Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sunday - Fun Day

There is a tradition at TRACC to down tools on Sundays and just find fun things to do. It's always a bit of a surprise waiting to see what the crew will think up to entertain us with on Sundays. This week was a double treat as the dive masters chose two seperate islands to explore from the water.

The crew know the surrounding areas really well so it doesn't take them long to find us some great places to dive.

We started our morning with a quick trip in the boat known as the "Green Turtle".
After a quick stop by at the police to let them know we were diving near by we headed to a dive wall of the coast of Kalapuan.  The tides a creating a bit of cloud at the moment but it adds to the mystique of the walls which disappear into the darkness below, leaving us to ponder what lays beneath looking up at our silhouettes as we pass by.


Cameron and Sonny exploring the wall at Kalapuan


After our first dive we have morning tea to freshen up and allow our nitrogen to balance out prior to the next dive.


Having morning tea on the Green Turtle between dives
Just to give ourselves a little longer out of the dive gear we headed over to Timba Timba to do some jetty jumping. 

The crew lining up on the Timba Timba jetty for some quick dives. 

Our next dive was off the coast of Timba Timba where dive masters Sonny, Alessio and Adam managed to find us another wall to explore. 

Sonny, Cameron and Nathan exploring the reef at Timba Timba
Cameron after seeing a large groper swim by. 































Once back on Pom Pom Island there was still enough daylight for one final dive to my favourite dive site, a small wreck walking distance from the TRACC campsite. 

Although the current was very strong which stirred up a lot of sediment and made the dive difficult it was still great to see the fish hiding from the current in the wreck. 

Sweetlips and midnight snapper sheltering in the wreck. 

While Norma holds a rope against the current Katie uses her slate to ask if she is OK with the strong current

A turtle passes us by while we were on the wreck dive


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Visit from Ross School - New York

It is not uncommon for new people to arrive at the TRACC campsite when the boat returns from Semporna with fresh supplies. New people are quickly assimilated into the TRACC community. However this week it wasn’t one or two new people arriving but 30 new people arriving as the Ross School stopped by Pom Pom island as part of their Borneo field trip. 

*A video record of the Ross School visit is also on youtube. Ross School Visit to TRACC

Boats arriving with students from Ross School



Students enjoying sunset on their first evening at Pom Pom Island
Alessio talking about palm oil. 


It was a vast change in dynamics because now the TRACC team were outnumbered almost 2 to 1 with people new to camp life. Luckily the students and teachers were eager to jump in and learn about life on a tropical island. Traveling is always exhausting so we were impressed that at the end of a long day the students managed to stay attentive through the induction and some opening presentations. 



The Ross school was with us for a total of 3 days and we managed to fit a lot into a short period with many presentations covering things such as dangers to watch out for in the marine environment, the importance of mangroves, the impact of palm oil on the environment, issues caused by shark finning and many more. 




Cameron giving presentation on mangroves
Sitting around campfire at night




On the morning of their departure we managed to catch up with some of the teachers and students and it was great to hear that they took a lot out of their short stay with us. Everyone had a slightly different highlight although a common theme was that everyone really enjoyed their time at island of Kalapuan. We traveled in 3 boats from Pom Pom island to Kalapuan island and docked at the house of one of the locals there. The temperature seemed much hotter at Kalapuan than at Pom Pom island as we were sheltered from any wind. Despite the tropical heat the students and teachers jumped in with a number of activities including making cement to be used to build artificial reefs, a beach clean where the local kids helped out and a walk around the island. The highlight for many of the TRACC team was watching the students dance with the local children. Despite being very young or perhaps because of it the locals were amazingly fast learners and could instantly mirror the dance moves the Ross students where doing. 

