Sawadeekaa (or hello for those who don’t speak Thai), my name is Kirsty and I am the research assistant for the Naucrates turtle conservation project, working on the island of Koh Phra Thong in Thailand for the first part of the season.
I have been on the island since the beginning of November and would love to share my experience of a different and diverse culture with volunteers and staff members from the past, present and hopefully the future.
So almost nine weeks on the project now and I’m having a fantastic time, and I am presently trying not to think about my rapidly diminishing stint left on the project. After spending the majority of the beginning of the year in Costa Rica and discovering the wonder of turtles on the beach, then returning home for a few months before heading to the country, I forgot how amazing it was to walk the beach in the rising sun of the early morning, only then to come across the phenomenon of a fresh turtle track and possibly a nest.
Green turtle track on the beach just after sunrise.
Having studied palaeobiology at university, it is still difficult for me to believe that turtles have been undertaking these exact same activities for millions of years, lasting through mass extinction events, climate change, and a host of others obstacles. By rights, the lack of evolution they have shown, to me means that they ought to be extinct by now. Knowing how much sea turtles have lived and thrived through makes it very difficult to realise that without projects and organisations such as Naucrates, we could be looking at a world with no turtles due to the egocentricity and ignorance of man.
Therefore, to be employed in a place as amazing as this, helping to conserve such incredible creatures is what life is all about, if a little bittersweet. The rush of safely probing and digging for the egg chamber in a nest, sometimes for hours provides a huge thrill for me, and the joy of finding the eggs and being able to say ‘yes I saved some turtles today’ is the best feeling in the world. To then be able to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with volunteers who are genuinely interested in conservation as a general subject is incredibly important, and to see the development of their ideas on conservation issues due to frequent discussions, specifically regarding turtle conservation is fantastic to see.
For me, a highly interesting activity the project conducts is the daily turtle behavioural observation. This is the first time I have been able to see turtles swimming in the wild from land; it is a beautiful sight seeing these animals in their natural environment and not something many people are able to claim. We observe the turtles within a recognised juvenile feeding area, as they emerge above the surface of the ocean for breathing, and catalogue all times and locations of these emergences. This data will hopefully be used to establish a marine protected area.
Juvenile green turtle emerging for a breath
Out of the 7 extant turtle species, the ones we currently see on the project quite frequently are the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), with possibilities of having the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Leatherback (Dermochelys spp.) turtles nesting on the beaches. An early start to our nesting season this year means we are already watching over 4 nests (2 definite, 2 possible) on our beaches. With the first nest due to hatch very soon I’m hoping the end of this month will be a super exciting time!!
The volunteers we have had for the season so far have been very pleased with the selection and amount of activities offered, and the daily variation of activities conducted within the weekly schedule. Some volunteers have also taken time out to enjoy activities provided by the local community such as Thai massage, renting kayaks, school visits, savannah tours, and visits to Thapa Yoi village. Volunteers of all ages (above 10 years) are welcome, including family groups.
They have all commented on the great quality of the food provided by the home-stay families, and by Lamion and Nok at the beach bar and bungalows where we are also staying this year; I can also attest to the amazing quality and quantity of the food provided at all places we frequent. I will be sad to leave behind the best food I have tasted in a long time.
The Thai people seem to have a tradition where they celebrate anything and everything possible. My first experience of this was the Loi Krathong water festival, where all the locals made water floats using trunks from banana trees and decorating them with banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. I was lucky enough to be shown how to decorate my own, and then headed down to the beach in the evening to say a prayer and release my float into the ocean. There was of course a party, food and free sangria included so how could I refuse?!
My attempt at making a float for Loi Khratong
Christmas is not a traditional festivity in Thailand but did this stop them from celebrating? Absolutely not! Nok and Lamion dressed the bar up with fairy lights, tinsel and streamers galore. They provided a barbecue with copious amounts of food, drinks were flowing and the ‘traditional’ Bob Marley music made way for a more party-oriented musical selection. Unfortunately an early night for those of us walking the beach the next morning, however the party continued for the locals into the early hours of the morning.
Chritmas decorations at Nok’s beach bar and bunglaows
The Boxing Day tsunami memorial was an interesting day activity-wise. The standard beach walks in the morning followed by heading to the beach by Mr. Chui’s bungalows and bar for the traditional monks’ prayer. Lunch on the beach was followed by a meeting with the director of the Marine Conservation Department, Ministry of Tourism to discuss the recent head-starting project set up in Thapa Yoi village. We headed back to the beach to witness the release of 10 1year-old green turtle hatchlings that had come from the Phuket Marine Biological Centre that morning. Later in the evening they had music, food and a party for revellers to celebrate the passing of time where they released fire lanterns into the sky, a beautiful moving spectacle. Lots of locals and many foreigners were there to enjoy the day’s activities.
Buddhist monks performing the traditional prayer for the tsunami memorial
Year-old hatchlings being released into the ocean
The last Thai festivity I will have the honour of experiencing will be Children’s Day, held in the little known ‘village’ of Thung Dap. It is reputed to be a typical Thai party, with the intention of celebrating children. I am promised there will be food (including ice-cream), drink, games, music, dancing and a lot of fun. I can no doubt guarantee that I will be roped into entertaining the local children for at least part of the day, and I have to say I am looking forward to spending some time with the island residents we rarely see.
A little over 3 weeks until I leave the project and I must confess I’m not looking forward to heading home to the undemanding and frustrating lifestyle I have ‘enjoyed’ for 25 years, and to the very cold and wet climate of the British winter. Not a day will go by when I won’t miss the delightful warmth and wondrous affection for a remote paradise island, and the unmistakable feeling of helping to conserve a minute pocket of utopia.
A gorgeous sunrise across the savannah
If you have a passion for conservation, and want to gain the experience of a lifetime, then please don’t hesitate to join us on our project. For more information about the project please visit our website www.naucrates.org, or like our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Naucrates/349295735082954?ref=ts&fref=ts.
We hope to see you soon…