Volunteer and Intern Blog Posts

Just the Beginning

And that’s Just the Beginning

“Wake up, it’s time to go hurry up or you’ll be late come on”, you wake up and check the time: 5:48AM, the alarm on your phone has attempted to signal you 3 times already (you forgot to switch off silent mode), luckily you’ve got little sisters.

You arise out of bed, to see them rush out door bright eyed and bushy tailed, then it hits you what day it is, wonder and excitement strike your body like a bolt of lightning, you spring out of bed get dressed and hurry on down to the pier.

5:52AM: Arriving at the pier you notice a boat load of people eagerly waiting on the pier, as the boat docks at the pier you notice that not everyone has gathered there yet, so you can reduce the speed you’re travelling at and take the haste out of your step, ah… that’s better much more relaxing, as you’re walking down the pier you can’t help feel like you’re walking in a dream. Gazing down at the water it looks so calm and tranquil, a lovely piece of serenity, on the left hand side you see 2 small schools of Mullet accompanied by a mixture of small halfbeaks and Crocodile Needle Fish, on the right you notice two separate patches of sea grass Thallassasia Hemprichi and Enhalus Acoroides, above the sea grass is thousands of Robust Silver Sides and a few stray Mullet.   

5:55AM: You approach the roughly halfway mark on the pier, as you gaze up from the ocean you say good morning to the boat captain as he passes by you (probably to freshen up) bloody beautiful, this means you can take even more speed out of your movement towards the boarding of the boat and immerse yourself in the breath taking beauty of the scenery right in front of your face, various species of Hard Corals seemingly share the reef with large carpets of Zoanthids, (in reality the hard corals are slowly taking the reef back from the Zoanthids after they settled on the rocks first protecting it from an algae invasion, talk about a picture worth a thousand words), on the corals there is an abundance of life, rock crabs scuttling around searching for food, Trocus’ and Turbo shells munching the algae from the rocks, the corals themselves extending out their polyps to catch those first rays of sunlight and performing photosynessis, thanks to the symbiotic relationship they share with a type of zoanthaelle algae, fortunately the visibility is clear enough to peer into the underwater world without physically entering it(could be a coincidence but, it’s possibly from the absence of trawling for the past 3-4 weeks)         

5:58AM: As if awaking from a lucid dream, you hear faded talking in the distance you, look around behind you, you recognise two late stragglers approaching just to arrive on the agreed upon time, looking straight ahead everyone is patiently waiting on the boat to take a journey and step into an exciting new adventure, one last stare as the corals come to an end, you notice Blueline and Chocolate grouper, waiting with great poise on the side of rock faces anticipating their next meal. Off the reef the oceans floor has some colourful sponges, a few Chocolate drop Sea Stars a lone Volute Snail, shifting your attention higher up in the water column, its pure jaw dropping there’s more fish then you can fit in a net, 4 large schools of Crocodile Needle fish, each with more than 40 fish, countless schools of different types Sargent Fish, Scat fish, Rabbit fish, snapper, well that was a truly celestial way to start the day, and that’s just the beginning.

6:00AM:  You’re on the boat right on time there was a small amount of doubt that not everyone would be able to congregate here at the set time but, you crushed it, kicked out doubt, yea that’s what MCC is all about, you take a seat on the boat with your 13 comrades,  the boat captain, does a final check: you have on board, a hot water bottle, 14 boiled eggs, 2o packets of noodles, 3 pairs of binoculars, 1 data recordation sheet, with pen and 14 abled bodies. You are all set to embark on your journey. (WHERE TO YOU MIGHT ASK DOLPHIN SPOTTING!!!!!)

