Marc Fruitema - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
Thailand’s Marine Conservation Project appealed to me for two reasons. I am very passionate about diving (I was an advanced open water diver before I left) and the week before I stumbled upon the projects abroad site, I had decided to write my International Baccalaureate extended essay on coral reef conservation. Everything seemed to fit perfectly.
Two anxious months later, I was finally driving away from Krabi airport in the Projects Abroad van. After getting to the volunteer house in Ao Nang and meeting all the volunteers and staff, I fell asleep in Thailand for the very first time.
Day one was the induction day led by Chane and Marie (local Projects Abroad staff). We were shown the town, the bank, good restaurants, the local mangroves and taught Thai phrases and customs. Walking through the town and local market, I finally understood why Thailand is called ‘the land of smiles’.
After a few days of getting accustomed to my environment, to the other volunteers and to the work I felt like part of the team. Of the five working days, three are spent diving, one working in the mangroves and one doing a beach clean up or working with local schools.
On our diving days to the Phi Phi Islands or to local dive sites we did coral reef monitoring and salvage dives. I remember ‘giant striding’ into the waters at Mua Sang Nua, a site notorious for abandoned fishing nets, where all you could see was this one net which had attached itself on the relatively shallow reef. The net went on for more than two hundred meters!! Our job; cut away as much as we could. Using plastic bags filled with air, we brought large sections of the net back up to the boat. Looking back at these ‘net-free’ sections of the reef, the beauty of it was once again visible.
Mangrove days meant an early wake-up, hard work in the early morning heat and muddy clothes. We would go to our mangrove site and do whatever work was necessary. Some days it meant clearing the area of the always-present weeds and other days it meant creating a channel through the area for water to flow through. Nevertheless, a mud fight to end the day was always guaranteed.
Beach clean-ups were mostly at remote beaches where there was known to be trash. On one beach clean up with all the volunteers, we managed to pick up 630 kg of trash. We found things like tires, a mattress, glass bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam, an abandoned fishing trap and many other random objects. We decided to do a beach clean up of the main beaches in town, as it was the queen’s birthday. We were joined in our efforts by an eco-friendly dive shop and by the employees of local coffee shops. We were given free coffee by Starbucks and freshly cut pineapple from the local massage parlors. It was great to see that people really appreciated the work we were doing.
On my days off I took advantage of the many different activities available in the area. I went elephant trekking, spent a day at the touristy Riley beach, climbed the 1,237 steps to reach Tiger Temple, visited the Phi islands and visited the nearby Krabi town.
With my departure coming closer, I realized how hard it would be to adjust back to my life in France. I wanted to stay forever.
I realise how much this experience has affected me. This project definitely influenced my top university choices and I ended up applying to an excellent marine biology programme in Miami, Florida (where I got accepted) and where I will be studying Marine Affairs/Policy next year. While this project helped me make this choice, I am sure that it also made my application more impressive and suitable for the programme.
My month long stay in Thailand has also helped me become more responsible and autonomous. And I really enjoyed the fact that everybody treated me as an adult.
Most importantly the marine conservation work has helped me become more aware of the problems facing our world. Coming face to face with the human impact on the marine ecosystem has made me realise that something needs to be done. Projects Abroad gave me so much.