7 One-of-A-Kind Experiences as a LAMAVE Volunteer

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7 One-of-A-Kind Experiences as a LAMAVE Volunteer

Just like any other volunteering opportunity, signing up with LAMAVE is a great way to contribute your time and skills to something bigger – marine conservation. But joining LAMAVE is unique in itself because it is more of a commitment – you have to be passionate and dedicate at least three months of your life to volunteering with us.

Whether you’re a fresh graduate looking for a way to jumpstart a career in marine biology or a finance professional needing to take a career break, as long as you have a strong desire for marine conservation, this is definitely a leap of faith you would want to take.

1. You will be swimming with whale sharks or sea turtles (or both!) nearly every day.

 
A volunteer swimming with a whale shark during a shark behavior study.

A volunteer swimming with a whale shark during a shark behavior study.

 

It’s a wondrous experience to see and swim with whale sharks and sea turtles especially if it’s your first time encountering these animals in person! Most volunteers see them for the first time with LAMAVE. They feel a mix of nerves and awe seeing these huge but gentle creatures up close (but 4 meters is the closest allowed distance!). Because you swim with them almost every day, you’ll get to study their behavior more closely. You’ll eventually get to know each individual whale shark or sea turtle – and even get to memorize their unique patterns!

 
A LAMAVE volunteer takes a photo ID of a turtle around Apo Island. /Photo by MJ Lamoste

A LAMAVE volunteer takes a photo ID of a turtle around Apo Island. /Photo by MJ Lamoste

 

You don’t need to be a great swimmer at the get-go. One of the things that scare volunteers from applying is the fear of not being good enough at swimming or freediving. But no need to worry, we’ve got you! There will be time to learn and improve as our team will patiently train and teach you. We just need you to do your best and not give up! You’re sure to be quite good before you know it. (LAMAVE also has a project for scuba divers!)

 2. You’ll get to hone your research skills while contributing to marine conservation.

 
LAMAVE’s Apo Turtle Research and Conservation Project team look at some data together. /Photo by Sally Snow

LAMAVE’s Apo Turtle Research and Conservation Project team look at some data together. /Photo by Sally Snow

 

The team uses a non-invasive technique called photo identification to tag sharks and turtles. LAMAVE will train you how to correctly take photo-IDs of whale sharks, turtles, and rays and how to identify each individual. Part of the work is also to collect and collate data properly which will help in advancing studies about these creatures.  You’ll also have a weekly discussion on different studies and you’ll get to share different insights with the team.

 
Cebu team conducting their weekly journal club. /Photo by Abi Saldaña

Cebu team conducting their weekly journal club. /Photo by Abi Saldaña

 

Hopefully, you’ll gain a wider knowledge on whale shark, turtle and ray conservation and hopefully see the bigger picture and the importance of doing this work. And since you are in the field site, you’ll get to experience everything firsthand.

 3. You’ll make friends from all over the world.

 
LAMAVE volunteers hitching a ride from celebrating the town’s fiesta together. /Photo by Lorraine Aplasca

LAMAVE volunteers hitching a ride from celebrating the town’s fiesta together. /Photo by Lorraine Aplasca

 

Volunteers often come from different countries and so you will experience living and working with a diverse group of people. You will learn different cultures, traditions, languages, insights, and experiences. You’ll be amazed not only by how interesting your differences are, but also by all your surprising similarities. You’ll share a lot of memories, conversations, and laughter that is sure to strengthen your friendship.

 

4. You’ll become a great cook of different cuisine.

 
Project leader Joni Miranda cooking vegetable soup for dinner. /Photo by Abi Saldaña

Project leader Joni Miranda cooking vegetable soup for dinner. /Photo by Abi Saldaña

 

As a volunteer, you’ll do your share of household chores and this includes cooking for the team at least once a week. Get ready to whip out that family favorite, share your country’s best dish, or maybe… look for recipes on the Internet. Whether you’re secretly a great cook or you have never fried eggs in your life, we’re sure you’ll enjoy learning and that you’ll discover a lot of great dishes from different cultures that you would crave for after you’ve gone home.

5. You’ll learn to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

 
The team always brings shopping bags and containers to avoid single-use plastics when buying produce from the market.

The team always brings shopping bags and containers to avoid single-use plastics when buying produce from the market.

 

While living in the project house, we always try to reduce our waste in a lot of ways such as bringing our own containers and tote bags, buying fresh and unpackaged produce, reducing our food waste, and a lot more. A lot of volunteers become more conscious about the things they buy and consume, and hopefully you’ll adapt this lifestyle even after volunteering. It’s always good to lessen the waste we produce, and while it can sometimes feel difficult to know where to start, it’s easier to do it together with like-minded people.