Dancing with the children at Kalapuan Island

Giving some treats to the kids who helped with beach clean

Building bottle reefs to help restore the coral

Ross school students helping out with beach clean

Fast learners local children dance with students



TRACC team with Ross School team.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Week of extreme training



Finding a way to carry a person out of the water


















This week the TRACC camp has been dominated by advanced training with 3 courses taking place throughout the week. These were the EFR (Emergency First Response) the rescue and the dive master courses. The TRACC Tech diver Iena has been kept extremely busy but so have most of the other members of the TRACC team who have been acting as either people needing rescue or people being hysterical because they know someone needs rescue. Of course it was all acting and nobody actually was in distress but the acting was very authentic and anyone walking past would have been forgiven for being a little confused about the all the action. 


Working as a team

It was very interesting to see what some of these courses entailed and I have nothing but respect for the people who managed to complete them. 












The final scenario 
During the week people have been working through a number of rescue and EFR scenarios. As the week progressed the scenarios got increasingly more manic, as the scenarios got more creative and the actors improved their improvisation until the scenarios became all but real. The final scenario can only be described as pandemonium. I had to marvel at how dive master Alessio held it together while trying to resuscitate a dummy while surrounded by people yelling at him that he was doing it wrong, pushing him and generally trying to distract him. I’m sure it must represent what first response people must sometimes have to go through being first on the scene with distraught friends and family surrounding a victim.



Helen and Alessio realising they are now dive masters


Last night was a bit of a celebration for the outstanding performance of those people completing courses throughout the week and in particular a celebration of Helen and Alessio who became dive masters. Alessio will stay on at TRACC for a few months now as one of the resident dive masters and will help support Katie the TRACC diving instructor. 
















Sunday, 19 February 2017

Week 1 in paradise for a new media intern.


Well it’s been approximately one week since I arrived at the beautiful tropical Pom Pom island to help out as part of the Tracc program. So today I must ignore the lure of the water, the call of the marine world just a short walk across the sand.  Tracc is a very special destination for many reasons, the camaraderie, scenery, diving, snorkelling and the great food. However one thing above all sets TRACC (Tropical Research And Conservation Centre) above any other holiday destination I could think of. At best when we go to a reef resort all we can hope for is to have zero negative impact on the marine environment. This includes not touching the bottom, wearing marine friendly sun screen, and removing all rubbish. TRACC takes zero impact one step further by it’s visitors having a positive impact on the marine environment. It’s always great to see a turtle relaxing on the sea floor but it’s that extra bit special when you see the turtle sitting amongst a part of the reef which the team has restored.


I can’t talk first hand on what it’s like to take part in one of the work teams placing blocks on the sea floor as I don’t have my open water certification. I can see that working as a team of divers placing blocks would be pretty good fun and make the dive that extra bit interesting. Not to mention the satisfaction you would get in seeing the marine life revelling in a playground you helped create. 

 Left: Coming to collect some blocks to take out to the reef.

Right: Crew  collecting samples to be planted back on the sea floor. 

Above: Kit demonstrating how the blocks will sit on the sea floor

What I can talk about is what it’s like to learn to dive at TRACC as I’m currently working through my PADI open water course. Most of the current team here at TRACC are certified to dive at various levels. This might be a little awkward for pretty much the only none diver here but it’s quite the opposite. There is no aloofness from team only legitimate interest in how my course is progressing which under the experienced eye of my instructor Katie all the way out from California is progressing well. Katie doesn’t mention it but I know I’ve thrown the occasional curve ball in there when we are underwater but she is always right there in the blink of eye if something doesn’t go as planned. 

Dive Instructor Katie

In the meantime while I work through my open water there is always snorkelling. I love snorkelling over the sections of reef which the TRACC team have created as there is always so much more marine life there. There is a slight current running right to left as I look out to sea so I walk along the beach to the right and let the current drift me back to camp. It’s so bewitching drifting along the reef as the aquatic life pass by that quite often there is no other option than to walk back up the beach and do it again. In fact as there is so much diving going on at TRACC, the shallower reefs are a snorkelers dream as I quite often have the entire shallow reef to myself. 


A Snorkelers view of divers below. 


