I came first time to this island 10 years ago as a 2-week volunteer. I had one previous volunteer experience from Costa-Rica and I always remember my Wow! -feeling when I was introduced to the project location, accommodation and especially breakfast choices at GBB resort.
We had fairly large group of 10 or so volunteers from different parts of the world, of different ages and different experiences, teachers, limo driver, scientist, students, biologists, IT specialists etc. Many had come without any previous turtle experience, so on that respect we were all novices.
Project work was well organized. Okay we did wait for the boat to check Koh Ra beaches with Alessandra two mornings and ended up eating our breakfast while we waited and waited and no boat. Oh, and the observation buoys. They would just not stay put. But it did not matter so much, some things you just can’t control.
On this first season, I monitored the beach with another volunteer one morning and we found an Olive Ridley nest on beach 3. We almost missed it, while talking. Yes, keep your eye on the sand while you check the beach as the track is only about 50-100cm wide. We got first-hand experience in locating the egg chamber and carrying delicate eggs to a new nest location in a safer place.
But the project was not just that, it was so much more for me. It changed my life. It was a very important step on the path that I took from there. I returned to the project as a volunteer next season, now 3 other project experiences in my pocket. I quit my job and started to work on recruiting other volunteers to sea turtle conservation projects. Came back to work as a field leader on the Island for several seasons until 2013. I cried when I left Koh Phra Thong as I thought it was the last time.
This past season was the 20th anniversary of the project and Monica asked some of us “oldies” if we would help. And without much hesitation I said yes. On the 5th of December 2016, I went back. I was a bit scared that things have changed a lot and I don’t like the place anymore, but luckily it was not the case. Yes, there are more bungalow places on the beach now, but they are in a small area. Still no sun umbrellas and plastic sunbeds anywhere. I walked the beaches in the morning and there was nobody there. Only for a short moment during the New Year, Thai tourists showed up with quadbikes and motor dinghies. But they seemed to be more for the show than actual use.
There were some small improvements to the infrastructure, more solar power and wifi as well as addition to the pier at Lions village. But then there were still the holes in the concrete road, wading through the channels when the tide is high, “no sun, no wifi” at Nok’s, monkeys who stole the observation pillows, and waiting for the boat or the car. There were still the amazing Lesser Adjutants levitating in the sky, turtles coming to feed at observation rocks, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, incredible food cooked by Lamion, PaNee and Lory’s kitchen staff. There are still the wildlife surprises and great encounters with similar minded people.
I was happy to be back. And this time when I left a month later, I did not cry. I was sad to leave, but I know I will be back. Soon.