As a dear friend of mine keeps saying to me, “Sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees”, which at first I thought she was insane as hypothetically she is obviously in the woods if she can see trees and so therefore why is she trying to see the wood in the first place! However I am more than familiar with this old phrase now, especially as we have been well and truly immersed into the third Zoox Experience Programme that we have conducted in 12 months. As Programme Director, part of my role is to be able to have that ability to see the big picture and stand back and guide the direction of the programme so that the guys taking part have the best possible experience on a weekly basis, slowly adding to their skills base that will better their chances of employment in the long run.
However during the first 3-4 weeks this is not the case at all and instead I am thoroughly involved and in no way taking a step back and loving it at the same time. This is what is considered my 9 till 5 and has been for many years now. This is what I consider to be real marine conservation and in no way resembles that picture of some bloke who is ‘ridiculously good looking’ hugging a dolphin. (It could be though just not on a weekly basis!). So below is an outline of one of my weeks overseeing the training of the 4 ZEP’s Green Fins Coordinators.
Myself, Chloe and the 4 Coordinators head into Puerto Galera town hall to introduce them to the Mayor. This is because the guys will be working with the local Municipality over the course of the next month and will more or less need their consent, advise or something else at some stage or another. Once we have finished we all head back and then undergo some online database management that is seriously hindered by the serious lack of internet here which has recently got worse! Maybe we should tell the Mayor that also!
We are based right next to a beautiful beach that has two smallish reefs at either end of the beach that provide the perfect opportunity to get familiar with snorkelling techniques, reef monitoring approaches and getting accustomed with general species identification. So on this rather brilliant excuse, for going to the beach on a Tuesday, myself and the 4 ZEP’s spend the morning session getting to know the layout of these reefs and me explaining to them about local currents, river outlets and anthropogenic impacts nearby from residents, fishing and tourism activities.
When we have returned, showered and had lunch we all sit down together including Chloe to go through Stef and Sam practicing their Green Fins member Training presentations. These take about 1 hour each after which we provide feedback and advice while talking about potential discussion points that might arise during the real training with the dive centre.
We all gather in the classroom at 9am to go through the final training module, Blue Carbon. This module is the last of the 6 that we have given over the previous weeks and takes all morning. There are always many questions throughout that lead to many other discussions where we probably learn just as much! After a quick lunch we all meet together in the classroom to go through Simon and Lizzie’s training presentations that also go really well. Chloe and I are always surprised how well people take to presenting someone else’s PowerPoint slides! We all then quickly go to Sabang where the majority of the 40 plus dive centres are based for me to give a training presentation to one of the Green fins members based there.
We had previously planned an underwater cleanup with one of the dive centres nearby where we are staying but it was cancelled last minute. No problem though as another Green Fins member was instead able to provide some kit and tanks to do the job. 5 of us managed to go and join them and their customers (another 6 divers) but unfortunately Lizzie was sick with the obligatory stomach upset that comes with trying to live in a tropical climate! The morning session on the nearby reef was really successful with 34kg of plastic being collected. The majority of the plastic has either blown in from the nearby visitors to the beach or come from the river outlets that collects poorly disposed rubbish from local communities living nearby. We then head back to HQ for another shower (usually 3-5 take place a day depending on activities) and lunch before individually meeting each of the ZEP’s to have a one on one discussion about their person assignments. Zoox provides a list of small local projects that tie in with their Green Fins coordination that are all of highly relevant skills to a career in marine conservation. We let the volunteers choose which one they would like to tackle either as a team or individually and then support and oversee it to completion, even if they leave the country we make sure to chase up and finish any areas that they might not have been able to complete. Thanks guys!!! We also use this one on one opportunity to provide any feedback on their overall development so far and allowing them to give us some feedback. We then provide them with a certificate and really cheesy picture.
All 6 of us head into Sabang again using a variety of transport methods (bike, tricycle, Jeepney!) to carry out further assessment training. I am with Simon and Lizzie at one dive centre and Chloe is with Stef and Sam at the other. This takes the best part of the whole day and allows us to oversee how much they have absorbed in the weeks they have been here. A lot it turns out! Unfortunately one of the assessments was cancelled but allowed Sam, Stef and Chloe to have a good natter anyway! We all meet up at 5.00pm to see Sam, the first of the bunch picked out of a hat, give her first training presentation to the staff and customers, 20-25 people all in all about Green Fins. We then all have a meal and then head back to HQ 40 mins away.
The assessment that failed to take place the previous day is rearranged for the morning. I am back in the office trawling through my Inbox answering the many enquires we receive while dealing with the most exciting part of my job, keeping tabs on all our receipts! When the assessment training has finished the girls head back to HQ and go on to meet a nearby dive centre who are interested in joining the Green Fins project. In the evening we invite Sam, Stef, Lizzie and Simon up to our flat for a veg Balti on the balcony with a flagon of wine to discuss the past weeks and reflect on all their training. The guys are well and truly ready for managing this UNEP project solo and are raring to go. Ear infections are gone, stomach bugs have checked out and the majority of information gaps have been filled now. They are well and truly flying solo from now with our support always near. We will of course continue to oversee the majority of their work but where is the learning in relying on others and so we will be taking a step back from them from now on.
A well and truly earned day off for all of us that sees me not doing much but some light reading, snoozing on the couch and watching the Grand Prix down the local with a couple of cool beers. Not to be laughed at though. As with all work this is just as important as working hard itself as it allows you to take that mental step back and be able to see the woods! Now where am I…