6. You’ll be immersed in Filipino culture.

 
Volunteers riding a jeepney in Cebu. /Photo by Britt Rutherford

Volunteers riding a jeepney in Cebu. /Photo by Britt Rutherford

 

Working with the team, you will meet and interact with locals. Every day you will ride public transportation and shop in local markets. Filipinos are very friendly and they’ll always greet you with a smiling face, Maayong buntag! or Magandang umaga! depending on which region you are in. Don’t forget to greet them back when you pass them by as a sign of respect.

 
LAMAVE volunteer Calvin Ho interacts with Filipino students during educational activities with Apo Island High School.

LAMAVE volunteer Calvin Ho interacts with Filipino students during educational activities with Apo Island High School.

 

Filipinos have different languages and cultures all throughout the country. But regardless where you are in the country, Filipinos love karaoke. There will be a lot of times when you would hear music and loud singing blasting from a random home, and that’s how you know that you really are in the Philippines.

Filipinos also love rice. Basically, it isn’t considered a meal without rice. Most probably, if you eat out and you order a Filipino dish, it will automatically be served with rice. The Cebu team goes to a Filipino-style barbecue once a week and you’ll get to try a variety of grilled meat and vegetables – served with rice of course!

7. You’ll get to explore the Philippines.

 
Cebu volunteers take a break together in a nearby island after sessions. /Photo by Harriet Allen

Cebu volunteers take a break together in a nearby island after sessions. /Photo by Harriet Allen

 

Taking days off is a great opportunity to rest, relax, and to discover more of the locality you were assigned in. Most volunteers explore the city or go to nearby waterfalls, beaches, mountains, diving sites, and a lot more.

If you decide to go to the Palawan project site, you’re in luck as El Nido, a town that boasts beautiful limestone formations and white sand beaches, is located a few hours away by land. If you’re based in the Cebu Project site, just a few hours away are Moalboal and Dauin, some of the best diving spots in the country. Joining the Manta Bowl Project will bring you to Ticao where excellent snorkeling and diving spots can be found all around!

A beautiful sunset at the Manta Bowl Project site.

A beautiful sunset at the Manta Bowl Project site.

A magical rainbow across the sea facing Apo Island. /Photo by Eric Chocat

A magical rainbow across the sea facing Apo Island. /Photo by Eric Chocat

The Philippines is rich with natural wonders, so we’re sure that you’ll never run out of places to explore!

These are just a few of the things that you’ll experience as a volunteer. Every experience is, of course, different, and you’ll discover even more things on your own. All it takes is courage and passion for conservation and you’re all set.

Don’t get us wrong, volunteering with LAMAVE is not a holiday and it entails a lot of hard work. But the knowledge and experiences that you’ll gain and the friendships you’ll make are things to keep for the rest of your life.

 

About the Author

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Abi Saldaña is a Filipina scholar for the Cebu Whale Shark Project. She was a Communications Professional based in Manila who, tired from the corporate life, wanted to break free and redirect her career to what she’s passionate about – marine conservation. She loves learning about different cultures, Ghibli films, the sound of the sea, and milk tea.

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VOLUNTEER BLOG - Raphael and Cindy

VOLUNTEER BLOG - Raphael and Cindy

A Whole New World

by Raphael Moraly and Cindy Penningnieuwland

My girlfriend and I took a year off to travel around the world and we wanted to volunteer with a few conservation organisations along the way. We jumped on the opportunity as soon as we heard of LAMAVE. We could tell that this experience would shape what we will do for the rest of the trip. And for good!

Although it hasn’t been easy every day (mainly due to the dry season which prevented us from getting running water at home) and the high amount of work (workdays can sometimes run from 5 am to 7 pm), this project has been an eye-opener for us on how research NGOs work but also, and mainly, on what needs to be done to protect the environment.

Underwater monitoring

Navigating towards the dive sites at sunrise was just an amazing experience considering the mind-blowing surrounding landscape... Then, the dives were just awesome as we had the chance to see mantas every other day majestically swimming around us (while we were struggling against the strong current to make our ways between waypoints) - and we also had the chance to spot a few whale sharks... While it was an amazing experience as a diver, it was also extremely rewarding to learn about underwater monitoring methods and conservation practices.

Anyway, we really felt like we were in a National Geographic expedition…

The team carefully position a Remote Underwater Video (RUV) used to record manta ray visitation to the site.

The team carefully position a Remote Underwater Video (RUV) used to record manta ray visitation to the site.

Raphael and Cindy taking a selfie while out in the field with LAMAVE’s Manta Bowl Research & Conservation Project

Raphael and Cindy taking a selfie while out in the field with LAMAVE’s Manta Bowl Research & Conservation Project

Onshore data processing

We were quite shocked to see how little we know about mantas. For instance, it is still unknown how long they live. This was for us really basic information. But this also showed us how important this project is.

