As Panasesa now moves out of sight and myself and the other volunteers start to wind down after an epic two
weeks in paradise, we are leaving with a wealth of conservation and marine ecology knowledge, full hearts, many bruises, even more mosquito bites, some even with a sore chin from minor mishaps… but most of all we are full of amazing happy memories that will last a lifetime. We may not remember all the names of each other or the PNG staff in five or ten years but we will never forget how we felt nor the bonds we formed and memories we now share.
To start off our shark and ray Volunteer/internship, we were briefed on what would be expected from us and what our roles will be and before we knew it, we were out in the field handling our first shark! It may have only been a small grey reef shark but man, oh man, was it exhilarating! Quickly measured, genetic samples taken, tagged and then released -this was the first shark of many. Watching the sharks swim down and away from the boat was one of the highlights of this trip – to have successfully tagged and released a shark and to know that this information will go towards supporting PNG fisheries and aid towards conservation management of shark populations not only for the Conflict Islands, but the whole Milne Bay region and also on a worldwide scale.
Our days would start with the morning light slowly seeping into our bungalows, then breaky in the Main House where we would pack and prepare for the day’s sampling. Whether we were on the BRUVS or Drum lines team, we knew we would be in for a day of adventure. A typical day in the field would be on the dinghy, setting drum lines or the underwater cameras and then a dive or snorkel to explore one of the 21 uninhabited islands in the atoll while we wait. Then reset or move the equipment to a new spot and maybe another snorkel or fish while we wait, all this before lunch… just one of the perks of being on a tropical paradise island, I guess.
After lunch for Team BRUVS it was watching the underwater footage for any signs of sharks and rays, getting overly excited when the slightest hint of either came into view, sometimes it was even a friendly Moray eel hogging the spot light. If not still watching the BRUVS, it was an afternoon dive. Team Drumlines went back out in the field to set and handle more sharks. This was harder work, but we swapped over every two days to change things up and never become exhausted, since we are working on “island time”.
The nights consisted of sunsets over back beach with hermit crabs scuttling around our feet, watching the rest of the BRUVS or night diving- including searching and finding the endemic epaulette sharks (Milne Bay species) or other extremely cute fluorescent critters in the bio-luminescent ocean. Although we all came to Conflict Islands to experience a shark and ray internship, we were able to experience so much more. From world-class diving day AND night with the world's best dive instructor (Hi Dave!), to venturing into the turtle nursery to help feed or scrub the hatchling shells (– yes BABY turtles!), to a volleyball match where the local boys (who are actually very good), giggle more than they keep score. Spending the majority of the day getting to know a few of the staff while out in the field was another highlight. In particular, experiencing their traditions such as busting open a fresh-from-the-tree coconut or hearing about how they came to be apart of the Conflict Islands staff. It will be hard to forget the willingness of these staff, always there when you needed help or had a question and never expecting anything in return.
It was so rewarding and refreshing to be around the other volunteers who all share similar values as myself and although not all were of a science degree background, this did not matter in the slightest as they made up for it with their passion and love for the marine environment and all its inhabitants. It’s also amazing to see people such as the beautiful managers Hayley and Johanna working hard for the future of our oceans as apart of an incredible conservation program, CICI. BUCKET LIST ✔
Captain Chinny signing off, maybe see you again conflicts.