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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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