It was a happy coincidence that I came across Zoox when I was looking to realign my life to more hands on work in marine conservation. I remember wondering where to even start, a common problem for many new graduates and even those of us who have been working in similar fields for a few years.
Perhaps on some higher level, Chloe and JJ knew of my dilemma and wrote the job description for me. It certainly felt like it was a match made in heaven when I read it. More realistically, and less romantically, there is a niche for a stepping stone into a vast and ever expanding field as we realize the dire need for multi-skilled individuals in the marine conservation field. Gone are the days where science is all you need to make a difference. Communication, negotiation, and financial skills are imperative to seeing a successful conservation project through – and these are not skills that are easily acquired doing a science degree (or two).
So here I am, sat on our balcony in the quaint barangay (village) of Aninuan in Oriental Mindoro. I haven’t travelled as far as my fellow ZEPs, getting here was a simple hop, skip and jump from Cebu City where I was based previously. I may not have crossed an international boundary, but the regional variations of my mother’s country are fairly wide. The geography is different, the language (or dialect) is different, the people…ok they are just as friendly. A week and a half into the programme, and I have already learnt so much. Hardly any of the material is new to me as a marine biologist and previous environmental and conservation educator, but I’m learning how this knowledge can be used to make a tangible difference in the context of conservation. We’re a good group of four ZEPs with Chloe and JJ as adopted “parents” (though I doubt the concept sits as well with them) and our training sessions are full of laughs, sharing experiences, caffeine, sugar and some frisbee during our breaks!
Then there is the diving. It’s part of why we’re here, aside from our “parent driven” professional development, we four are to be volunteer coordinators for the UNEP project Green Fins promoting environmentally sustainable dive practices. More on the project at a later date, but in the mean time we’ve been exploring some of the dive sites. Off the coast of Mindoro is Verde Island – the centre of biodiversity in the Philippines, and across the strait is Anilao – dubbed the nudibranch capital of the world – also known as my heaven.
Nudibranchs are darling little shell-less gastropods, often with their delicate gills exposed (the name Nudibranch means “naked lung”) whose colours and morphological variations are fascinating to many a diver and quite the love of my diving life. Like I said, I’m not here for the nudibranchs but I imagine that finding species I haven’t seen before will be my solace when, in the coming weeks, I’m busier and more challenged than I ever imagined I could be! We are all at the awkward stage, like an ascent of a roller coaster before the drop, of learning exciting new skills and waiting for the work through which to apply them to start, and the butterflies are fluttering away, fuelled by coffee and condensed milk (a treat Stef and I are most familiar with from working in Malaysia). It is more than easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks ahead, as I’m finding out.
The next few weeks will see us making choices and choosing projects that put us well out of our comfort zones, and whilst this is why we’re all here, it is unnerving. Fortunately Chloe and JJ are here to bring us back down to earth with advice and words of encouragement. After all, we wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think we could do it. So whether those butterflies settle down, or go into overdrive, the next six and a half weeks will undoubtably be some of the most rewarding of my life.
In the mean time, comfort comes from the incredible diving I’ve already experienced. I’ve already snapped the biggest Stonefish (in the world), the rare Paddle Flap Scorpionfish, a massive Frogfish, a tiny Flamboyant Cuttlefish and numerous nudibranchs new to Sam (some that don’t even look like animals), even if they aren’t new to science!
You will be hearing more from all of us as we sink our teeth into Green Fins and our personal conservation projects, and blood, sweat and tears always makes for a good read so stay tuned!