Here are some reviews from our volunteers and interns, Please share your experiences with us.:
Tonight is my last night here on the island, so it’s a good time to look back over my 30 days on Koh Seh. Like most of my volunteer projects, they start out slow and end up speeding past. This one was no exception. I had come to the island hoping to do only minor scuba/snorkeling survey work and spend most of my time reviewing socio-demographic data on fishing villages—which is my specialty. That’s what actually happened in a big way since I broke both eardrums on my first dive on my first day. So it turned out painful—I healed—and then I spent my time helping MCC with their ecological documents and socio-demo data. Heaven for me! The island experience was rustic but doable. I just have to say I am so greatful for the kindness of Paul, the director, and his wife, Sao. Sao cooked special “veggie” dishes for me and when I had the flu for several days, Paul and Sao delivered special healing soups to my bedside. I was better in no time and I’ll be forever greatful for their kindness. I’d recommend Koh Seh and MCC to those who can improvise when things don’t go perfectly, for those who are biologists/ ecologists or who want to learn about the field. This was my fourth volunteer opportunity in two years and I can truly say I felt like I made a difference. Now back to the mainland in the morning and my next adventure!!!!
Date of Posting: 10 June 2016
Posted By: Mary Knapp
Retired US Fisheries and Wildlife Officer, US
“Day in the life of a seahorse conservation volunteer”
56 minutes into a seahorse survey, and no seahorses. How unfair that such beautifully impressive creatures are also so agonisingly elusive (illusive?)! I take a glance to my left to see my buddy painstakingly scanning the seagrass bed beneath us… with just four short minutes left to survey, I can tell he’s as anxious as I am to catch a glimpse of this almost mystically dragon-like fish. We’re told in our survey training that seahorses are the masters of camouflage; effortlessly vanishing into their surroundings, but all of a sudden it seems backward, and almost every strand of seagrass deceptively appears as a seahorse. Damn. I stop for a moment and hover underwater, concentrating hard on my surroundings to properly observe the life around me. A couple of wasp-fish lie motionless and hidden in the dense seagrass, a small chocolate-drop sea star lurks next to them in wait of food, to my right three shimmering fusilier fish dart after one another, and there… finally! A seahorse. Strikingly yellow, this is undoubtedly the most impressive I’ve sighted during my six weeks on the island so far, and I can’t help but smile as I signal to my buddy to come over for a look. I can tell that the two of us could be captivated by the golden female for hours. The skilful way the body sways back-and-forth in the swell while its curled tail holds fast to the seagrass is almost hypnotically mesmerising. After allowing the seahorse to accept our presence as unthreatening, I carefully take a few measurements and photos, identifying its species as H. kuda, before the two of us surface for a ceremonial fist bump – survey success!
Hi, I’m Chloe Hatton and staying on the beautifully remote island of Koh Seh and working with MCC for a total of three months. After being accepted to study BSc Marine Biology in the UK next year, I decided to look for some hands-on, practical experience in the field of marine conservation. MCC’s studies into seahorses really intrigued me – particularly the aspects relating to the human and environmental interface in Cambodia and using them as an indicator species for the health of local ecosystems – and here I am! The waters surrounding Kep Archipelago have been decimated by damaging methods of overfishing in the last decades, and the seahorse is a key species that can be monitored to follow recovery in the area with environmental protection brought through MCC’s work. Now half way through my time here, I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to fly half way around the world to join the (albeit mildly dysfunctional) family of volunteers and staff! Each day I learn something new, laugh at something new and go to bed exhausted!
The Hippocampus. kuda like my buddy and I found is a smooth bodied seahorse, and one of eight species that the volunteers at MCC learn to identify. The studying begins with presentations from the project’s very own seahorse expert, volunteer coordinator and ‘surfer dude’, Amick. From there, each volunteer receives an iSeahorse Toolkit document to revise from before a small test, ensuring all have a good knowledge of seahorses and substrates before beginning surveys. In addition to this, longer-term volunteers can choose to study fish, substrate or invertebrate ID in depth to assist with reef surveys – something which I’m currently attempting! Information collected on seahorse surveys is added to a database daily, where it can be scrutinised by any volunteers senseless enough to enjoy statistical analysis, and conclusions can be drawn about changes in the population in the waters around Koh Seh.
