What Our Volunteers Have To Say About Us
Here are some reviews from our volunteers and interns, Please share your experiences with us.:
Hi, I’m Kate. I’m 22, from England and I just graduated from a Zoology BSc at University of Manchester. I want to study for a Masters in International Nature Conservation so I decided that coming to MCC would be great experience for me. So far I’ve been having an amazing time becoming an advanced diver here but I’ve also been helping out with beach clean ups and path creating. It’s hard work but we have lots of fun because we work as a team. I’m over halfway through my time here but I know I won’t want to leave! I love the way of life here and I feel as though there’s still so much more to learn and more I could contribute. One month is definitely not enough time here, everyone should stay longer.
Date of Posting: 12 December 2016
Posted By: Kate
Zoology BSc, England
Puzzling as it may seem at first, as in where should one go when it comes to looking after our sea, our home, Marine Conservation Cambodia is an ideal place.
Its an island, less then a km long consisting of open minds, inspiration, adrenaline, tonnes of knowledge, craziness, big appetites, creativity and much more. In other words, a place where one can get rich as a soul. People from different backgrounds, any background, come together for one cause. And knowledge is shared for which some of us are so thirsty. The criteria required is willingness to do. I'm not sure if its for the fainthearted, as the opponent they face isn't exactly small. One may get an idea of their constant pursuit of conservation over the website through reports, articles, blogs, testimonials, videos etc, but once your there, you will be able to clearly see and feel for your self the cause and effect of this group of people. And the fact it can be done and you can be a part of it. It is for real. I'm glad to have met you all though this little coincidence we call life. Ill be back. :)
Date of Posting: 18 October 2016
Posted By: Gautam Pahwa (gotham)
Dive Instructor, India
Marine Conservation Cambodia was one of the best experiences of my life. I have always lived nearby a big city with lots of family and friends and haven’t tried to expand my comfort zone a lot. I decided to do my three month university internship with MCC after reading many helpful reviews from past volunteers and contacting their very responsive staff (Delphine is incredibly good with emails considering you have to stand on the pier to get the best internet service!)
There is no denying that living on the island takes a lot of adjustment. The bungalows have two barrels of water (fresh and salt) for bucket showers and squatty potties. You have to save up your laundry all week and then take it with you to mainland to get it washed because there is often not enough freshwater to waste on laundry. It is vital to cooperate with constantly changing volunteers and make sure the living and working environment is beneficial and harmonious for everyone
One thing I think MCC should have volunteers be more aware of is the children and dogs. I, personally, love kids and puppies, but for some it was more difficult. Paul has four dogs and one had just had eight puppies before I arrived, which was a lot to handle at first. The four kids have to be watched often and are still learning manners and when to give personal space. I brought books and another volunteer brought watercolors and pens which can keep the kids entertained and occupied. I think it’s good to be prepared to work with the two older kids an hour a week so they learn from a variety of different people continuously.
Besides all of this, MCC is generally amazing. The staff is always open to new ideas and so many new protocols and volunteer’s suggestions were implemented just in the short time I was there. A new bungalow was built, two gardens were started, a children’s play was created, and the volunteers began cooking and doing dishes—all while continuing with daily life on the island.
I learned how to dive in a very comprehensive way (I received both my Open Water and Advanced while there). Amick, one of the MCC coordinators, took time out of conducting seahorse research to teach me the basics when we didn’t have a dive instructor. I continued to do practice dives with Brayden, the team scientist. Once MCC’s dive instructor arrived, I was thoroughly prepared and passed easily because of their constant help.
Just while I was here, MCC created an MFMA proposal for the Cambodian government, an EU proposal about oyster reefs, tagged seahorses as part of a PhD project, multiple seahorse surveys, in addition to coral reef assessments and reports for both Koh Seh and nearby islands. The Koh Seh reef has some of the best water quality in the area and by far the largest biodiversity, which really pushes the continuation of conservation by the volunteers and staff. I really enjoyed not being forced into daily tedious chores by renowned scientists and instead working closely with trained researchers with many years of experience to actually fully learn skills.
