I've been asked to write a little about my experience at the Conflict Islands doing turtle tagging, and to be honest I'm not really sure where to begin.
My name is Åshild (but everyone calls me Amdam), I’m 22 years old and I come from the land in the north, Norway. Currently I’m studying Marine Science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, and I love it.
It must have been about half a year ago or so when an email popped up in my student inbox telling about this amazing experience where you had the opportunity to volunteer in Papua New-Guinea at the Conflict Islands tagging turtles (or doing a shark and ray program). I knew little of PNG and I knew little about the program, but I knew that I couldn't miss out on an opportunity like this. I applied to stay for two weeks over Christmas and New Years as I didn't have any plans to go home over the semester break (keep in mind that I come from Norway).
Let's fast forward a few months.
During these two weeks I've learnt so much! I was really surprised to how much freedom we had, but also how much work was done. A 'normal' day would look something like this; A late morning (you get to sleep in if you want to) and breakfast when you feel like it. Before lunch and in any other spare time we would do data entry, and usually after lunch we would go rodeoing,
which is the simple art of jumping from a moving boat onto a moving turtle in order to tag it and collect data. Dinner would be served late, and after sunset we would go on patrol to all the different islands. The time we spent patrolling would depend on how many turtles we would come across each night and if we had to relocate the eggs. The first night patrolling was one of the busiest throughout the whole stay. We hadn't walked longer than 50m before this massive beautiful green turtle crawls up the beach. I stayed back with a couple of the others and we watched her through her whole process of nesting. I was the lucky one that got to hold the bag to collect the eggs as she was laying since we had to relocate the eggs back to another island. I felt like a proud mum, and it was
a special experience. After we had collected her eggs, we did the rest of the data collection, like measuring her, taking biological samples and so on.
After the first day of patrolling I realised how well they take care of the turtles, and how ethical their work is. The turtles come ashore to nest, and during the time they dig their nests and lay eggs all you do is observing and staying quiet until she finishes, and you can collect the data. It was also very interesting and valuable to learn and experience how data is collected in the real world, as I'm currently studying Marine Science where data collection and research is a big part of that.
During the two weeks I spent in PNG, I have seen some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The time spent waiting for turtle to lay their eggs on patrol was spent looking at the stars. The clearest sky appeared every night, and I would spend every break looking at the sky. In the white-water breaking around the dingi (little boat) would sparkle with a million blue little lights, the bioluminescence. In times like that, where there's a million stars in the sky and the bioluminescence in the water sparkle as the water gets stirred up, all concept of time just disappears, and you would get completely mesmerized. I also got to take my advance open water diving course, and oh my lord! The diverse healthy marine life was wild. Never before have I ever experienced something so beautiful. Diving with sharks and turtles and a number of many other pretty fish species and marine organisms and corals that I can't recall their names on. The diving would be done during the day, and I would highly recommend either taking your course there or doing a dive (or five). It's worth it.
Another thing I would like to mention is the number of amazing, like-minded and beautiful people I was lucky to meet and get to know. Of course, Hayley and Ed deserve a big hallelujah for the work and dedication they put into the islands and the programs. How they treat the people working there and us volunteers. They made both Christmas and New Year’s into something special where it was all about having a good time together. I learnt so much about the PNG culture, got to chew the betel nut, tried to learn a few words in a few of the many languages they speak there, and got inspired by the stories from both the people working on the boat, the islands, and the other volunteers. We also got to do an island visit where we visited a little island called Anagusa where we got to teach the people a little bit about conservation, got to see how they live and also walked far into a cave (which was siiick). I will forever be grateful for that visit.
If I ever have the opportunity to do this over again, I will! Being part of a conservation initiative and seeing what a difference it makes is really rewarding. All the other things I mentioned here is just a massive plus.