Aside from collecting data in surveys, MCC also offers the opportunity to be involved with all kinds of projects; Mangrove cultivating, patrolling for illegal trawlers, coral planting, seagrass mapping, aquaculture schemes and even involvement in writing proposals for marine protected areas. In fact, one of the most ground-breaking investigations into underwater seahorse tagging is centred at MCC. Monthly dives take place in which seahorses are safely injected with a polymer dye to form four small coloured marks to identify the individual. When the tagged seahorses are sighted in future, it is then possible to ascertain data regarding the pattern of its movement, growth rate, and any other changes to the individual. Watching the tagging process has been one of my personal highlights whilst on the island and something I will never forget as the most interesting investigation technique I’ve witnessed.
Although the island is a hub of activity each day and everyone is dedicated to the work going on, there’s no shortage of time for play! From volleyball matches to late nights relaxing in hammocks and morning meditation to stargazing, Koh Seh has something for everyone and is impossible not to fall in love with.
MCC is a small organisation operating on so many fronts to fight for conservation, so working here as a volunteer can really give you the feeling of making a difference.
The best part? It all starts with a seahorse.
Date of Posting: 02 June 2016
Posted By: Chloe Hatton
BSc Marine Biology, UK
Hello, my name is Jasmine Corbett and I’m a 21 year old volunteer for Marine Conservation Cambodia, an NGO based on a remote, tropical island of Cambodia. Back home in the UK, I study marine photography and I am currently in the process of my final degree project, in which I am creating a book about overfishing and the organisations, such as MCC, that are working hard to combat this. As I am passionate about marine conservation and had heard great things about MCC, I felt this would be the perfect place to complete my project.
After a few friendly emails with MCC’s volunteer coordinator Amick and some travel arrangements planned, I made the voyage from the rainy UK to the kingdom of wonder – beautiful, sunny Cambodia. I travelled to Kep province on the South coast, where I was met by the team and hopped on a boat ride to Koh Seh, where the magic happens. Nearing the tiny, remote island, you can see a few wooden bungalows dotted along the shoreline, a small dive shed and numerous hammocks hung between trees. The island is inhabited only by the organisation and the research volunteers; a peaceful paradise undisturbed by roads, shops and hotels. It is a world away from the noisy, fast pace lifestyle I am used to back home. Surrounded by fringing coral reefs and dense seagrass beds, there is an immense array of marine life to see here, from octopus to tropical fish, colourful nudibranchs to the mystical seahorse.
Most volunteers begin their day on the island with activities such as yoga and meditation followed by a communal Khmer style breakfast. Some mornings I liked to start the day with a swim around the whole island (don’t worry, I’m not a professional swimmer, the island is quite small!)
After breakfast the volunteers go diving and take part in one of many underwater projects to choose from such as reef surveys, mapping potential Marine Protected Areas and even contributing to building the underwater garden; a structure made from rocks and broken coral which provides a nursery and home for many fish species and allows crucial coral species to regrow. In this underwater haven you can even visit “Shell Ville”, “Cuttlefish Crescent” and “Coral Cottages”, micro habitats created by some of the volunteers here.
After a huge, delicious lunch and an optional nap in a hammock to work off the food coma, afternoon activities range from jungle explorations to group discussions on tackling destructive fishing to sunset beach cleans. By integrating underwater research with coastal island maintenance, volunteers are given an insight into the many crucial elements it takes to conserve our precious marine environments.
However the most exciting and intriguing work here for me is the seahorse survey project, as for many years I have dreamed of photographing and interacting with this truly unique species. Seahorses have many fascinating traits, such as their reversed pregnancy which is exclusive to only a few species on earth. Their prehensile tail, long snout and armoured body give them an other-worldly appearance and for hundreds of years people have developed a fascination for this curious species. However established information about seahorses is still vague and the first official research surveys have only occurred in the last 50 years.
Sadly due to their captivating and iconic nature, they are increasingly vulnerable to the threats of the aquarium and curio trades. They live in some of the worlds most threatened habitats, so in turn they serve as an advocate species for the protection of these endangered environments. Research and conservation projects like MCC are crucial to ensuring the future survival of many vulnerable marine species.
