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.
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…
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.
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