Thursday, 2 February 2017

An incredible intern experience

On Monday I finally had to bid TRACC farewell. It was about the hardest goodbyes I have ever had to do. My days at TRACC have been some of my happiest and I am so incredibly greatful for the opportunity to be the social media intern at TRACC this summer.



The diving was unreal, and I feel so privileged to have been able to develop my relationship with our underwater world. I went from 8 dives to 85, and became certified as an advanced diver. My diving skills improved so much over this time. Under the awesome instruction of Gov, I learnt a huge amount about my buoyancy, navigation, and recovery of objects in the ocean. I was then able to use those skills in my conservation work- collecting and planting corals and sea fans, dropping artificial reefs, and conducting surveys and mapping underwater, and then passing on my newfound knowledge onto others.



I learnt about the marine ecosystems around Pom Pom, and was able to identify species and learn about the part they play in the ocean. If I ever had a question about science, I was able to immediately pick the minds of our talented science officers or interns and learn. I also learnt about the social aspects of marine conservation, and the issues facing local people- particularly the Bajau people from Kulapuan.

The greatest part about my time at TRACC has been the people. TRACC is a melting pot of cultures, all so different, but with similar ideas about the important responsibility we have to preserve our beautiful environment. I have made lifelong friends with people from all over the world, who beautifully all ended up stranded together on the desert island of Pom Pom.



I will not forget: Tent life, sandfly bites, rashy tan lines, naked final dive, grilled cheese late at night, sweaty Semporna shopping trips, late night girl talks, Jo's dance moves, ABC party, Allia's hugs, early morning dives, Aisyah's talks, Nathan's sass, Christmas diarrhoea, playing hearts while diving, Bohey Dulang views, Lilly's Cackle,  dance partys on the Jetty, noodles and rice, Gino <3, finding pant legs with Cam, Hallelujah camp fires, Diniy and the trigger fish, Bujaaaaannngggg, the tooth brushing station, Australia Day, and so much more.



Thank you to each and every staff member, intern and volunteer at TRACC for your passion, willingness to share and learn, dedication to tracc and all it stands for, and most of all for your friendship. I hope our paths will cross in the very near future. Most of all thank you to Steve Oakley for creating something magical. I only managed to meet you for three short days, but be assured your legacy is shining bright on Pom Pom.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Local staff at TRACC

Day to day life at TRACC is only made possible by the dedication and help of our incredible local staff. They are behind the scenes cooking, cleaning, filling our tanks, building, and maintaining our camp. We are so greatful for all that they do for us, and are proud to employ local to ensure money is going into the local economy to support local families. I had a chat to a few of our staff about their jobs and why they like working at TRACC.

Pak cik has been was TRACC since March 2016 as our boatman. He always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. This is his first job as a boatman for an organisation, but he has been driving boats for years. He knows the oceans in the area very well and keeps us safe on the water.


Miti has been with TRACC since 2011 as a boatman. He likes TRACC because it is close to his home island. TRACC also allows him to spend time with his family on his day off, which is not possible working at a resort.


Welman has been with us since 2013. He is our general all round camp go-to guy. He is a landscaper, boatman, and fix it man. He likes TRACC for its good environment, good wage, and friendly volunteers.


Jomoh has been filling and working on our tanks for the past 8 months. He used to work in a resort but prefers TRACC for its more positive work environment.

Dino has been at TRACC from the beginning. He met Steve a long time ago when an aquarium was being built in KK, and has been an invaluable part of TRACC since then, overseeing local staff and getting things done. He likes TRACC because he believes in the conservation, the people and the island life environment.


Kyryl had been at TRACC for four years. He was our compressor guy for three years, and now is a general maintenance guy. He likes TRACC because he can learn English, and because he feels happy and laughs here everyday. Oh and for the ladies (😂)


Neng has been a cook here for seven months. Cooking has always been a hobby of hers, so she is happy doing it here. She likes TRACC for the happy people she would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet. Her favourite food is kek batik.