Before embarking on the research, volunteers at MCC are educated about the ecology of seahorses and their habitats, how to correctly approach and measure a seahorse and the somewhat challenging identification of different species! Their incredible camouflage abilities and the unique features of each individual can make them very hard to place under one category, however with a few seahorse ID exams and continuous practice, each volunteer leaves the project a seahorse research expert.
One of my favourite experiences on the island was getting involved with the seahorse tagging project, using VIFE tagging equipment (a coloured polymer) to mark each seahorses identity; the only project like this in the world. Once tagged, we are able to monitor the growth rate and territory of each individual, which is crucial for furthering the knowledge of and conserving this mysterious species. The project began with a classroom session on how to carefully hold and tag the seahorse, without harming it…which took a lot of practice! Once mastered, we put on our scuba gear and made our way to the tagging site to begin the seahorse search mission. When an individual was spotted I assisted Amick in measuring, photographing and tagging each seahorse, which will be continuously monitored. It was an incredible experience to learn how to directly interact with seahorses and a fascinating way to track their whereabouts.
After the daily research projects take place, volunteers submit their findings to the MCC database and have the evening free to watch some nature documentaries, drink a beer on the beach or sleep under the stars in a hammock or on the pier. After seven incredible weeks, I will really miss the island life and the amazing people here, but will take away with me fond memories and so much inspiring new knowledge on how to conserve marine environments.
Date of Posting: 23 March 2016
Posted By: Jasmine Corbett
Marine Photographer, UK
My name is Brayden Cockerell and I’m a 21 year old Australian volunteer with Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), an NGO located on the tropical paradise of Koh Seh island. I have been with MCC for 5 weeks now and I’m thoroughly enjoying my involvement, not only in the desperately needed conservation of Cambodia’s vulnerable oceanic ecosystems, but also the experience of a whole new culture, developing new friendships and forming many many fond memories.
One particular highlight of participating with MCC is the amazing and rewarding experience of discovering local seahorses during marine surveys. Seahorse surveys typically take place at least 3 times a week, and possibly up to every day. Each survey brings fresh excitement and hope of discovering the often inconspicuous and truly alien creatures that seahorses are. We, the volunteers, scuba dive through a variety of habitats to search for seahorses, ranging from seagrass, to mud, to sand and shell. Seahorses may be attached via their prehensile tail to a range of objects (holdfasts), for instance seagrass, algae, urchins, seastars, sponges and shells, or in contrast may be free swimming through the water. Seahorses often accumulate filaments of algae on their hardened skin and waft in tune with the wish-wash of the water to seemingly appear as bizarre looking pieces of seagrass or algae. Due to the camouflaging abilities of seahorses, we typically survey a site at snail’s pace, especially if the habitat consists of dense seagrass. Sometimes I find myself staring at strange-looking pieces of seagrass and algae to the point where seahorses seem to manifest out of them, but hey, maybe that’s just nitrogen narcosis rattling my brain.
A typical day for myself on Koh Seh island begins with awaking early around 7:30am for a work out with the island’s small makeshift gym, or possibly yoga on the beach, followed by a nice refreshing swim. Note: this is an ideal morning, however depending on the level of intoxication the night before (some things are better celebrated with alcohol), this may not happen at all. After a delicious Khmer or Western style breakfast around 8:30am the volunteers are given the brief on the day’s schedule, which as an example may involve a seahorse survey in the morning followed by land-based activities in the afternoon. As a team, we would head down to the dive shed around 9:15am with our survey equipment (slates and cameras) to set-up our scuba diving kits for an electrifying morning of underwater adventure. After forming dive buddy teams and generally entering the bright blue water of eastern Koh Seh, although the dive site does vary, it is almost time for the game of hide-and-seek with the local seahorses to begin.
