This year Ecoteer collaborates with Blue Temple Conservation to set up a Marine Research Station at Perhentian Island Village. We conduct dive surveys using Reef Check survey method to monitor the health of the coral reefs. Apart from the usual work that focuses on educational awareness activities, this year we begin to do research. Before the start of the season, Sue from Reef Check trained Neil, Sabina (founders of Blue Temple) and I as eco-divers. Although I have been at Perhentian Islands for more than 2 years, I seldom dive, partly due to my busy work schedule but mainly due to the difficulty to equalise when I descend. I, however, realised equalising becomes easier with more dives. It doesn’t hurt as it used to be which usually ruined the whole dive experience. Neil and Sabina have been very supportive all the time!
Since the start of the project, things have been hectic for all of us. I still remember when Daniel told me to help set up the project, I was quite worried but looking at where we are now, I think we are doing great! Part of the project is to involve local boatmen in the dive surveys. By participating in the surveys, we hope the boatmen would then know the diversity and the condition of the coral reefs around their islands. We educate and create awareness among the locals on the importance to protect the coral reefs.
We just trained three local guys to dive. The whole Open Water Dive Course took up more than 2 months. The theory took longer than expected as I had to translate. I have to admit, it was not easy but I actually enjoyed doing it! It was funny to watch the locals’ reactions as they did not understand the video. At times, Jimie would fall asleep half way. I think it is time that PADI prepares course materials in Malay. It was a relief when they passed the quizzes and final exam!
We could only do the dives with the guys on our day off on Sunday, which is also the reason why it took so long for them to complete. It was actually so much fun doing it with the guys as they were so excited every time! They did say they were nervous in the beginning but no one could tell. Three of them diving together = craziness!! They were posers, even when they were doing the skills, they always noticed where the camera was and not forgot to pose! To be frank, diving with them has been awesome and exhausting, trying to keep up with their nuisance, in a good way though!!
We were all really happy when they completed the course! It was really a pleasure to be able to help out in training the locals! Immediately after they qualified as divers, we did a celebration BBQ party. It is not a big deal to be a certified diver but we made ours a big deal! We got them to finish a cup of non-alcoholic mixer (F&N orange, Zapple, 7-up, Pepsi, soy sauce, kimchi sauce, salt, rose syrup, grape syrup and sunquick) using a snorkel and wearing special mask!
Apart from helping to train the locals up, I also went for dive clean up, dive survey on corals, invertebrates and fishes and of course fun dive! I even did my first night dive with Blue Temple! All the time the thought of being underwater in the dark freaks me out. I was nervous about it but, for God-knows-what-reason, it did not feel that scary but exhilarating! A totally different experience from diving during the day! The underwater world looked so different! The marine creatures seemed idle and hiding among corals, coral polyps extended their colourful tentacles from their skeleton to feed and everywhere I shone the torchlight, there were many pairs of shiny eyes reflecting back! I got really excited to see a turtle sleeping under the ledges.
Previously the fear of not being able to equalise was bigger than the joy of seeing the underwater world. However, I realised it is easier and my ears don’t hurt when I equalise constantly, pretty much non-stop while I descend. When I don’t have to worry about the pain in my ears or having nosebleed when I ascend, I can actually enjoy the view underwater! It can be very mesmerising to watch the behaviour of the marine life, e.g. a damselfish rubbing itself against a rock or chasing other fishes from its territory, a clownfish swimming out of the anemone to protect its family, two rabbit fishes chasing each other, a hawksbill turtle feeding on corals, etc. It is also very heartbreaking to see the damage to the coral reef ecosystem due to human impacts!
Sylvia Earle quotes that our past, our present and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depend on what we do now. Many of us ask what can I, as one person, do but history shows us that everything good and bad starts because somebody does something or does not do something. Everyone’s action has an impact, no matter big or small. If one person thinks that throwing a bottle into the ocean is not bad, imagine everyone on Earth thinks the same. Instead of having one bottle in the ocean, we will now have 7.166 billion bottles in the ocean. I have known that in reality, there is no 100% conservation or protection but I disagree with 100% destroy of our nature for development. I learn to believe in creating a balance between development and conservation! Easier said than done but definitely possible! Let’s continue to protect our nature! If you love the ocean and would like to lend a helping hand towards marine conservation at Perhentian Islands, do check out Blue Temple Conservation’s volunteer project!