Gina Warnes - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
Why did I choose Projects Abroad?
I finished my A-level exams in the UK and realised I had nothing to do for my whole summer. So it was either get a job or go on an adventure, I thought an adventure sounded much more exciting so after a bit of internet searching I found Projects Abroad. It sounds too good to be true, being able to go to an amazing destination and being able to help the world but I now know it was true! So within two days I had convinced my parents to let me go, which I am extremely grateful for!
Why Thailand Conservation and Environment?
I choose Thailand Conservation and Environment mainly because I was already a qualified diver and wanted to do more but I also love to travel and visit new places and help out with the environment when I can.
Only 1 month after deciding to go (I was so surprised and grateful it could be organised this quickly) I was on my way to the airport! My first time flying by myself was slightly nerve wracking but everything was fine and after what seemed like forever I was collecting my baggage and was meet by Ingrid, the director of the project, and my adventure began.
When I arrived at the conservation accommodation I met all the volunteers which was quite overwhelming, when you're sleep deprived trying to remember names isn't the easiest of things. After catching up on some sleep I had my induction with another member of the Conservation staff which involved being shown round the lovely town of Ao Nang, going to a fish spa (which I became quite addicted to) and my first ride in a Tuk tuk (which I now know is the best way to travel).
My first day!
After an evening actually getting to know the volunteers and remembering some names this time, I had a good night’s sleep ready to start the project properly the next day. It was a diving day and as I was already a qualified open water diver and just need to do my advanced, I was straight on the boat. It was great to be diving again, after a year from the last time I did it, but unfortunately I got rather sea sick (even though I had taken English travel sickness tablets).
This meant I ended up missing my second dive and swimming to a nearby beach to try and recover, before going back. After this not so good experience on the boat I tried Thai sea sickness pills and they are BRILLIANT! I went the rest of my time in Thailand and didn't feel even remotely sick again which is a first for me as I don't really mix with boats!
The diving experience
The diving here has been truly fantastic. At first I was not used to diving for a purpose, I’m so used to diving just to see what's there and for fun. But I have found a whole new side to diving which I love. Doing a Reef Check, a survey where you tally up the number of certain types of fish and invertebrates, is so much fun. It took a while to learn which fish is which, but once I had I got so in to it.
One dive I found a Dash and Dot Goatfish – Goatfish are everywhere but the Dash and Dot ones aren’t very common - I got so over excited by finding this fish which completely surprised me. This was the moment I realised it’s actually a lot more fun when you know what a fish is rather than just guessing. Another time I so wanted to make sure I identified a sea whip correctly I completely ignored a turtle until I knew. I know a turtle is much more exciting than a sea whip but on working days I was there to do a job first and have fun second and trust me you could hardly tell the difference between the job and the fun.
I would like to thank all the boat and diving crew who made the diving so much fun even on days when I was Tank girl (which involved getting up 30mins earlier, which to me is a lot, and loading the tanks and equipment onto the boat) and especially Linnea, the Projects Abroad marine biologist, for opening my eyes to the wonderful world of fish ID!
We did diving three days a week on the other two working days were Mangroves and Beach clean-up days where you felt like you could make such a difference. It was soooooo hot and such hard work especially in our Project Abroad T-shirts but definitely worth it.
Mud and mangroves
Mangroves involved weeding and replanting in lovely muddy areas. I started off trying not to get muddy and being careful if I sat down not to get dirty but by the end you're kneeling in mud digging and pulling out weeds with your hands (which may have been in salvage gloves but they didn't stop the mud getting stuck in your nails). You ended up covered in mud it got everywhere and no one even cared because you're all the same!
Rubbish and beach clean-ups
Beach clean-ups did almost kill me on a couple of occasions just because there was so much of it and in the heat it is hard work. When you get to the end of a day and you see how much you have collected you get a great feeling thinking we may have just saved an animal’s life by collecting this. But if I ever see a straw or plastic bag on a beach again I might scream!
It wasn't all 'work' (well you could hardly call it work anyway) but as we got weekends off and sometimes the afternoon we could try many different things. I did rock climbing with ropes and without ropes jumping into the sea, kayaking, elephant trekking, horse riding, went to a Full moon party, went to markets (which may have ended up in me eating a fried cricket but they were great all the same), visited beautiful places like Phi Phi and Railay bay all with amazing people.
But I have to say my favourite thing I tried out there was Bungee Jumping! I have wanted to do it for soooo long and I happened to turn 18 whilst I was out there (which was an experience in itself) and I thought when better to do your first bungee jump than your 18th birthday so I did! It was the weirdest yet most amazing feeling to be flying through the air and hopefully it won't be the last time I do it!
The whole experience definitely changed my outlook on life – especially the beach clean-up days, they felt like you made so much difference but doing four beach clean ups isn't going to save the world so I will continue trying in my life back home! I will NEVER drop trash again – not that I would before but still - and I will NEVER let anyone I know drop any.
I also have a new resolution, 'Take home one more piece of rubbish than you came with', might not sound like much, but if everyone did it, it would make such a difference. This is something I will stick with for the rest of my life and try to get as many people to do the same as humanly possible.
I loved it in Thailand, everyone was so nice – volunteers, staff members and any other people I met - I made so many friends that will stay with me forever and I have so many memories that I will never forget and if it I didn't have to come home for university and of course that small fact of money I would have NEVER left.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.