    The boat leaves the pier and gently floats across the sea toward a much larger boat this is the actual Boat you will be embarking on, lucky… there isn’t much space on this boat it’s just a passenger ferry, the boat moores alongside the monstrous boat, (this larger vessels looks like it could transport nearly 100 people), fortunately today its only got a small crew so we have plenty of room to move around and discover a nice vantage point. Everyone negotiates their way on to the boat, effectively and collectively, helping the small people and grabbing the supplies making sure you have everything and everyone, the other boat detaches and heads back to the pier, this boat, has a large upper deck area with an open and wide view, almost like a desired viewing platform, 

6:05AM: This is it everyone is ready some people went to the lower level but, you climbed up the wooden ladder and arrived on the upper level sharing the large space with several other keen pioneers, the boat leaves with its team of scientists, raring to experience new beginnings, there is one trained expert (Team Leader) on the boat so all consultations and queries goes through them, (whilst the rest of you are fresh into the field ready to learn and put your knowledge to the test), the Team leader designates a single person to record the conditions: the Beaufort, (or sea state today is  recorded as a 1, its almost completely still but, has the slightest amount of ripples), the Cloud Cover(Due to the fact cloud cover is only recorded in multiples of 20%, at the moment the group agrees the coverage to be 60%),lastly recorded is the Glare (the Glare is only recorded if it covers more than 20% of the entire ocean, since the sun has barely risen above the horizon, its recorded as 0), these 3 Environmental Conditions are recorded every hour unless, there is a dramatic change in any of the conditions, then the time is recorded and all 3 Environmental Conditions are also recorded and then you proceed to record those Conditions every hour as follows.

6:07AM: The sun is hugging the horizon like a child pulling a blanket up to their eyes to watch a scary film, just the very top of them is visible, the ocean is calm but, not completely still there’s occasional ripples disturbing the glass like texture of the water, as you look around the ocean seems to be endless, until your eyes eventually meet land, straight ahead the direction you are heading, north you see several Cambodian islands, out to the east you find Vietnam, behind you south is still classified as Vietnam, and out to the west it’s seemingly endless, similar to a giant bed sheet stretching out as far as the eye can see, covering the underwater world that is literally beneath your feet, the boat is travelling at a steady 6N/H , (the recommended speed of travel is between 9-12N/H but, the team leader has made an executive decision to remain at this speed for today’s conditions) the ocean gently parts and looks like when someone firsts takes a butter knife to a new tub of butter and slightly spreads off the top layer, as the boat continues on behind you the ocean recollects itself and appears undisturbed, fortunately you can see if anything breaks the surface of the water and decides to say G’day mate!

6:12AM: The team on the roof have divided the area evenly amongst themselves so that every stretch can be effectively surveyed, 2 people are stationed at the back of the boat watching behind either side, 2 people are positioned in the middle viewing left and right of the boat and 2 people are on guard at the front looking straight ahead, two people have binoculars and the team leader has a pair for executive purposes, the rest of you are equipped with the naked eye, a few people stand up eagerly watching waiting, whilst the rest are in in for the long haul and find a comfy position, sitting or leaning in anticipation for a stake out. The survey began at 6:07AM but, until there is an actual sighting nothing is recorded other than the Environmental Conditions but, when there is a sighting the activity is recorded every 5 minutes after unless there is an absence in the presence after the following 5 minutes, if this happens the recordation continues on the next sighting.  

6:33AM: This is it you’ve done it! You spotted a dolphin you are sure of it, there has been several times in the past 20 minutes you had a belief of a sighting but, you kept it to yourself, (the sea is a cruel mistress, she has the ability of an illusionist playing tricks on your mind, waves look like dolphins, dolphins looks like waves), (it’s the same unison with seahorses but, that’s another story), with some hesitation, you eventually shout “DOLPHIN!” “Over there next to the fishing buoy, out to the east” everyone ceases what they are doing to view the spectacle, the team leader specifies that: if you are to approach the creature, “you must not alter the current speed, because any sudden modification to the speed, will send a different vibrational signal through the waves that can disturb a cetacean” you managed to locate a lone cetacean(possibly a dolphin) rising above the water displaying its back and submerging back into to the water, the team leader congratulates you and says great job, the rest of your team on the boat gives you a congratulatory applause followed by a metaphorical pat on the back, as we gradually reduce the distance toward the sighting, something feels a miss it’s too perfect the shape hasn’t changed position but, has continued the action of diving. (wait a minute you stop and have a little think about this, a little black shape 300-400 metres away emulating the resting behavior of a dolphin, it’s a possibility?) But, as the boat approaches maintaining a smooth 6KN/H the distance between you and possible sighting decreases more and more till, you realise you’ve been alluded BUGGER! Sure enough, you eventually arrive within 100 metres and sadly enough to the research teams disbelief it’s just a piece of ocean debris, a large piece of black foam, that has become entangled amongst a fishing buoy, that’s some spirit shattering experience but, you won’t be kept down your motivation can not be steered off course by a small wave in the ocean, ahead in the distance you catch a glimpse of 3 fishing vessels.

