This article is adapted from our first end of year summary written after our first full year of operation in 2008, it was a crazy time, No tourism, No Support, No Finances.
Just us the village, poverty and crazy fishermen with guns and dynamite.
Marine Conservation Cambodia in its first 12 months went from strength to strength, mainly down to the dedication and commitment of the Marine Conservation Cambodia team and the volunteers that had given their time, energy and passion to help protect Cambodia's marine environment and the crazy driven passion of its founder Paul Ferber. With times of no food, no water and being reduced to eating the same fish bones soup after three days of boiling for breakfast lunch and dinner, just give me some jungle leaves anything to make it taste like food.
Our achievements over that first year started to change the tide of destruction that was rapidly destroying some of the most unique habitats in SE Asia areas we loved areas we dived daily and could see the destruction first hand. The protection of the Corral a dive site we named in 2007 and one of the main Seahorse breeding grounds we had discovered, the creation of the largest community managed marine area in Cambodia which took almost two years to see happen allowed us an opportunity for hope that some of the diverse marine habitats we had discovered would be able to begin recovery.
The surveys we conducted, which lets be honest were not the most scientific but hey we were learning and it was a little to crazy out there and we were a little to new to be able to find anyone with real skills, but as passionate divers we identified many new areas to be legislated for protection and increased the overall knowledge and documentation on Cambodian marine species, including the discovery of one new unknown species of Nudibranch not to mention putting Cambodia firmly on the map as a seahorse paradise. During that first year we argued a lot with so called knowledgeable foreigners who being to scared to actually do anything cried research, research, research, yet did nothing constructive except trying to find funding for themselves to stay in Cambodia and live the NGO lifestyle (we can come back to this in a later summary :).
Our Seahorse project brought national and international attention to Cambodia's diverse but declining Seahorse populations, leading to the creation of governmental sub decrees that now make it illegal by Cambodian law to catch or trade in Seahorses. This was a time to celebrate, as this became law we celebrated the protection of the seahorses, but in our naivety we forgot to take into account that you need enforcement or laws mean nothing, did not take us long for our short lived celebrations to return to the oh shit we just lost another area to the trawlers and back to that creeping feeling of uselessness, again hitting home that this fight was not about paper and money, it was about true grit, determination and a general disregard for our own personal safety not to mention a lot of drowning our sorrows with rice wine and old school Khmer dancing.
The close working relationship we developed with the Cambodian Ministry of Fisheries still continues today and has also turned into many lasting friendships, this at the time lead to the creation of a 4km buffer zone around the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. This zone was created to protect the diverse inshore areas around both islands from the sand extraction vessels, which were operating in Cambodian waters. One small boat, 5 or 6 crazy people. Night time special opps or oops as your head hit the bottom of the large steal hull in the dark, filming the boat at night that used the excuse oh sorry our anchors broken we had to use our large pipe to anchor the boat, over this very large hole that was not there before, uuuummmm! But hey the video was great and well received on delivery to the right people, job well done.
The changes were not only at national level but also provincial level and within the local community level, with volunteers running daily lessons at the Koh Rong Samloem school, the creation of a referral clinic for the Koh Rong Samloem community and the extra income generated through true eco-tourism helped the local island economy creating jobs and small community run businesses that catered for the volunteers.
All together it was an amazingly successful year, didn’t know what we were doing, but did it anyway, risked life and limb to save the little horses, why? Just because they were peaceful. Became very accustomed to rice in all its forms including liquid, never thought rice could give you such a headache in the morning.
There was a big thank you to all those who were involved and a warm welcome to those that would come to join us in the future. We learnt a lot about bureaucracy, angry men with guns, crazy kids with machine guns, and how to function in a village that was never sober and often did not allow you to be either.
If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the project now its more organized, not so dangerous and definitely more scientific please contact us for more details