Living on the island was definitely a growing experience but I think MCC helped me in every way. Everyone pitched in to teach me how to make spaghetti sauce for Friday dinner. Everyone gathered together to play Fun Fact Friday every week in order to bond and relax after the workweek. Everyone surprised me on my birthday with cake and a party, and did so for the other five people who also had birthdays while I was there. I met people from all over the world (Australia, Holland, Canada, Belgium, UK, Austria, Italy etc.) and of all ages: other people on university internships but there were also older volunteers—one mother even brought her six year old! MCC is a community and a family and one of the best places to stay for marine conservation and learning.
Date of Posting: 08 August 2016
Posted By: Alex Merkle-Raymond
19 years old, Environmental Science Student, USA
Vive la commune !
Vivre en commun comporte son lot de défi. Vivre en commun, sur une ile, coupée d’internet, de téléphone intelligent et de ce qui constitue dorénavant notre quotidien est un défi supplémentaire. Toutefois, quand un objectif et une motivation sont partagés par les individus impliqués, on arrive parfois à de belles surprises. C’est ce dont j’ai été témoin au cours des derniers jours lors de ma visite dans la deuxième famille de mon ami Amick, c’est a dire MCC.
Je ne m’éterniserai pas sur les différents projets de nature scientifiques ou écologiques qui motivent les gens que j’ai rencontré au cours des derniers jours. Je vais plutôt m’en tenir à vous entretenir de la vie communautaire que ceux-ci partagent. En effet, des gens de tous les milieux, pays et âges se retrouvent ici car partageant le désir de protéger les fonds marins. Cette motivation fait en sorte qu’ils sont donc confinés sur une ile à vivre loin du réseau d’aqueduc et électrique dans des conditions qui nécessitent parfois beaucoup d’adaptation. Ce mode de vie alternatif et communautaire, est pour moi la plus belle réussite dont j’ai pu être témoin.
La vie sur l’ile, avec ces repas en commun, ces taches partagées et la coopération de tous, permet de faire émerger un sentiment de communauté et de vivre ensemble au quotidien. C’est vraiment quelque chose d’unique dans cette ère d’individualité et de chacun pour soi. En effet, l’époque des communes étant bien révolue, quand pouvons nous maintenant être témoin (ou surtout participant !) d’une vie communautaire regroupant plusieurs dizaines de personnes coupés du monde ou presque? La réponse est que sur cette petite ile du Cambodge, c’est précisément ce qui est en train de se passer. Ce seul fait, en soi, est une très belle réussite et mérite d’être souligné : vive la commune !
Date of Posting: 02 August 2016
Posted By: Remi
What beautiful place to be! I have been working with MCC as a volunteer in the beginning of 2015 and it was the best time. The first person I met was Sao. Since it was already late when I got to Kep, she helped me find a place to sleep so I could take the boat to the island the next morning. Life on the island is very basic, but it shows you how much you really need in live. Paul and his kids Jasmine and Fern were living on the island with me. They are so adorable.
Work basically consisted of reef surveys back then, so I got my dinving license with Gabor, the diving teacher on the island back then. He was the best teacher you could imagine, and in the evenings, he told us stories about his diving experiences from all over the world. As soon as I got my license and learned what all the fish and inverts are called with Delph, we surveyed around the islands close to our island. After about 2 dive trips a day, we wrote down our results in the evening, working on a scientific report.
At the end of my stay we even went to other islands and interviewed local fishermen to analyse the situation of illegal trawling, which destroys the ocean and all its creatures.
Living in a bungalow with two pretty ladies called finella and carrie from australia and the US, we share lots of funny memories. I cant wait to visit Finella and Max, another volunteer, in Australia this year.
All in all, this space is to small to write down all the memories and experiences. All I can say is that, in spite of some doubts about living in Cambodia at the beginning, it was an awesome experience, which I would do again over and over again :).
