It’s been just over two years since I last visited the Philippines. In 2012 I spent six weeks on Malapascua Island as a volunteer with the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project. Maybe it was the glorious beaches, the world-class diving, the irrepressible Philippino joie-de-vivre, or maybe it was the Tanduay (just kidding!), but this trip proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship
Of course, as clichés go, all good things must come to an end, so I returned to Australia to start my new job as a psychology lecturer and researcher. While I was fortunate to work with some lovely and talented people, I became increasingly frustrated and unsatisfied with this career path. My first foray in the field of marine science and conservation had planted a seed in my head: could marine conservation provide a new professional direction, and not just an interesting holiday experience?
Midyear 2014 I decided it was time to act on that thought. Luckily my very understanding manager allowed me to take a few months of unpaid leave, and I set off to explore my conservation dreams (and realities!). I travelled to Africa to take part in a conservation project focusing on marine megafauna in Mozambique and a coral reef restoration programme in Madagascar. This hands-on field experience was fantastic, but when I read about the Zoox ZEP opportunity on an online job board, I realised that this could well be the defining experience in my quest to learn about the conservation industry and to solve a more personal dilemma: can I change careers at this stage?
On the first day of the new year I was on my way to The Philippines again, this time heading for Puerto Galera. I was so excited to be back and to be able to explore another corner of this fascinating country. In Manila I met up with my fellow ZEP participant Tash. We shared our stories over a tasty traditional meal and travelled to Puerto Galera together in the smoothest, fastest trip by a ZEP participant in the history of Zoox (ask Sam)! Alan met us at Muelle port and an exciting tricycle ride (there is no other kind!) later we arrived in the peaceful little Barangay of Aninuan. There we were greeted by our third ZEP participant, Belinda, and a sniffly Sam, unfortunately feeling a bit under the weather.
The first few days of the ZEP have already proved to be really interesting. While we’ve spent quite a bit of time “in class”, the sessions were interactive and it’s clear to see the practical applications of the material we’ve covered. Following a general introduction to the history and work of Zoox, we started off with a module on professional development, discussing possible roles in marine conservation and how these fit with our own experiences and plans. We also covered some basic marine biology topics, specifically on the use of surveys/monitoring. On day three we had a chance to put this into practice during snorkelling sessions on the reef and in the seagrass.
I expect that I will learn a great deal in these first two weeks in Puerto Galera, and I am already getting excited about contributing to the Green Fins initiative and being responsible for my own conservation project in the following weeks. Updates are sure to follow!