Various bits of information (time, tide, sea state, weather etc.) are recorded on the slate, then we deflate into what seems to be a strangely alien yet surprisingly peaceful underwater dimension. For 30 minutes we move along a linear path, then return along a parallel linear path for another 30 minutes, whilst continually scanning the habitat (most typically seagrass) for seahorses. Upon discovering a seahorse, the excitement explodes as my dive buddy and I look at each other in awe. For the next minute or so, we ‘hang out’ with our new seahorse friend at a comfortable distance, allowing he or she to become accustomed to the presence of two large, bubble-expelling, masked creatures with a bulky scuba diving getup, displaying a number of strange-looking hoses and something resembling a cylinder silver turtle shell on their backs (my dive partner and I). After this period of curious tension, we begin recording information about the seahorse on the slate, including its holdfast, depth, location, numerous morphological measures or traits, as well as the species, sex and state of pregnancy, just to name a few. Three types of photos must be taken with the seahorse; a profile photo, a head photo and a ruler photo (profile with ruler at the same depth of field). Taking pictures and measurements of what resembles the lovechild of a horse and small fish (not a good image) does sound rather enjoyable, however this can be quite difficult if the seahorse is constantly fanning around due to the movement of the water. To put it simply, some seahorses are extremely bad at posing for photos but hey, at least they aren’t giving a peace sign and pouting. After all the relevant information and photos are collected, my dive buddy and I give each other the OK hand symbol, then the hunt continues.
After the conclusion of a seahorse survey, as well as the rinsing and packing away of our dive gear (very important – ask Amick), the data collected must be logged onto our seahorse database excel spreadsheet. This may sound like the driest part of the whole process, however data is needed to form interesting and informative conclusions about seahorse distribution, abundance, diversity, environmental preferences and so on. Given the endangerment of local seahorses and yet the lack of knowledge about them, the information we obtain from our seahorse surveys is very important. Scientific research such as our own greatly assists in directing effective conservation to preserve the fascinating yet rare seahorse species. Another seahorse project that MCC participates in is a seahorse tagging study, the first of its kind internationally, whereby seahorses are tagged via injections of VIFE tagging solution to the upper right-hand side of the trunk. Once a month, tagging sites at Koh Seh are surveyed for the presence of tagged or untagged seahorses. Upon discovering an untagged seahorse, it will be tagged on site, or if it is already tagged then data will be collected about the individual. This not only allows for an interesting and scientifically important account to be formed for each individual seahorse, but also for the conclusion of broader scientific concepts regarding seahorse behaviour, ecology and biology.
Around 12pm, a pack of hungry divers lurk around the main bungalow in eager expectation of a scrumptious lunch. Following this re-fuelling of energy, we usually have a small post-meal rest before beginning the afternoons land-based activities around 1:30 – 2pm. Some relax in the super-comfortable hammocks, enjoying the stimulating sunshine and cool breeze whilst plunging into a book or simply some casual chatter about the seahorses they discovered that morning. Some may use the time to work on various activities or studies of their own, such as diving course theory, learning local marine species, constructing useful things (signs, shelves, artificial reef ‘shell houses’), so on and so forth. Land-based activities may include any of the following; beach cleans, maintenance of island paths, dive equipment repairs, incinerator construction, governmental report writing and many other spontaneous projects. We all work together as a coordinate team to accomplish these tasks efficiently, creating quite a rewarding and bonding experience for all.
Following end of the day’s activities around 5pm, the volunteers are free to unwind and fulfil their time with whatever they wish. Volleyball games are quite popular, along with various other micro-projects, diving or just general relaxation. A mouth-watering dinner is served at 7pm, and afterwards the volunteers generally either watch a movie or marine-based documentary, or socialise together with the MCC staff, enjoying some quiet (or loud) banter after a hard day’s work. Eventually we tire from the day of action and head to the bungalows to rest, looking forward to the next exhilarating day of underwater exploration and seahorse discovery.
Date of Posting: 23 February 2016
Posted By: Brayden Cockrell
21 Years Old, Zoology Graduate, Australia
Aloha, my name is Christian, I’m 23-years old and from the very north of Germany. I’m studying biology in Germany and doing a internship for my studies right now at MCC on Koh Seh. I plan to study marine biology for my master thesis, so I wanted to gain some work experience in both marine research and marine conservation. For that reason I decided to take a semester off and travel to South-East Asia. I began by doing a internship in Thailand in a marine research institute and afterwards working with MCC to learn a lot about marine conservation work. Furthermore I came here to improve my diving skills and become a divemaster, which would be extremely beneficial for my future career as a marine biologist.
Date of Posting: 10 February 2016
Posted By: Christian Derup
Marine Biology Student, Germany
“I’m in my last year studying for my Masters in Electrical Engineering at the university of Western Australia. I worked for 2 months of the summer holidays and really wanted a break from study and work. I love the ocean and wanted to learn how to dive- which brought me to MCC!! Everything looked really positive so i got in touch and here I am. I came to MCC for life experience, to learn LOTS, a chance to travel alone, meet new people, see new cultures, and to do something positive .