Date of Posting: 26 July 2016
Posted By: Kati Nispel
Tonight is my last night here on the island, so it’s a good time to look back over my 30 days on Koh Seh. Like most of my volunteer projects, they start out slow and end up speeding past. This one was no exception. I had come to the island hoping to do only minor scuba/snorkeling survey work and spend most of my time reviewing socio-demographic data on fishing villages—which is my specialty. That’s what actually happened in a big way since I broke both eardrums on my first dive on my first day. So it turned out painful—I healed—and then I spent my time helping MCC with their ecological documents and socio-demo data. Heaven for me! The island experience was rustic but doable. I just have to say I am so greatful for the kindness of Paul, the director, and his wife, Sao. Sao cooked special “veggie” dishes for me and when I had the flu for several days, Paul and Sao delivered special healing soups to my bedside. I was better in no time and I’ll be forever greatful for their kindness. I’d recommend Koh Seh and MCC to those who can improvise when things don’t go perfectly, for those who are biologists/ ecologists or who want to learn about the field. This was my fourth volunteer opportunity in two years and I can truly say I felt like I made a difference. Now back to the mainland in the morning and my next adventure!!!!
Date of Posting: 10 June 2016
Posted By: Mary Knapp
Retired US Fisheries and Wildlife Officer, US
“Day in the life of a seahorse conservation volunteer”
56 minutes into a seahorse survey, and no seahorses. How unfair that such beautifully impressive creatures are also so agonisingly elusive (illusive?)! I take a glance to my left to see my buddy painstakingly scanning the seagrass bed beneath us… with just four short minutes left to survey, I can tell he’s as anxious as I am to catch a glimpse of this almost mystically dragon-like fish. We’re told in our survey training that seahorses are the masters of camouflage; effortlessly vanishing into their surroundings, but all of a sudden it seems backward, and almost every strand of seagrass deceptively appears as a seahorse. Damn. I stop for a moment and hover underwater, concentrating hard on my surroundings to properly observe the life around me. A couple of wasp-fish lie motionless and hidden in the dense seagrass, a small chocolate-drop sea star lurks next to them in wait of food, to my right three shimmering fusilier fish dart after one another, and there… finally! A seahorse. Strikingly yellow, this is undoubtedly the most impressive I’ve sighted during my six weeks on the island so far, and I can’t help but smile as I signal to my buddy to come over for a look. I can tell that the two of us could be captivated by the golden female for hours. The skilful way the body sways back-and-forth in the swell while its curled tail holds fast to the seagrass is almost hypnotically mesmerising. After allowing the seahorse to accept our presence as unthreatening, I carefully take a few measurements and photos, identifying its species as H. kuda, before the two of us surface for a ceremonial fist bump – survey success!
Hi, I’m Chloe Hatton and staying on the beautifully remote island of Koh Seh and working with MCC for a total of three months. After being accepted to study BSc Marine Biology in the UK next year, I decided to look for some hands-on, practical experience in the field of marine conservation. MCC’s studies into seahorses really intrigued me – particularly the aspects relating to the human and environmental interface in Cambodia and using them as an indicator species for the health of local ecosystems – and here I am! The waters surrounding Kep Archipelago have been decimated by damaging methods of overfishing in the last decades, and the seahorse is a key species that can be monitored to follow recovery in the area with environmental protection brought through MCC’s work. Now half way through my time here, I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to fly half way around the world to join the (albeit mildly dysfunctional) family of volunteers and staff! Each day I learn something new, laugh at something new and go to bed exhausted!
The Hippocampus. kuda like my buddy and I found is a smooth bodied seahorse, and one of eight species that the volunteers at MCC learn to identify. The studying begins with presentations from the project’s very own seahorse expert, volunteer coordinator and ‘surfer dude’, Amick. From there, each volunteer receives an iSeahorse Toolkit document to revise from before a small test, ensuring all have a good knowledge of seahorses and substrates before beginning surveys. In addition to this, longer-term volunteers can choose to study fish, substrate or invertebrate ID in depth to assist with reef surveys – something which I’m currently attempting! Information collected on seahorse surveys is added to a database daily, where it can be scrutinised by any volunteers senseless enough to enjoy statistical analysis, and conclusions can be drawn about changes in the population in the waters around Koh Seh.
