Megan Dean - 2015 Program Participant

A tent in Malaysia

The bedroom

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I have always wanted to travel and take part in helping with conservation efforts worldwide, as I am a strong believer in the world needing OUR help to sustain the beautiful environment and the hundreds of thousands of species that inhabit it.

Why did you choose to volunteer with the Tropical Research and Conservation Center?

My biggest attraction to TRACC was their efforts to help protect and conserve turtles. I have a great deal of love for all species of turtles, and knowing that TRACC aims to protect the future of the Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles throughout the breeding season, it seemed like a no brainer to me. However, I came back with a brand new perspective on all features of the marine world, with a new love for the ocean and its’ vast inhabitants. I also loved that the organisation was based on a small island near the coral triangle, billions of lifestyles away from civilisation.

What was your favorite part about the location?

My favourite part of the location was in fact the whole island, our little slice of paradise. The island was a 40 minute round trip shared by two other resorts, with one also showing an interest in preserving the future of the local turtles by providing a safe place for eggs from the nesting turtles to incubate in piece. With our own access to TRACC's boats we were also able to visit other islands and the waters surrounding them, which were rich in marine life.

The best part of the location was also one of the most devastating; the waters surrounding the island in the past have been prey to local illegal fishing efforts (including blast fishing) and the once wonderful coral reefs that would reach miles have been affected deeply by the illegal fishing carried out in the past. Although it was sad to see, it was amazing to witness the efforts produced by TRACC and the many number of volunteers that are all helping to restore the coral reefs to their former beauty, and helping to protect and repair the biodiversity surrounding these beautiful coral beds.

Outdoor living and dining area of campsite in Malaysia

The living and dining room

What made your program experience unique?

Where else can you go and have your own desert island, where you are free to swim, dive, and snorkel whenever you like and know that you are making a positive effort to help protect the ocean and all life within it?

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff on the island are wonderful. From all nationalities that have not quite managed to tear themselves away from the paradise to the Malaysians from the surrounding areas, who work and live with TRACC to help teach and educate the inhabitants of their country about sustainable fishing techniques and spread the word about conservation work, they are all lovely and treat you like family from your very first foot off the boat.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had taken a lot more mosquito spray, less clothing, and brought a waterproof camera with me, because the sites and species that you could find underwater were just incredible.

Sunset over a beach in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

The sunset

Describe a day in the life of your program.

For me, as a snorkeler volunteer at TRACC, we had a slightly quieter day than the divers. We would ordinarily have our first work snorkel at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. (you could head out with a buddy and snorkel whenever you'd like before that for fun and pleasure but snorkel surveys to collect important data would usually start later in the morning), to either carry out a turtle or fish identification survey over a stretch of water. This would usually be between 40 to 80 minutes, depending on the current and the water conditions in the area.

Then after drying off lunch would be served at around 12 p.m. or 1 p.m., which was prepared by Pom Pom's own cook. With the next work snorkel starting anytime between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Again it would either be a type of survey, a coral collection, or crown of thorns removal (helping to protect and sustain the local coral reefs), which again could take anywhere between 40 to 80 minutes.

After this you would again dry off, grab a hot drink, and then prepare yourself for usually a group task, where both snorkelers and divers would come together to carry out a beach clean or help create coral biscuits. After work duties had been carried out, you have free time for yourself and the rest of the team, usually from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. We were free to clean up and relax after a day’s work with a cold drink and a shower, and watch a beautiful sunset before dinner.

The days would differ and may not always follow the same routine depending on the weather and water conditions. Of course, as mentioned before, you could jump in the water whenever you wanted for a snorkel or a dive, so long as you could find a willing buddy, which is never an issue!

What was one of your favorite activities?

My favourite daily occurrence was to sit on the jetty at sunset and watch the sky with a nice cold can of beer, while all the other volunteers around you sat talking about the day, getting to know each other, and waiting for dinner to be served.

Basic kitchen in Malaysia

The kitchen

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

The accommodation was extremely basic, like camping but on the beach. Some people, I guess, would consider that a nightmare, but after a week of getting used to it, it was perfect! You have your own tent, with its own fan and power source (between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.) to help keep you cool at night and power any personal devices you may have. It is of course a shock for anyone, but it just adds to the experience! However, I hear TRACC has plans to build a few rooms for the slightly elder adventurers out there and for volunteers that love their home comforts!

Now that you're home, how has your program experience impacted your life?

The experience gained and time spent with TRACC has truly changed my life, and for me has given me a whole new perspective on my future and how I want to help the world. It made me realise that we take so much for granted and that we are not the only beings that matter on this Earth, so we have to help look after it for all our sakes. I may sound a bit silly but it truly was an eye opener. I have come back deciding I want to study marine biology at university and seek a future in conservation. Without my time at TRACC I never would have manned up and made this decision.

TRACC has truly changed my life for the better and I can't wait to go back; I have been lucky enough to be welcomed back next year as a science intern to help protect, conserve, and spread the work TRACC is trying to achieve, and I can't wait!