Date of Posting: 05 February 2016
Posted By: Berney Bao
Electrical Engineering, Australia
M.C.C.The one and very likely only TRUE marine conservation crew in Cambodia. Its not and has never been about money.
EDUCATION and CONSERVATION are the key..Keep up the good work...Not from a Volunteer ,but from a very 'Old"Diving Instructor who has come across a lot of 'conservation programs" M.C.C are for real.
Date of Posting: 29 August 2015
Posted By: Vincent Chevallier
Diving Instructor, Cambodia
Today is my last day at MCC and I was asked to write a testimonial about my past four weeks. I figured this would be no big deal but then I read my diary entries of my stay here and realized: it is. How am I supposed to put four weeks of such a big adventure into words? The sound, smell, feel, look, and sometimes even taste of this place? The importance of the work that is being done here? Especially because I could only see such a small fraction of this cosmos in the four weeks I stayed.
Let's start with sound. Every morning I woke up here and heard the birds singing. But they sing differently than at home. Add the sound of playing kids, dogs, waves, the soft sounds of people speaking in Khmer, the summing of insects, and sometimes boats into the mix and you have pretty good idea on how Koh Seh sounds during the day. Under water that is a different story as every diver knows: hearing your own breathing loudly and clearly. In the evening it is sometimes the sound of people drinking some bears and listening to Khmer or American music, sometimes one hears the generator who guarantees the electricity, the sounds of a volleyball game and quite often the sound of a movie or documentary shown in the main bungalow. And in rainy season you will have the pleasure of hearing thunder from close and afar as well as the soothing sound of rain falling on the roof of your bungalow. Beautiful.
So what about the smell? Most of my time on Koh Seh it smelled like ocean, this salty breeze that always makes me happy. After a rain it smells fresh and clean. In the jungle it smells leafy, woody. Sometimes before dinner long term stayers can tell which food is getting on the table... Curry for example is very easy to identify. It smells like baby powder when the kids on the island had their evening shower and like mosquito repellent when I was around... mosquitoes absolutely adore me after all. In the mornings before the sun rises it smells like Germany in spring. Hard to describe but nice when I wanted to get a little reminder of home.
To describe the taste of this place is an easier endeavour than the other two sensory experiences I have left. When diving or swimming it obviously will taste salty. What else ;-)? The food is absolutely amazing, always fresh, healthy and tasty. One thing I will most likely miss a lot is the sweet hot chili sauce in which most of the volunteers basically drown their food. It is very lovingly nicknamed the cock sauce due to the huge chicken and cock on the bottle. Also important to mention: black tea or coffee with condensed milk. Always a real treat for me ;-).
Now I have two ways left to describe my experience here: look and feel. Look is not too hard. Koh Seh is as colourful as it will get. Green jungle, an ocean that changes its colour between brown, beige, green, and turquoise, underwater life in all kinds of colours and shades (even pink, violet, red and yellow), blue, grey, and white skies and I also should not forget the multiple colours of the food I got to eat. But those looks are not the most important. The most important thing I got to see here are genuine smiles and genuine excitement. For conservation, for small and big positive changes, and for living in a small community in which people with huge hearts live.
Now how does an island feel like? For one thing it definitely feels secluded. After the boat ride from Kep I landed on this place and was hooked. No strong internet connection, no light pollution, no running water (real eco: only using rain water plus drinking water brought over from mainland). It feels like leaving all the stress and struggles of the big city behind. And even if it wanted to follow you it cannot. It is a feeling of freedom rarely encountered while pursuing an office job. Also, it made me feel closer to nature again. Not only being sweaty or salty all the time, being eaten by mosquitoes and black flights, feeling the forces of nature like rain, storm, and tide (not only on the island but also on the boat). But also seeing stars clearer than I might have ever seen them before, counting shooting stars at night on the pier, waking up for watching the sunrise, climbing trees and rocks in the jungle, swimming in the bioluminescent waters around the island, trying to learn some basic Khmer and feeling like a dork while doing it, walking barefoot on a rocky beach, swimming 2.2 km around the island while watching the sunset and feeling the waves around me, the feeling when seeing a proper beach after cleaning it, seeing dolphins out on sea, getting extremely excited about the sighting of a seaturtle, the feeling of being befriended by the kids on the island, discovering the beauty of seagrass meadows, and being reminded of the beauty of reefs. The feeling that the persons you need to get things done or not be alone are just a shout away, while you learn to improvise because the next store to buy stuff is a boat ride away. The feeling of doing work that matters, being it community work where I got to meet local fishermen and learn about their life, being it seahorse surveys, where I learned about the beauty and resilience of these little creatures, being it small tasks around the island like building Anti-Trawling devices to protect the treasured and quickly recovering beauty on and around Koh Seh.