6:40AM: The 3 fishing vessels you spied earlier are now within picturing distance, this action is taken because these boats are in fact illegal Vietnamese electric push nets, capturing their image is helpful for deterring the illegal activity, (that occurs inside the borders of Cambodia), as the large research vessel you and your team of researchers are stationed on, continues on the agreed survey route, the 3 Vietnamese boats believe they are in a spot of bother due to the fact that, the boat you happen to be standing upon is one of the leading lines of defense around the Kep archipelago, against the Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported(IUU) boats,(when it’s not being used for scientific research) imagine a house party being crashed by your parents, they leave if in a scurrying panic, the fishers haul in their catch pulling up their giant nets full of helpless marine creatures and possibly more by -catch then animals they can sell for a cheap buck, quick as a flash they cruise away in the hope of avoiding apprehension, these boats are really quite speedy, in the span of just over a minute they are starting to appear as little smudges on the horizon, the water is thick with sedimentation that has been forced into the water column, the water looks really unappealing, the turbidity levels go through the roof, whilst it’s not the most destructive fishing method, it’s definitely not the friendliest, amongst the soupy looking mixture of water and sediment, you notice a descent amount of passing jellyfish floating towards the surface, they almost resemble white basketballs with thick tentacles dangling beneath them, waiting to prey on whatever poor unsuspecting morsel becomes entrapped within their deathly electric appendages.

6:43AM: The turbidity has reduced slightly after the IUU boats have been and passed, every now and then your glance is stolen by the occasional white basketball but, your attention is needed further out toward the horizon in the vast ocean scape, gazing off into the distance the ocean is quite mesmerising, your mind begins to fade away and trail off, the ocean looks so similar and yet it’s constantly metamorphosing, if it wasn’t for the available landmarks it would be dangerously simplistic to find yourself lost at sea, then to awake you from your day dream a small hand grasps your own, it belongs to a small person(one of your sisters) with no warning they shout “LOOK A JELLYFISH” taken aback but, unamused because you are already aware of the white basketballs passing by in dribs and drabs, so you shoot a quick glimpse out the corner of your eye, continuing to look out over the water, you hear a gasp or some kind of sound like an inhale or exhalation of air, immediately you assume it is a dolphin, you shout “DOLPHIN” but, the small person standing alongside you saw what it actually was, you only heard something break the surface of the water and glanced over to capture an image of something disappearing back into the murky depths, however the small person effectively extinguishes your belief and enlightens you with the fact that it was a turtle, that had come to the surface for a quick breath, possibly between hunting for a nice jelly snack and evading the IUU vessels from earlier, unfortunately no proper ID was possible of the sea turtle but, as if simulating throwing some dry pandanas leaves on some lightly glowing coals of an almost extinguished fire, this brief encounter of a rare reptile sighting (for these waters), has reignited the inspiration, motivation aspiration and drive of your entire being, like hooking some jumper cables up to your nipples it’s a positive shock, if that little guy is out there who knows what else awaits on this adventure. The boat changes course and turns towards the west.

