Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Cambodia - Monthly update - May - June 2015
During May and June, we found the biggest discarded net so far drifting along the ocean. We also released a hawksbill sea turtle back to the ocean after it was found entangled and drifting on a ghost net left by a fisherman. These two events show us the high priority of setting up a system that includes an action-plan against marine pollution and a long-term educational programme for different sectors of the community, on which we are currently working.
Due to the bad weather conditions in June, we have been doing more land activities than usual. This has given us the chance to make some small improvements to our base. We now have a working area for servicing our equipment, and the dive shed is much more functional than before. We are also setting up a weather station and soon we expect to start collecting data.
The coral reef surveys have continued during May, but during June they were interrupted by the stormy weather and bad visibility, which made it impossible to collect data. However, during May we have collected much Coral Watch data which was shared with the global database for coral health assessment.
We also had numerous presentations on marine pollution, overfishing and fish identification. These presentations give the volunteers a chance to learn theory and add to the knowledge they gain while diving. We will also be having a shark presentation soon, as support for the Global Shark Campaign. As part of the same campaign, we have also started preparations for the puppet show, which will be presented at the local primary school by our High School Special volunteers.
We conducted several seahorse search dives in May, but we haven’t seen any underwater. We have, however, spotted a lot of seahorses being dried out in the village which tells us that we need to strengthen our efforts to keep searching and collecting data in order to set up a seahorse protection plan as soon as possible.
Our Projects Abroad family in Koh Sdach has welcomed a new member – Happy! She is a 3-month-old, playful puppy who makes us all happier when she’s around! We all participate in her training and we have special rules to follow for this purpose.
Coral reef programme
During the month of June, nine surveys were successfully conducted. A few sites explored were proved to be unsuitable for data collection (mostly due to sandy bottoms at a 5m depth). Rough weather conditions made surveying (and diving in general) impossible during the last ten days of June. Data may not be attainable during the next few months; we will still try to carry out surveys during the season, but in a temporarily inconsistent manner.
However, this sudden shift in the weather pattern with the rainy season will allow time for preparations to be made for when the conditions improve.
Finally, the addition of a laboratory space will allow for new activities for volunteers, oriented towards a practical approach to laboratory science and its link to marine biology and conservation.
Endangered Species Programme
We have included the Seahorse Programme into the Endangered Species Programme, since we are also starting a sea turtle conservation project. Both seahorses and sea turtles are species worth protecting, as when we protect these species we also protect the habitat in which they live and many other species that live within.
As usual, we conducted several seahorse search dives during May, but with no success. However, during both May and June, some of our volunteers have spotted around ten seahorses each time, being dried over a roof in the village. Since the sight was not during our seahorse landing surveys, and due to the need of being very cautious with how to approach these issues, we could not record our sighting with pictures. These facts prompt us to conduct our interviews more often and in a casual way, so as to encourage the people involved to share more details with us, which may give us more information about these endangered amazing animals in this area.
In May, we were informed that two sea turtles had mistakenly been caught in fishermen’s nets and were brought to the local authorities on the island in order to release them afterwards. Some fishermen are aware that sea turtles are an endangered species in Cambodia, so they cooperate with their protection when they find one in their nets. Both were green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and were kept in a fishing farm net until being released. We took measurements and pictures of them, and after several days of bureaucracy, they were finally released into the ocean.
Some days later, during the morning, another fisherman brought another sea turtle to our base that was found entangled in a ghost net, drifting along the coast of Koh Totang. This one was a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and luckily, it was in good shape as it was fighting to be free. We weighed it, measured it, took photos, and gave it some food while keeping it in a bucket with sea water. The same afternoon, we released it back into the ocean. The very excited turtle was wiggling and struggling to get to the water as quick as it possibly could.
From now on, we are starting a programme to protect the sea turtles in cooperation with our partners from FFI (Fauna and Flora International). We intend to train the fishermen with sea turtle rescue techniques, so as to increase the proportion of successfully rescued sea turtles, which may increase the rate of survival for these endangered animals. The programme will eventually be established as one of our regular programmes, together with the seahorses in the Endangered Species Programme.
Marine Pollution Programme – Dives Against Debris (DAD)
The dives to collect debris along the reefs continued during May and the beginning of June. We have conducted twelve DAD dives along the archipelago and collected a total of 546.7kg of trash, mainly fishing nets. In one single day, we have collected a mass of fishing nets of all sizes that weighed a total of 407kg.
During our frequent beach clean-ups, we have retrieved a total of 200kg of recyclable garbage from our coasts, which means that another big portion was carried to the dumpsite or burnt. Once the storms started, we noticed a quick reappearance of trash on the beaches that were previously cleaned; the ocean brings back to land what the humans discard on a regular basis, all along the village coast. This fact has led to a situation in which there’s no more space left on land to place the huge amount of garbage that cannot be recycled. Therefore, we are currently preparing a marine pollution workshop to address these problems and involve the whole community to find solutions. There’s a special need for a Garbage Management Plan as the trash on the island has become a big issue that needs to be addressed with high priority.
Community & Education programme
Our English classes in the local primary school are improving. We started to do exams for the kids to test their English and the results show that most of them are really good at writing and listening, and they have exceeded our expectations. All the students are learning more and more from us and now they can understand English much better. Our volunteers prepare some activities, lessons and games to aid the lessons and currently, they are working on the preparations for the upcoming recycling event in the school.
We had a special group from Australia for two weeks, and they also joined the English classes and made a performance about the Australian culture for the school kids. Everyone was enjoying the experience of cultural exchange, and new friendships have been made during this time. The local kids enjoyed the show so much because it was the first foreigner live performance for them, and the Australian students did a really good job.
One of our biggest goals for the island is to teach the community about recycling, and the best way to approach this is by helping the children at school learn about it. We have set up different activities and resources for this. We started by getting large bins and painting them with pictures of what should be thrown into them – we made them colourful and attractive for young kids, yet also clear enough so they know what they need to do. We are also working on creating educational recycling games for the kids to play, which will make learning about recycling even more fun. Rubbish is one of the biggest problems on the island, and also affects the sea, so we are making it an important factor in what we do at the project. In the long term, we are hoping to see a change in the way the community deal with their rubbish, but the first step will be to recycle what can be recycled and go from there.
In June, our volunteers and staff painted one of the school buildings in blue, as was requested by the school director. We all enjoyed seeing how beautifully blue the walls were turning as we painted them, and in the end it looked really nice!
As usual and upon request of our volunteers, in May we had another edition of the Khmer cooking class – the food was very much enjoyed afterwards! We also had the first football match with the community; Projects Abroad team won 9-5 with the help from some local talent! They all enjoyed it very much and we have been invited to matches in the future.
Our weekly Khmer language classes by Sea continued during May and June. We have learnt greeting phrases, how to order food and the days of the week. It’s challenging for us to learn the language but also very rewarding when we can be understood in a conversation with local people.
Before the rains arrived in June, we had the chance to enjoy a relaxed weekend with staff and volunteers in Koh Ampel Thom, one of the southern islands of the archipelago. We prepared everything to stay overnight in our hammocks, with enough food and water and enjoyed an amazing sunset with a swim in the calm and shallow waters. At night we could observe the magical bioluminescence created by the plankton, which was really amazing.