What I expected when I came here was that I would become a better diver, learn more about underwater nature, maybe meet some locals, and have a good time. What I did not expect but what happened is that I became part of the community living, learning, partying, struggling, fighting, winning, loosing, sharing this island. The stay here did not only bring me closer to nature and to myself, it not only enabled me to master skills and do stuff I would have never imagined I would be able to do or even have dreamt off doing. My stay here leaves me with the warm feeling of having become a very, very small part of something bigger, more important.
Date of Posting: 29 July 2015
Posted By: Franziska Roth
I am 29 years old, Hold a PhD in Communication Studies at the University of Mannheim (Germany). I am skilled in quantitative research methods and statistics and have published several scientific articles in books and peer-reviewed journals both in English and in German, Germany
Working with MCC has by far been my best and most valuable experience in South East Asia. Paul and his team really get you involved in the organization from day one. I found the team's approach to conservation incredibly effective as they are dedicated to educating the surrounding communities about the importance of ocean conservation and preservation. In addition MCC encourages and supports each volunteer's individual talents; utilizing their skills in an effective manner and applying them to the organization. As a volunteer I felt accepted immediately into the group, and from the moment I reached the island of Koh Seh I knew I had found a second home. I found this sense of family and passion for the ocean the utmost important aspect of the MCC group; a quality much noted in Paul's leadership and the Khmer people. This work hard play hard attitude, the many hours spent learning the Khmer language, and the continuous support from fellow volunteers/staff is what I enjoyed most about my time with MCC. Volunteering with MCC is a must-do for anyone who wishes to actually help out in some real world problems and make a difference!
Date of Posting: 27 July 2015
Posted By: Kail Pawson
After having planned to spend three months in Malaysian Borneo to conduct a Master's thesis, I found myself without a research permit and in a tough situation. Thankfully, after finding out about MCC and their work I was in contact with Paul (MCC CEO) about potentially conducting some research in Cambodia. MCC were extremely helpful and understanding of my situation and after a few swift email replies it was decided that my Master's thesis was no longer to be on rainforest ecology, but on seahorse abundance in Cambodian coastal waters! As this was not the original plan (and a far cry from the subject which I had proposed to my university), my knowledge on the subject left a lot to be desired. Luckily, I have found MCC to be extremely accommodating and helpful in my research design and my understanding of the subjects of my research - seahorses; about which they have a wealth of information and expertise. Since arriving at Koh Seh, four weeks ago, I have been impressed with the work that is conducted and pleased to be a part of it, alongside my research. The staff are understanding of my situation and allow me to take part in day-to-day activities when I am not researching or working on my university projects. Whilst I enjoy aiding in the important hands-on conservation work occurring here in Cambodia, the staff have kindly prioritised my data collection and have been an integral part of what I hope to be good quality research. My hopes of producing a good quality research paper have been boosted even further thanks to the relationship that MCC has with other institutions and organisations. I have benefited greatly from workshops and individual consulting from experts in the field of marine biology and seahorse research from the world renowned Project Seahorse. After what was a worrying few weeks in Malaysia, and a fear of no research, I did not expect to have been able to conduct such work on such short notice; I can only imagine what would have been possible should I have planned to come here originally!
• Alexander Wyatt BSc (Zoology) & MSc (Animal Behaviour/Conservation) student at Anglia Ruskin University (UK)
Date of Posting: 19 July 2015
Posted By: Alexander Wyatt
BSc (Zoology) & MSc (Animal Behaviour/Conservation) student at Anglia Ruskin University (UK), UK