Aside from collecting data in surveys, MCC also offers the opportunity to be involved with all kinds of projects; Mangrove cultivating, patrolling for illegal trawlers, coral planting, seagrass mapping, aquaculture schemes and even involvement in writing proposals for marine protected areas. In fact, one of the most ground-breaking investigations into underwater seahorse tagging is centred at MCC. Monthly dives take place in which seahorses are safely injected with a polymer dye to form four small coloured marks to identify the individual. When the tagged seahorses are sighted in future, it is then possible to ascertain data regarding the pattern of its movement, growth rate, and any other changes to the individual. Watching the tagging process has been one of my personal highlights whilst on the island and something I will never forget as the most interesting investigation technique I’ve witnessed.
Although the island is a hub of activity each day and everyone is dedicated to the work going on, there’s no shortage of time for play! From volleyball matches to late nights relaxing in hammocks and morning meditation to stargazing, Koh Seh has something for everyone and is impossible not to fall in love with.
MCC is a small organisation operating on so many fronts to fight for conservation, so working here as a volunteer can really give you the feeling of making a difference.
The best part? It all starts with a seahorse.
Date of Posting: 02 June 2016
Posted By: Chloe Hatton
BSc Marine Biology, UK
Hello, my name is Jasmine Corbett and I’m a 21 year old volunteer for Marine Conservation Cambodia, an NGO based on a remote, tropical island of Cambodia. Back home in the UK, I study marine photography and I am currently in the process of my final degree project, in which I am creating a book about overfishing and the organisations, such as MCC, that are working hard to combat this. As I am passionate about marine conservation and had heard great things about MCC, I felt this would be the perfect place to complete my project.
After a few friendly emails with MCC’s volunteer coordinator Amick and some travel arrangements planned, I made the voyage from the rainy UK to the kingdom of wonder – beautiful, sunny Cambodia. I travelled to Kep province on the South coast, where I was met by the team and hopped on a boat ride to Koh Seh, where the magic happens. Nearing the tiny, remote island, you can see a few wooden bungalows dotted along the shoreline, a small dive shed and numerous hammocks hung between trees. The island is inhabited only by the organisation and the research volunteers; a peaceful paradise undisturbed by roads, shops and hotels. It is a world away from the noisy, fast pace lifestyle I am used to back home. Surrounded by fringing coral reefs and dense seagrass beds, there is an immense array of marine life to see here, from octopus to tropical fish, colourful nudibranchs to the mystical seahorse.
Most volunteers begin their day on the island with activities such as yoga and meditation followed by a communal Khmer style breakfast. Some mornings I liked to start the day with a swim around the whole island (don’t worry, I’m not a professional swimmer, the island is quite small!)
After breakfast the volunteers go diving and take part in one of many underwater projects to choose from such as reef surveys, mapping potential Marine Protected Areas and even contributing to building the underwater garden; a structure made from rocks and broken coral which provides a nursery and home for many fish species and allows crucial coral species to regrow. In this underwater haven you can even visit “Shell Ville”, “Cuttlefish Crescent” and “Coral Cottages”, micro habitats created by some of the volunteers here.
After a huge, delicious lunch and an optional nap in a hammock to work off the food coma, afternoon activities range from jungle explorations to group discussions on tackling destructive fishing to sunset beach cleans. By integrating underwater research with coastal island maintenance, volunteers are given an insight into the many crucial elements it takes to conserve our precious marine environments.
However the most exciting and intriguing work here for me is the seahorse survey project, as for many years I have dreamed of photographing and interacting with this truly unique species. Seahorses have many fascinating traits, such as their reversed pregnancy which is exclusive to only a few species on earth. Their prehensile tail, long snout and armoured body give them an other-worldly appearance and for hundreds of years people have developed a fascination for this curious species. However established information about seahorses is still vague and the first official research surveys have only occurred in the last 50 years.
Sadly due to their captivating and iconic nature, they are increasingly vulnerable to the threats of the aquarium and curio trades. They live in some of the worlds most threatened habitats, so in turn they serve as an advocate species for the protection of these endangered environments. Research and conservation projects like MCC are crucial to ensuring the future survival of many vulnerable marine species.
Before embarking on the research, volunteers at MCC are educated about the ecology of seahorses and their habitats, how to correctly approach and measure a seahorse and the somewhat challenging identification of different species! Their incredible camouflage abilities and the unique features of each individual can make them very hard to place under one category, however with a few seahorse ID exams and continuous practice, each volunteer leaves the project a seahorse research expert.
