Friday, August 16, 2013

Cambodia pt 2: Tropical Islands, Seahorses, and Bucket Showers

Hello! Sorry for the very delayed updates (again). There have been some exciting changes in my travel plans in the last few weeks, and I suddenly found myself on an isolated island in Cambodia doing some marine conservation work and research. Funny how that just happens...
I heard about Marine Conservation Cambodia from one of my fellow divemasters in Khao Lak, and was naturally curious about their seahorse work and experience with establishing marine protected areas in southern Cambodia. I didn't expect to actually end up here 4 months later, but lo and behold! To Cambodia I went, and now I'm on the island eating Khymer food and taking bucket showers.
Mai Pei, village 23, full of fishing families

Early morning repairing nets
dogs and puppies EVERYWHERE
yeah that's a dead gecko
MCC has been around for 5 years and works with the Cambodian government to establish best fishing practices around Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. MCC also studies seahorses and attempts to breed them - there is a male about to give birth at the moment, but sadly he's away in the Kep laboratory (on the mainland) where the facilities can support more intensive science.

Uly and I are currently stationed on Koh Rong Samloem, the less touristy and populous of the two islands, helping with dive surveys to document reef health and search for seahorses. We're staying in a very small village called Mai Pei, which means "23" as this is the 23rd village on the island. It's quite small - maybe 150 people live there? - and they have electricity from 6pm-11pm, one source of running water, and lots of decrepit wooden bungalows.  We are staying in one such bungalow but it's clean inside and there is mosquito netting, so it's not so bad; the only bummer is that there are no fans, since electricity comes from a generator and only runs a few hours a day.
This cat thinks it's a dog and I LOVE IT! It sat on me for 2 hours sighing and snuggling. The dog was confused.
There are about 20 volunteers at MCC and 4 staff members. The staff seem like volunteers who have been around the longest and they organize the dives and beach cleanups; there is one dive instructor who can teach open water and advanced dive courses. Many of the volunteers came to MCC through Projects Abroad, which charges exorbitant amounts of money to place people in "volunteer" projects around the world - we're talking $2,000-3,000 for a 2-week program. Most of the Projects Abroad kids are taking time off before or after college, and many learn to dive while at Marine Conservation Cambodia, then stay for a 2-3 week dive volunteer experience.

It's also possible to come to MCC independently (like Uly and me) where you only pay for food and lodging, and basically dive as much as you want in a volunteer capacity. Maybe 1/3 of the people here have come independently, and 2/3 come through Projects Abroad. That doesn't seem to affect anyone's social interactions, which is great! It's an incredibly open and welcoming group of people and I think we are going to have a wonderful time.
Audrey holding our pet kitten
Boat back to the mainland to get internet (for this blog post!)
The diving is much better than I expected; we both heard rumors of terrible visibility, zero fish, and unsafe boats. The reality is quite nearly the opposite! Visibility is worse than in Khao Lak because it's now the rainy season, but it's not much worse than Koh Tao (7-15 feet visibility). At some sites, the corals are healthier and more varied than in Thailand. We have our own dive equipment but the boats and tanks are great, and the MCC gear is well maintained for the volunteers. The boat captains understand English and overall, it's been a very positive dive experience thus far! Granted, we've only been here for 3 days of diving so that may change as we see more sites that are damaged from overfishing...
the longtail boat for diving
not sure what this is! COOL and pretty though!
very healthy barrel sponges at some of the sites
batfish & an Uly
I haven't been around long enough to judge the efficacy of the monitoring dives and projects, so I'll have many more opinions after another week or so. We're planning to stay in Cambodia until the end of September, when I'm planning to fly to Komodo, Indonesia to meet up with my friend Krista and do some diving. We'll then go to the Philippines to see my friend Lara and another 7 people who are all flying out for a crazy 2 week adventure, and Krista and I are set to dive in Palawan and Boracay, and probably Manila as well. At the end of October, we'll hopefully stop through Hong Kong to see Warner, and then it's HOME! Back to AMERICA!! Only 2.5 more months out here. How crazy...

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