7:07AM: The sun has decided to be slightly less shy and has released its clutch from the metaphorical blanket it used to hide its eyes, with similarities of a bird sitting upon a perch looking beneath it’s throne, it has now risen up slightly higher in the great blue of the sky, unveiling some land formations on the horizon, a bright light shines off of them giving them an iridescent glow, the ocean has changed from the glass like texture to a shape shifting, sea of mercury, with an almost metallic flavour hidden in the texture, the cloud cover has retreated to expose more of the heavens above, the sun has some bite to it, accompanied by the feeling of a warm hug, no sightings though to record for the data sheet. (just for a laugh you try to shift your perception and imagine the sun to be more than a giant ball of gas and molten heat, you try to see him as a celestial being that only wishes to bestow love and light but, has no control over how much he is emanating, so if you could choose to absorb the desired amount of love and light evenly distributing it around your body so that, not one area of your body is exposed to an over dose and buildup of too much energy, then you can gain a powerful be a powerful ally)

(Just in case you were still following the Beaufort is a 2, the Cloud Cover is 40% and the Glare is still 0)       


7:13AM: Half an hour has already passed but, with all the excitement from earlier you barely noticed,, still bursting with enough life and energy that if it could be harnessed you could power the research vessel you’re aboard and then some, surveying with vigilance, and persistence, out of the blue you catch a glimpse of an usual wave quite far in the distance but, this time you keep it to yourself, about a minute passes when someone on the lower level of the boat claims to have a sighting in almost the same area you had your possible sighting, wow you nearly completely forgot about the other members of your crew, at this moment the Team Captain uses their executive pair of binoculars to confirm the suspicions of, several other members in the research team, WHOO HOO! The first real recordable sighting of a cetacean, after the majority of scientists divert their attention to the specified area, a few of them mention half containing a small amount under their breaths “oh yea I thought I saw something over there as well”…hahahaha you’re not the only one who kept their suspicions to themselves, maybe communication is key for this survey, if no-one spoke up we wouldn’t have any sightings.

7:25AM: Nothing! You were blessed with one quick sighting that appeared and disappeared literally in the blink of an eye, there was nearly nothing to record, now you must work as a team if you have any hope to obtain some positive results, as if the captain of the boat had slipped inside your cranium and read the inscriptions you were scribing into your sub conscious memory for future reference, he shouts treypsout pointing directly ahead, just like a team of under 10 AFL players everyone rushes to the scene of action, dropping any obligations they had prior to that second, watching with awe, and eyes swelling from amazement there it was the Irrawaddy Dolphin,(orcaella brevirostris) what you see must be an illusion surely, it looks like the light from the sun has been captured by hundreds of tiny crystal balls and its entire body glows like a diamond glistening beauty in all directions but, a quick adjustment of the eyes allows you to see with more clarity, the sunlight is reflecting off every little water droplet, that has been separated from the ocean whilst hitching a ride on the back of this cetacean, for a moment in time that feels it could last eternity, as the droplets trickle down its back past the dorsal fin to become reconnected with ocean once more, the creature dives back down beneath the cover of the mercury sea, possibly to not be seen again, your eyes start to water it could be because your balls are starting dry out in your sockets due to the fact your too afraid that, if you blink you might miss the only other sighting, or discovering a diamond in the rough can be more powerful than you originally believed, eventually it’s too much, you close the lids to your eyes to remoisten the balls preventing them from shriveling up and becoming stuck to your socket, when you reopen the shutters and welcome the light once again you have a beautiful spectacle to behold, the dolphin is performing the diving behavior, looking past the iridescent glow created by  the combination of sunlight and water droplets, you are able to observe and retain a more vivid picture, the whole body has a gunmetal grey flavour, the shape of the body resembles that of most dolphins, it has a slender feel to it but, also the look of a torpedo, the dorsal fin is quite small, just a slight bump that has almost become inutile, after years and years of evolution it’s nearly nonexistent, the head is also quite eccentric, if you imagine a narwhale without its long lance like tooth, just a roundish head, with some resemblance to a human, two little black eyes and a great big beautiful smile beginning from just a pinch in front of one eye spreading across the whole face and coming to an end just before the other eye.