This is why a big part of the work is focused on processing the data collected. To be honest, this is not the most exciting part of the project but definitely the most important as this allows LAMAVE to better understand the manta habitat and eventually set strategies that help on their protection.

We learnt a lot by going through the data and we are definitely more knowledgeable now about the Manta, their overall ecosystem and about biology and conservation in general.

Community development

We were quite impressed to see how much LAMAVE is involved in many aspects of the community such as cultural celebrations, village affairs and institutional relations... which is essential for conservation as the efforts will only be sustainable if the locals are supportive.

We had the chance for instance to run a beach clean-up with the locals, to brainstorm on LAMAVE’s presence at a local festival, to grow awareness on marine conservation and work with authorities on improving the waste management of the village.

Besides all the above, it has been great to work and learn from the project lead and from the other volunteers, who all share the same motive to progress conservation and improve the state of our planet.

We volunteered for a month but we have been completely sold onto this project. We came to help monitoring mantas, we left with a lifetime experience.  We will definitely try to pursue our involvement with LAMAVE through other forms of support (fundraising, awareness...) during the rest of our trip and beyond.

We highly recommend this volunteering to anyone interested in marine conservation, in mantas, or just in diving!

- Raphael & Cindy

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VOLUNTEER BLOG -  Isabel Hassall

VOLUNTEER BLOG - Isabel Hassall

Learning curves, good company and questionable Tagalog pronunciation

by Isabel Hassall

I am now nearing the end of my three month placement in Puerto Princesa and it has flown by! The last ten weeks have been a truly wonderful experience, full of learning curves, good company, questionable Tagalog pronunciation and stunning whale shark encounters. When I told a few people at home what I would be doing next with my life they didn’t quite believe what I said. And it does sound like a joke really… “Yeah, I’m going to be in the Philippines for the next three months free-diving to collect images of whale sharks.” Still hasn’t really sunk in yet for me either.

VOLUNTEER BLOG - Calvin Ho

VOLUNTEER BLOG - Calvin Ho

A moment of reflection

by Calvin Ho

I’ve been struggling to write about my experience on Apo island for quite some time now.

I could elaborate extensively about the responsibilities of a volunteer, and explain how the project has the potential to protect the sea turtles and the community they support. Or preach incessantly about how urgently the ocean needs protection. 

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Palawan – The paradise of the Philippines

I’m back. Once again I find myself back in this crazy and beautiful country of the Philippines. Where travelling from one place to another sometimes takes hours, if not days with a bus, jeepney, trike and two boats. Where finding a quick feed at the bus station means getting another bag of garlic peanuts (yum) and a bunch of bananas. It also means being back in the amazing crystal clear - blue waters where whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and eagle rays live.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Close encounters - out of the blue a shark I didn’t recognise appeared!

Before starting my volunteer placement with LAMAVE I knew I would be spending plenty of time in water with the largest fish in the ocean, Whale Sharks, little did I know the close encounter I was soon to experience.

It all started late in the day, we had almost finished our time in the water. When out of the blue a shark I didn’t recognise appeared. As the shark was unknown to me, my first reaction was to ensure I took a good set of ID photos. After that I needed to make note of the sharks gender, approximate size and behaviour. This is where it started to get strange. Whilst the sharks here are not completely shy, they usually don’t take a huge amount of notice of us, just swimming on by. This shark however was different.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Living and loving the simple life

I’ve learned to love this basic life we have on Apo Island. Waking up to dog barks and rooster calls at 6am and just sitting by the balcony enjoying the morning view with my cup of coffee and bread. Watching the team rushing to change into their research outfit and heading out for the first morning session at 7am. It’s always a joy to watch and identify the turtles in the water. Observing their cute actions and the interactions between them and occasionally getting annoyed at skittish turtles that just wouldn’t show us their left side.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Diving into science - Lene From Christensen

It’s close to 6 o’clock in the morning. The sun rose just as we left the diveshop. The captain shouts “50 meters”. I better get ready, weights, mask, fins, air is open, okay I am good to go. I look at my buddy “ok”. The captain shouts “10 meters”. I look at my buddy: “ready? 3-2-1 go!” Backroll into the fresh, chilled water. Orientate “ahh no current, it’s gonna be a good day”. Get the gear from the boat crew and descend. Immediately, my buddy and I spot the well-known and recognizable shape of the Remote Underwater Video (RUV) at the bottom, let’s get to work.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Salamat Apo

Another day on the island. 5:30 am and the sun is already peeping through the palms and colouring the sky with the softest tones. The water is looking serene and undisturbed, it is holding in its transparency all the secrets of the amazing reef we are lucky to call a survey area. We prepare and leave home walking among the same familiar smiles that give us their ‘maayong buntag’ (good morning) when we pass by.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Kalena Walker: A Biologist's Elegy