One of my favourite experiences on the island was getting involved with the seahorse tagging project, using VIFE tagging equipment (a coloured polymer) to mark each seahorses identity; the only project like this in the world. Once tagged, we are able to monitor the growth rate and territory of each individual, which is crucial for furthering the knowledge of and conserving this mysterious species. The project began with a classroom session on how to carefully hold and tag the seahorse, without harming it…which took a lot of practice! Once mastered, we put on our scuba gear and made our way to the tagging site to begin the seahorse search mission. When an individual was spotted I assisted Amick in measuring, photographing and tagging each seahorse, which will be continuously monitored. It was an incredible experience to learn how to directly interact with seahorses and a fascinating way to track their whereabouts.
After the daily research projects take place, volunteers submit their findings to the MCC database and have the evening free to watch some nature documentaries, drink a beer on the beach or sleep under the stars in a hammock or on the pier. After seven incredible weeks, I will really miss the island life and the amazing people here, but will take away with me fond memories and so much inspiring new knowledge on how to conserve marine environments.
Date of Posting: 23 March 2016
Posted By: Jasmine Corbett
Marine Photographer, UK
My name is Brayden Cockerell and I’m a 21 year old Australian volunteer with Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), an NGO located on the tropical paradise of Koh Seh island. I have been with MCC for 5 weeks now and I’m thoroughly enjoying my involvement, not only in the desperately needed conservation of Cambodia’s vulnerable oceanic ecosystems, but also the experience of a whole new culture, developing new friendships and forming many many fond memories.
One particular highlight of participating with MCC is the amazing and rewarding experience of discovering local seahorses during marine surveys. Seahorse surveys typically take place at least 3 times a week, and possibly up to every day. Each survey brings fresh excitement and hope of discovering the often inconspicuous and truly alien creatures that seahorses are. We, the volunteers, scuba dive through a variety of habitats to search for seahorses, ranging from seagrass, to mud, to sand and shell. Seahorses may be attached via their prehensile tail to a range of objects (holdfasts), for instance seagrass, algae, urchins, seastars, sponges and shells, or in contrast may be free swimming through the water. Seahorses often accumulate filaments of algae on their hardened skin and waft in tune with the wish-wash of the water to seemingly appear as bizarre looking pieces of seagrass or algae. Due to the camouflaging abilities of seahorses, we typically survey a site at snail’s pace, especially if the habitat consists of dense seagrass. Sometimes I find myself staring at strange-looking pieces of seagrass and algae to the point where seahorses seem to manifest out of them, but hey, maybe that’s just nitrogen narcosis rattling my brain.
A typical day for myself on Koh Seh island begins with awaking early around 7:30am for a work out with the island’s small makeshift gym, or possibly yoga on the beach, followed by a nice refreshing swim. Note: this is an ideal morning, however depending on the level of intoxication the night before (some things are better celebrated with alcohol), this may not happen at all. After a delicious Khmer or Western style breakfast around 8:30am the volunteers are given the brief on the day’s schedule, which as an example may involve a seahorse survey in the morning followed by land-based activities in the afternoon. As a team, we would head down to the dive shed around 9:15am with our survey equipment (slates and cameras) to set-up our scuba diving kits for an electrifying morning of underwater adventure. After forming dive buddy teams and generally entering the bright blue water of eastern Koh Seh, although the dive site does vary, it is almost time for the game of hide-and-seek with the local seahorses to begin.
