It’s been almost a week since I arrive in Pom Pom Island and started working with TRACC (Tropical Research and Conservation Center). I have been looking forward to working on this program for a long time, and now that I’m here and settled in, I’m so glad I signed up to volunteer.
First lets start with the location. I originally was supposed to work in Kudat near Kuta Kinabalu, but TRACC is currently moving their camp permanently to Pom Pom Island so now I’m here.
The island itself is extremely small. A person can walk completely around it in about 45 minutes.
Along with TRACC, there are 2 resorts located here. One is very pricey. They cater towards more upscale clientele, but they are also passionate about preserving the island’s natural beauty with a turtle hatchery where they incubate the turtle eggs and release the hatchlings once they are ready.
Some might think this is tampering with nature, but the fact of the matter is, we humans have made things so bad that the turtle population is struggling.
As it is, 1 in 1000 baby turtles will actually survive to adulthood, so they need all the help they can get. Placing the eggs in an incubator at the lab ensures that no poachers will be able to steal the eggs to sell.
Apparently turtle eggs are quite the delicacy in the culinary world.
Then there is the other resort that used to be mainly for Chinese tourists, but now has opened up to underwater photographers. The reef has come a long way in the last few years, and more people want to capture its beauty.
TRACC’s headquarters is a tiny little camp right next to the smaller resort.
I have one word for the camp…….rustic!
I figured it would be, but not really to the extent that it is. Since they are in the process of moving the camp, there are still things to be set up, so maybe in a couple of weeks there will be more amenities for the staff and volunteers to use.
The camp consists of a small cluster of tents, a dive shop where we keep all of our gear, a kitchen, 2 showers, 2 toilets, and a common area for everyone to enjoy.
Each tent is set up with a fan and a cot. I will definitely appreciate a good comfy bed once I’m done, but for now a cot will have to do.
I’ve always loved an outdoor shower, so that doesn’t bother me, but the toilet has taken some getting used to mainly because it’s a hub for mosquitos. Now I know to always have my bug spray on when I go to the toilet.
The first couple of days I was slightly regretting my decision to come here. All I could think about was having to spend 6 whole weeks here!
I have roughed it in the past, but not for that length of time, and I didn’t know if I could handle it.
Now that almost a week has passed, I have started to settle in and am getting used to life here.
I mean seriously…….there are staff here that have been living like this for a lot longer than 6 weeks. AND they keep making the conscious decision to come back, so there must be something worth staying for.
I’m guessing that “something” has to be the great work that they do here. I’ve only done a small amount of work with them, and already I can see how they are having a positive impact on the environment.
My first 2 dives were just to help me get my bearings, so I got to see some of the house reef here in Pom Pom.
My first thought was not so good. There was open barren sea floor all over the place. Clusters of coral could be seen here and there, but so much of what would have been an amazing healthy reef was lying dead on the ocean floor.
All because it is easier for fishermen to throw explosives in the water to kill fish, than it is to actually catch them on a line. It’s sad.
Now the area is protected and fishing has been banned in all forms around the island.
We can still hear bombs going off in the distance while we are diving, but authorities are cracking down on the men performing this illegal practice.
Now the reef has been given a fighting chance and just might be able to regain its balance and become the lush underwater garden it once was.
TRACC is here to try and help the reef in any way that it can. That involves building artificial reefs and cleaning up the ocean floor as well as the beach.
There is still a long way to go, but as long as there are people passionate about helping the environment, things will continue to get better.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the progress over the next 5 weeks.
Now it’s time to get to work!