After three months flicking through slide after slide of the same three hundred or so whale sharks, you wonder about the delicate dictation of genes that shape the subtle nuances between phenotypes. Some of their patterns are remarkably similar, different in only the breadth of a stripe here or the completeness of a circle there. Others are perhaps distorted reflections of another. One has its own easily discerned pattern but on closer inspection: the same taper to a V above the pectoral fin, or a familiar swirl adjacent to the posterior-most operculum.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Mauro van Wanrooij: From the pitch to the ocean

At the age of 18, I was attending my final year of pre-university education at my local school in the Netherlands. I was studying really, really hard (:p) and I was playing soccer at a pretty high level, something I loved to do. During my school time, I met some of my best friends. Since they played soccer as well, but at a rival club in the same town I am from, we came up with the idea to play together. That was the moment I made a transfer to the club my friends were playing at. After several test games with the A-team, I made it through the selection. But then in the early season the worst thing I could imagine happened - I tore off possibly all the ligaments in my right-knee and at the same time, I had to do my finals.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

SASKIA SCHMOLE: OCEAN LOVE

When you are a volunteer with LAMAVE, you spent a lot of time in the ocean. I choose to spend most of my free time with things that have to do with the ocean as well. During my in-water sessions, I could not help but pay attention to everything that swims and moves under water.

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

Connie Flora Champman: Missing; the world’s biggest fish

Today’s forecast; clear, sunny skies and a top temperature of 32°C – another glorious day. Whizzing down the coastal road, the breeze providing relief from the already sweltering morning sun, the smell of sea salt wafts through the jeepney. The excitement of soon submerging into the world below the surface builds. Once off the jeepney, each step brings you closer to cooling off with the giants of the deep, in today’s crystal clear blue sea.

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLARS - INTRODUCING BRYAN MADERA

Meet our scholars! Each LAMAVE research project has at least one Filipino Scholar who is sponsored to join our team. These are our amazing LAMAVE Scholars!  Next up is Bryan Madera who recently joined our whale shark research team in Northern Mindanao. Here’s what the inspiring conservationist had to share with us…

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLARS - CHRISTINE (TIN) MAE V. ALAGON

Meet our scholars! Each LAMAVE research project has at least one Filipino Scholar who is sponsored to join our team. These are our amazing LAMAVE Scholars! Our latest scholar post is from Christine "Tin" Mae V. Alagon who was part of our whale shark research team in Northern Mindanao earlier this year. Here’s what the Filipina conservationist had to share with us…

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLARS - JESAH BALDESANSO

Meet our scholars! Each LAMAVE research project has at least one Filipino Scholar who is sponsored to join our team. These are our amazing LAMAVE Scholars! Our latest scholar is Jesah Baldesanso who was part of our whale shark research team in Northern Mindanao earlier this year. Here’s what the Filipina conservationist had to share with us…

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLARS - KATHY MAUYAO

Meet our scholars! Each LAMAVE research project has at least one Filipino Scholar who is sponsored to join our team. These are our amazing LAMAVE Scholars! First up is Kathy Mauyao who is currently working with our whale shark research team in Southern Leyte. Here’s what the Filipina conservationist had to share with us…

VOLUNTEER BLOG

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VOLUNTEER BLOG

Nick Gray: AS A VOLUNTEER THERE IS MUCH WORK TO BE DONE, BUT THERE IS ALSO TIME TO SLACK.

Living “on project”, a day in the life of a LAMAVE volunteer is usually quite busy as there is always work to be done of some sort.  Sometimes it’s easy to focus solely on the task at hand and not get out to enjoy what the rest of the island of Cebu has to offer.  I find it’s extremely important to unwind and balance the work life with some personal time.

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MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLAR

MEET THE LAMAVE SCHOLARS - TG BONJUANA CAÑAL

Meet our scholars! Each LAMAVE research project has at least one Filipino Scholar who is sponsored to join our team. These are our amazing LAMAVE Scholars! Our latest scholar is TG Bonjuana Cañal who has just finished her placement with our whale shark research team in Northern Mindanao. Here’s what the Filipina conservationist had to share with us…

VOLUNTEER BLOG

VOLUNTEER BLOG

 

Nicky Allan: TURTLE LADY

Although the BRUVS project is centered around elasmobranch research, we were all given side projects to work on individually. I was lucky enough to become the ‘Turtle Lady’, tasked with creating an ID catalogue of all the turtles around Apo Reef island and Pandan island, close to Sablayan. Pandan island is home to a well-known resort as well as many enormous resident green turtles. It has been the site of many relaxing days off from the project – a place to snorkel, dive, play pool and eat bruschetta. On each visit you can find yourself snorkeling with as many as 5 turtles at once, as well as multiple Blue Spotted stingrays and Blue Spotted Ribbontail rays. From 5 visits to Pandan, I have managed to identify 20 individual green turtles, and one hawksbill turtle.