Various bits of information (time, tide, sea state, weather etc.) are recorded on the slate, then we deflate into what seems to be a strangely alien yet surprisingly peaceful underwater dimension. For 30 minutes we move along a linear path, then return along a parallel linear path for another 30 minutes, whilst continually scanning the habitat (most typically seagrass) for seahorses. Upon discovering a seahorse, the excitement explodes as my dive buddy and I look at each other in awe. For the next minute or so, we ‘hang out’ with our new seahorse friend at a comfortable distance, allowing he or she to become accustomed to the presence of two large, bubble-expelling, masked creatures with a bulky scuba diving getup, displaying a number of strange-looking hoses and something resembling a cylinder silver turtle shell on their backs (my dive partner and I). After this period of curious tension, we begin recording information about the seahorse on the slate, including its holdfast, depth, location, numerous morphological measures or traits, as well as the species, sex and state of pregnancy, just to name a few. Three types of photos must be taken with the seahorse; a profile photo, a head photo and a ruler photo (profile with ruler at the same depth of field). Taking pictures and measurements of what resembles the lovechild of a horse and small fish (not a good image) does sound rather enjoyable, however this can be quite difficult if the seahorse is constantly fanning around due to the movement of the water. To put it simply, some seahorses are extremely bad at posing for photos but hey, at least they aren’t giving a peace sign and pouting. After all the relevant information and photos are collected, my dive buddy and I give each other the OK hand symbol, then the hunt continues.
After the conclusion of a seahorse survey, as well as the rinsing and packing away of our dive gear (very important – ask Amick), the data collected must be logged onto our seahorse database excel spreadsheet. This may sound like the driest part of the whole process, however data is needed to form interesting and informative conclusions about seahorse distribution, abundance, diversity, environmental preferences and so on. Given the endangerment of local seahorses and yet the lack of knowledge about them, the information we obtain from our seahorse surveys is very important. Scientific research such as our own greatly assists in directing effective conservation to preserve the fascinating yet rare seahorse species. Another seahorse project that MCC participates in is a seahorse tagging study, the first of its kind internationally, whereby seahorses are tagged via injections of VIFE tagging solution to the upper right-hand side of the trunk. Once a month, tagging sites at Koh Seh are surveyed for the presence of tagged or untagged seahorses. Upon discovering an untagged seahorse, it will be tagged on site, or if it is already tagged then data will be collected about the individual. This not only allows for an interesting and scientifically important account to be formed for each individual seahorse, but also for the conclusion of broader scientific concepts regarding seahorse behaviour, ecology and biology.
Around 12pm, a pack of hungry divers lurk around the main bungalow in eager expectation of a scrumptious lunch. Following this re-fuelling of energy, we usually have a small post-meal rest before beginning the afternoons land-based activities around 1:30 – 2pm. Some relax in the super-comfortable hammocks, enjoying the stimulating sunshine and cool breeze whilst plunging into a book or simply some casual chatter about the seahorses they discovered that morning. Some may use the time to work on various activities or studies of their own, such as diving course theory, learning local marine species, constructing useful things (signs, shelves, artificial reef ‘shell houses’), so on and so forth. Land-based activities may include any of the following; beach cleans, maintenance of island paths, dive equipment repairs, incinerator construction, governmental report writing and many other spontaneous projects. We all work together as a coordinate team to accomplish these tasks efficiently, creating quite a rewarding and bonding experience for all.
Following end of the day’s activities around 5pm, the volunteers are free to unwind and fulfil their time with whatever they wish. Volleyball games are quite popular, along with various other micro-projects, diving or just general relaxation. A mouth-watering dinner is served at 7pm, and afterwards the volunteers generally either watch a movie or marine-based documentary, or socialise together with the MCC staff, enjoying some quiet (or loud) banter after a hard day’s work. Eventually we tire from the day of action and head to the bungalows to rest, looking forward to the next exhilarating day of underwater exploration and seahorse discovery.
Date of Posting: 23 February 2016
Posted By: Brayden Cockrell
21 Years Old, Zoology Graduate, Australia
Aloha, my name is Christian, I’m 23-years old and from the very north of Germany. I’m studying biology in Germany and doing a internship for my studies right now at MCC on Koh Seh. I plan to study marine biology for my master thesis, so I wanted to gain some work experience in both marine research and marine conservation. For that reason I decided to take a semester off and travel to South-East Asia. I began by doing a internship in Thailand in a marine research institute and afterwards working with MCC to learn a lot about marine conservation work. Furthermore I came here to improve my diving skills and become a divemaster, which would be extremely beneficial for my future career as a marine biologist.
Date of Posting: 10 February 2016
Posted By: Christian Derup
Marine Biology Student, Germany
Tell Us About Your Experience