Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Cambodia - November 2011 Monthly Update
After a hard October due to a really stormy rainy season, this month actually allowed us to get back in the water and get the conservation tasks back on track. This month focused on training up volunteers in the water to conduct reef and seahorse surveys.
This month has seen the second round of seahorse surveys, the first round took place in July. We completed 28 of the 40 surveys, the survey points were randomly generated GPS points within the seahorse breeding grounds "The Corral' 'around Koh Koun.
Completing this survey series took substantial focus and commitment from the dive leaders and the volunteers. In the surveyed area ("The Corral"), surface and bottom currents, poor visibility, and challenging depths can make line transects difficult or impossible. Because of these hurdles, the staff knew that survey team members had to be composed of calm, capable divers who listened to directions and kept their heads, not to mention that they would have to learn invertebrate and seahorse identification skills quickly and reliably. However, as usual our volunteers rose to the challenge.
The components of our intense survey training were on-land science "school", underwater point tests, on-land survey simulation (acting out our surveys roles and tasks in the main bungalow) and finally practice surveys underwater. Once we had trained enough volunteers to form a number of survey teams, we went out to the Corral as often as weather, tidal conditions and responsible dive planning allowed.
Thank you to all the staff and volunteers that help with the training and surveys also for their continued motivation and enthusiasm as the surveys themselves can be quite challenging due to difficult diving conditions and the extra survey equipment needed on a dive.
To help protect the seahorse breeding grounds and surrounding reefs from illegal trawling boats in the Community Protected Area around Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Koun, Marine Conservation Cambodia in conjunction with the local community were given permission by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to deploy 40 anti-trawling devices.
The village built the devices which were 1.2m x 1.2m hollow concrete blocks, volunteers assisted in the actual deployment of the blocks by being responsible for locating the GPS points and diving down with the blocks to cut off the flotation aids that assisted in the transportation of the blocks to the given site. Two blocks were dropped at each of the 20 GPS sites. So far we have managed to drop 36 out of 40 blocks, weather has impeded us in deploying the remaining four as they are further off the island.
The beginning of this month we were asked by the Conservation Department from the Cambodian Fisheries to complete reef check surveys at given GPS points to put together an environmental impact statement for the government and developers. 11 surveys were completed around Koh Rong Samloem, south of Koh Rong and Koh Thas. Volunteers who were already proficient in Reef Check methodology were asked to take part as we were given very little forewarning about the surveys.
Endangered Species Sightings
Great signs this month with repeated sightings of two endangered fish species the bumphead parrotfish and the humphead wrasse. These species haven't been sighted in the area for at least the past 5 years.
We have a useable photo of the bumphead parrotfish but so far the humphead wrasse has been a little elusive for the camera.
Recreation Mooring Buoys
In collaboration with Acting for Life and the fishing community we dropped the first ever recreational mooring buoy in Cambodia. The mooring buoy is to be used by local dive shops to stop them anchoring on the reef, with tourism in Cambodia growing this was a very significant step in assisting with the protection and regeneration of the Cambodian reefs.
A botanist from the French natural history museum, Miss Marpha Telephova, visited the island for a couple of days purposely to find the flower of one orchid species. Two years ago she had visited the island and did a jungle trek and in the two hours she spent in the jungle she found and collected many interesting samples. She returned as the endangered orchid she had sighted on her previous visit wasn't in flower two years ago. It was great to see her return from the jungle with even more samples and the flower that she had come here specifically to find.
English lessons started back up this month. The children had been on school holidays for the past two months during the rainy season. The lessons focused on the older girls aged between 15-20 years old. The curriculum concentrated on improving conversational skills and correcting grammar focusing on past, present and future tenses. The girls were keen to be back at school and took to the challenge of the grammar and tenses remarkably well considering in Khmer language they do not use the same language structure.
This month also saw the foundations laid for the new English school building. The school should be completed in the coming months. The goal for the new English school is that it will be eventually run to International school standards. This gives the children on the island the chance to have some of the best education without having to move away from their families. Most families on the island cannot afford to send their children away for a better education as they don't have the finances and/or the children are needed to assist the family.
In order for the village to appear even more idyllic and ready for the onset of the high season and more tourists to the island the volunteers created a village beautification project. This took place with the volunteers designing and planting a garden in front of the chief's house. Volunteers collected plants from the jungle and drift wood and bamboo from the beach. Dirt and sand were hauled to the chief's house to lay the foundations then the drift wood and bamboo was added and finally the plants were replanted. It is a pleasure to say that it has been a huge success as we were worried some of the replanted plants may not survive but they are all growing well.