I come from an environmental background. Literally. My mother is a horticulturalist and my father is an arboriculturalist so the majority of my childhood was spent getting lost in botanic gardens or in the ‘great outdoors’ that the home counties has to offer. I always swore that I would never follow my parents career paths but sure enough when it came to choosing A level courses and then a degree I found myself drawn to environmental biology and any opportunity which would quench my thirst to explore, and understand the natural processes of our beautiful big wide world!
Whilst reading Conservation Biology in Bristol I had the tremendous pleasure to take part on an expedition to Isla de la Juventud, Cuba. This experience was my first taste of diving, and whilst qualifying as a PADI Open Water diver in a quarry in November did not tick any of the right boxes for me, diving on the stunning reefs within the Canarreos Archipelago did. This trip was truly incredible. Not only did I gain practice of terrestrial and marine monitoring techniques, I also developed a passion for diving and great enthusiasm that SCUBA can be used as a valuable tool to raise awareness and promote the importance of conservation. More importantly though, the total culture shock of working, living and empathising with the locals and their struggles sent me spiralling uncontrollably out of my ivory tower and crashing down into reality of practical conservation.
After graduating I was fortunate to be offered a Divemaster internship at a dive company based in the scenic coastal province of Antalya, Turkey. I thoroughly enjoyed spending two seasons here learning from a team of talented instructors, but I pined for mental stimulation and felt I could be offering more to the environment and community. Moreover I missed sharing my enthusiasm for the environment with likeminded people!
So onto the Internet to find a new challenge (and there is an awful lot out there so congrats for finding the ZOOX blog!). When I discovered Green Fins, and later when I read about the Zoox program, there was a definite yes! Eureka! light bulb! moment. Here was a program, which gave enthusiastic people on the lower rungs of the career ladder a chance to get involved at the grass roots level, and involved in something I was serious about – sustainable diving practices and conservation. But more importantly the ZEP is all about giving the opportunity to refresh, re-train and develop ourselves professionally as conservationists under the guidance of a great team who had already been there and done that!
A mad rush to book flights, 10 days back in the UK, 43 hours travelling and voila I am in beautiful Aninuan, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, the Philippines! The first week here I can only describe as amazing!
I met fellow project volunteer, the lovely Ans, in Manila and we travelled down to Puerto Galera together, where we met Belinda who would be our 3rd volunteer musketeer for the next 9 weeks. I guess one of the biggest benefits of this programme is we all have different experiences, are all from different walks of life and all have different skills to offer so we have lots to learn from each other!
The setting for base camp is pretty stunning, and future volunteers you are in for a real treat! As the new residents of the ‘cup cake house’ (aptly named by past ZEPers ) we wake in the morning to a view of clouds rolling over the mountains. A casual two minute stroll through a field of coconut trees brings us to the class room where we have spent the last week expanding our knowledge.
This week has been pretty classroom based but I think we would all agree we have enjoyed the lessons and have needed it to warm the old brain muscle (sorry not a technical term neuroscientist Ans!). All the information that Sam and Alan, our passionate programmes officers, have thrown at us has been super interesting, dead relevant, sparked some great discussions and if nothing else has rekindled my passion and motivation for conservation.
We have also had the opportunity to spend a couple of afternoons exploring the local reefs and sea grass beds, in order to rejuvenate those rusty monitoring techniques and practice the Green Fins assessor protocols, which I am sure we shall all go into more detail about in future posts! Getting back in the water has been fantastic, but to get in the water and see such diversity of corals and marine fauna species, especially compared to Mediterranean I have been one very happy ZEPer! I am very much looking forward to the next eight weeks!
So even if you scroll through and do not read all my chatter these are the main points to take away from this post…
- I am very happy to be here in the Philippines
- I am even more happy to be here in the Philippines and doing something I love! Conservation and Diving!