Sharna was volunteering 2 months at Perhentian Island for the Diving, Turtle & Coral Conservation. Here she shares her memories volunteering as head volunteer early this year.
” Where to begin? Well, I thought that getting involved in a conservation programme would be the perfect way to end my travels. Originally I was only meant to volunteer for two weeks at Bubbles, however, this didn’t really work out and I ended up staying for an extra six weeks making my stay a grand total of two months, which in my opinion was still definitely not enough time. To try and summarise what I did during my stint at Bubbles would be impossible, I learnt an incredible amount not only about marine life, turtles and diving, but also about myself and all the amazing people who I shared my time with. In spite of this, I shall try and put into words the past two months as best I can.
When the boat first pulled into the bay it looked completely deserted, with the resort hidden behind the trees all that was visible was a beautiful secluded beach, a few hammocks and the pure, crystal sea. Making this my office for the past two months was no problem whatsoever. During my first week I settled in completely, everyone was so welcoming and we were introduced to the project by getting stuck in right away. Before coming to Bubbles I was not aware of all the problems faced by sea turtles in Malaysia and one thing that I think the programme excels in is raising awareness. Guests of the resort are always informed about the turtles which nest on Bubbles beach, either through turtle talks, white board notices or posters in their room. All of which I was lucky enough myself to be involved in.
As I arrived quite early in the season it wasn’t until my third week that I saw a nesting turtle. Having the opportunity to watch a turtle nest was probably the most extraordinary experience during my whole stay. The whole process is incredible but my favourite part is definitely when she uses her back fins to dig the chamber, I never realised a turtles fins were able to move in that way. The fact that I could get so close to these amazing creatures and see how they lay made staying up until 3am completely and utterly worth it. Even if sometimes the nests were almost impossible to find that you ended up getting covered in so much sand and effectively became a part of the beach yourself. One turtle in particular stands out for me, when she was leaving her nest she managed to fall down a hill of sand, being confused and not realising that she had fallen so far, she continued to try and cover up her nest next to the tide line, even though it was a good ten metres away. As a consequence we called her Bridget Jones.
Diving was another experience that I was introduced to during my time at Bubbles and I am now completely hooked. In the beginning I had no clue of the difference between a bamboo shark and a sting ray (slightly exaggerated) but by the time I left I could spot and sign a number of different species of fish, I shall never however live down the time that I thought that an Indian Walker was a crab. I completed both my open water and advance courses during my stay and this meant that I was able to help out with another aspect of the project, the coral nursery. A few times a week Gareth, one of the conservation facilitators, and me would dive down to the nursery and attach broken corals to the frames and give them a good clean at the same time. At the end of each dive we would practice a ‘skill’, this included ballroom dancing, running without fins (this ended in a fit of giggles), making a swim through with our legs and doing summersaults. It is moments like these that I definitely miss the most.
After my first month I was given the position of Head Volunteer. This effectively put me under the bracket of staff but I continued to have all of the responsibilities that I had previously as a volunteer, apart from the fact that I was able to take my own snorkel tours. The snorkelling round the islands is incredible, I snorkelled with different species of turtle, black-tip reef sharks, barracuda and many other beautiful fish hidden beneath the coral. As a volunteer you also get to go on one of these snorkel tours and I can safely say it is one of the best places I have snorkelled in the world. Not only is there a copious amount of marine life, but the wildlife above the water is everywhere to be found. Both flying lemur’s and dusky langur monkey’s will interrupt you whilst you are trying to eat by swinging through the trees next to the restaurant. Monitor Lizards, Whip Snakes and Geckos are constantly hiding around the resort and you are able to get so close to these fascinating creatures. The island is a hot spot for wildlife and I was lucky enough able to be right amongst it.
The days at Bubbles were filled with beach cleaning, hatchery maintenance, jungle trekking, palm weaving and covering up turtle tracks. You were never bored, there is always something to be fixed, built, drawn etc and I learnt so many new skills during my time volunteering, including how to use a power-saw (slightly worrying for my Mother). However, you are always given some downtime, either to go for a swim and a snorkel or simply to read a book in a hammock and watch the sunset on the beach.
The evenings are filled with swapping stories about what goes on during the day, having a game of cards or a few drinks, bbq’s, malay dinners and patrolling the beach for turtles. You would think that a seven hour nightshift would drag, but the patrols flew by, especially when you were with someone else. If there wasn’t a turtle to distract you, you would end up talking until the sun would come up. Some of my best memories of my time spent volunteering are of the nightshifts; we would make up star constellations, take photos using lazer pens, we saw a moon that looked exactly like a jaffa cake and played in the brightest bioluminescence I have ever seen. You really get to know people properly when it is just the two of you sat on a beach at night and I loved how sociable the project was.
Oh and just a side note, the seafood curry that the kitchen staff make is just delicious, I have taken the recipe home in hope that when I make it, it will be at least fifty percent as good as theirs.
One of the main things I have taken from my two months volunteering is the people I have met. They are some of the most incredible characters with the most insane stories to tell and I will continue to keep in touch with them for a long time to come. I got to know people working in all aspects of the resort and I really felt like I had been welcomed into the Bubbles family.
This program has shown me that you can make a difference in one place, no matter how small, and how rewarding it is to see the work that you do having such a positive impact. I would recommend this conservation programme to anyone, it has so many different aspects to it that there is something for everyone to enjoy, no matter how long they wish to stay for. It has completely opened my eyes and becoming involved with conservation projects all over the world is currently where I would like my life to lead, as a result I am looking into returning to Bubbles to continue to help the turtles.”
If you are interested to volunteer in this programme, visit Diving, Turtle & Coral Conservation Volunteer at Perhentian Island or email firstname.lastname@example.org