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Diving & Marine Conservation in Cambodia by Nina Craig

Nina doing a survey

Hello to my fellow Projects Abroad volunteers. My name is Nina Craig and I am from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I arrived on Koh Rong Samloem on April 23 2010. I felt at home right away and was welcomed by the current volunteers. My first night was celebrated with a bonfire on the beach and wading with the bioluminescent plankton. When I saw the glowing specks in the water, I knew this place was nothing short of awesome.

I was fortunate enough to be put in the same bungalow as the current marine biologist. With her help, I started learning the fish families and species in the area. I moved on to the invertebrates and benthic species and in just over a week, I was ready to begin practice reef surveys. I had done surveys before, but these were for soil and vegetation. Surveys in the water are so different! For one thing, every dive is unique: one time we’ll see a giant puffer fish, another time we’ll see a bunch of nudibranchs, or a pair of huge cuttlefish or a juvenile sweetlips wiggling away. And then there’s the variety of benthic life: hard corals, soft corals, sponges, zooanthids, hydroids, and ascidians, to name a few.

Pink anemone fish

It’s a sense of great self-achievement to go on the dives and be able to identify (nearly) everything in front of me. On my first few dives, it was all so confusing and the reef was one big indefinable mass swarming with hundreds of fish. Now when I dive, I notice each individual coral and sponge life form. I notice the changes in the colour of the coral. I know where to look for the different fish species and I know not to freak out when a sharksucker attempts to clean my diving group.

After completing a few practice surveys together, my dive team was ready to start collecting data. We’ve had a few obstacles along the way, like swells and low visibility from the rains and specifying the identification parameters and roles for each new addition to the survey team. We’ve finally figured out a good system and are actively collecting and entering data. The data will be analyzed and interpreted to be used in reports advocating the protection of the reefs around Koh Rong Samloem.

Arriving on the island

Other activities I’m currently involved in include creating a poster for the village to increase awareness about fish species and sizes that should not be caught; researching anemone and coral propagation for artificial reef construction; and helping to devise a waste management plan for the volunteer bungalows that will hopefully be successful and used by the village as well.

There are even more activities happening on the island than I’ve listed. My stay here will be two months, but I know I could stay two years and still be busy!

This village, reef, and island are so amazing and I hope everyone who volunteers here sees the wonder that I see in them and wants to help out as much as they can. I also hope that I’ve intrigued and inspired other volunteers to come to the island and put in the effort to learn about reefs and participate in the surveys. My final words of advice:

Don’t drink too much rice wine and two months is not long enough!

Nina Craig

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