7:30AM: This is a truly life changing experience, more intense then the time you found out petroleum explodes in confined spaces, there is no other way to explain it, if only you could capture this moment and share it with world so you and everyone on this planet can all experience a moment of ecstasy, would everyone share this feeling with you or would they try to destroy the purity and damage your own perception, forget about it, you don’t even have a camera anyway but, if you did no amount of mega-pixels could can do serve it justice, this image this feeling, it’s about this living moment the breath your breathing, the energy your absorbing, the time that is not noticeably passing, you’re caught in a fragment of life exceeding the bounds of time and space, you can’t express that, the best you can do is make a mental video to set on replay to relive this moment every day. The dolphin is still playing around in front of the boat, up and down, up and down, he has continued diving becoming submerged inside his watery sanctuary, resurfacing never more than 100 metres away he’s probably conducting his own survey on you and your team, what are these strange creatures following me, what do they want are they friendly ?  All of a sudden he goes under flailing his tail up out of the water, letting your eyes feast upon an enormous tail, if you didn’t know any better a whale would be more likely to spring to mind than a dolphin its glorious, spanning wider than that of the dolphin, with the uncanny likeness of a boomerang, (hope he comes back) (this is called Fluke up)                                

7:35AM: How could this day get any better you feel like you’ve reached for the sky and touched moon, this one creature has brought more excitement to you then a child at Christmas time but, just like that child who has unwrapped all of their presents and thinks all the surprises have come to an end, but manages to have their beliefs shattered into a thousand pieces and tiny fragments, when they discover that one last present tucked away under the bottom of the tree, you have your own surprise waiting, slightly off from the centre of the back of the boat, one person has returned to their post, just in time to spot a new discovery, another dorsal fin and another and another, diving dolphins, there must be a pod of 8-12 or more dolphins,(if you can see several fins at the same time there is a possibility that 3 or more members of the pod are submerged yet to be discovered) how long have they been there? Whilst everyone had abandoned their positions to marvel at the lone spectacular specimen, you lost the careful watch of your entire surroundings, had this one been distracting your team the whole time so his family could pass by undetected, now that’s taking one for the team, this is incredible unmentionable one was a spectacle now this an unforgettable dream, fortunately they don’t stay at the back too long, before you know it they travel dive their way to the front left of the research vessel, and everyone is able to take in their beauty as they dive around the boat stealing the attention of all who are on board, leaving them with smiles to match their own they jump and frolic and play it is too hard describe they dolphin about basically,

7:40AM: These cetaceans are far smarter than you anticipated they’ve actually split into two separate pods now, each pod has roughly 5-6 dolphins give or take a dolphin 1 pod is continuing to dive around the front of the boat and the other pod is slowly disappearing off towards the right, it is still not clear but, it definitely appears that they are attempting to divert your attention, wow the pod disappearing to the right looks like it might contain a smaller dolphin possibly a juvenile, that could explain the eye snatching behavior let’s call this pod 1B and the other pod 1A, with this new discovery, it would be wisest for future documentation of this species to not allow them to feel threatened, so bringing your attention, back to pod 1A they are breaking through the surface of the water, exposing there glistening vertebrae and minuscule dorsal fin, really working at managing to hold the gaze of the entire boat, they could of picked your pocket and robbed you blind given the chance, your entire crew is immobilised, caught in a trance.

7:45AM Something sparks your interest as to the where abouts of pod 1B is, you scan the ocean where you last sighted them and they aren’t visible not a fin, that’s nice you think to yourself, hope they weren’t stressed at all and managed to arrive to their destination safe and sound, looking back to where your attention was once plucked, the other pod of dolphins has also gone, as you look around a few of the researchers are still watching the dolphins carefully as they disappear in the same direction pod 1B vanished, as you manage to capture a few last glimpses of the dolphins travel diving off into the horizon, before they submerge one last time back into the ocean surrounding the Kep archipelago, you are amazed by the size of the smile they slapped on your face and the memories they etched into your brain, wow what a simply remarkable and recordable day, that should be one of many, many more to come, the entire research team is over the moon with results, the experiences and most cherish able of all the life changing memories to share with the world.

And, that’s just the beginning!