or travel around the mainland.
I would recommend that volunteers planning to go to Thailand should add on at least a month after the project to travel Thailand! If I had the money I would have loved to stay longer, forever even!
Leaving Thailand – back to reality!
When I look back on the things I’ve experienced, the friends I’ve made and the fun I’ve had, I would not wish to change a single thing! My time in Thailand was the best time of my life and I will never forget it!
I would recommend the Marine Conservation program in Thailand to anyone without any hesitation and through doing the project I now know what I would like to do with my life. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime and I will never forget them. One thing I didn’t think I would miss about Thailand would be the rice, but surprisingly I craved it! Massaman curry is definitely a new favorite food of mine!