Rasma has cooked at TRACC for 4 years, and was based in Semporna before this. She likes to cook for volunteers and loves everything she cooks.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Farewell Diniy

Diniy (or Dinley or Dino or Gino or D Dawg) has been a science intern with us here at TRACC since September. This guy is radicool and has been absolutely bomb to work with here at TRACC along with all the other volunteers. He has a passionate, hardworking and reliable presence and will be sorely missed when he heads back home to Brunei. I had a chat with Diniy this week to get his reflections on his time here at TRACC.


Before I came to TRACC I was working at tshirt printing company in Brunei for a while but all the time knowing it was not what I really wanted to do. So I began to search for internship opportunities in Malaysia to do with marine conservation. TRACC was the first group that got back to me so I thought why not?

I had studied marine biology at Newcastle University (graduating in 2015) so have a background in marine science. At uni I had done a lot of theory work, but not many practicals, and zero practicals to do with marine conservation. TRACC offered me a way to put theory into practice. I also wanted to get more into diving. A lot of my friends are divers and were encouraging me to do more. I came to TRACC with only four dives but amped to get more experience.

TRACC has taught me a lot about barriers to conservation. I realise first off, that there is not a huge amount of support for conservation and it is really difficult to get funding unless an investment will be immediately profitable. I also learnt a lot about the bajau people. Sustainable fishing is a deep rooted problem for bajau. They have been forced into unsustainable fishing practices because of their lack of country status and ability to gain work anywhere. They resort to risking their lives and destroying corals through bomb fishing as it is the only way they can feed their families and make any sort of income to advance beyond subsistence lifestyles. Visiting the bajau people on Kulapuan, and translating between them and our volunteers has taught me a lot about the reasons behind the the conservation issues at TRACC.


At TRACC I have learnt a lot about construction too. Before I came here I had never touched a power tool and now I can use a cement mixer, drill, single grinder. I know the process of planning, creating and dropping reefs. I had a science project, undertaking soft coral measurements of replanted coral. Whilst the project was not much of a success, we did learn a lot about the sedimentation rates at the north end if the beach, which is really useful for future projects.

The thing I like most about TRACC has been the people. Im constantly Meeting like minded people who want to give back to planet. It's so interesting hearing about how people got here and what drives them to come to a place like TRACC. I have also gained amazing diving experience.


I feel good about future of marine conservation. People often forget the ocean is teeming with life ands it's importance in the world. But more and more, oceans are gaining recognition. I would love to be able to start a similar project to TRACC in Brunei.

I'd like to thank TRACC, the workers, instructors, volunteers, DMs, interns, and Steve Oakley - for starting this incredible project, for making my four months here an incredible experience. I have met so many incredible people with interesting backgrounds - teachers, contractors, carpenters, wildlife officers, stock traders, lawyers, editors, a professional clown, etc. I won't forget my experience and the people I met. Finally, I'd like to thank my good friends, joey and monsoon the dogs, shov the instructors, tom and Christine the previous science officer and DM, Adam and basil the boss DMs, and Joachim and Allia the current science officers and Maddy for making me write this last paragraph for this interview 😂

Friday, 27 January 2017

Sunday funday trip to Kulapuan

Last Sunday we went om our Sunday Funday trip, this week we chose to go to Kulapuan. The trip was a great opportunity to visit the local village on Kulapuan, as well as explore a new dive site. (See my post about the film crew visit to learn more about the Bajau people who live on Kulapuan). We have a lot of volunteers at the moment so it took quite a lot of coordination to get everyone from Pom Pom with food and dive gear- but we made it there and back, alive and in one piece!



The first boat left at 7.30 with seven volunteers who were undertaking a survey of the intertidal zone on the island, lead by our A Level teacher, Allia. They looked at the large reef flat at Kulapuan by walking along a 100m line perpendicular to the shore with a one metre by one metre quadrant. It was an excellent learning opportunity for the volunteers in marine science methodology. The group found low biodiversity in the tidal zone, but high mass of certain species such as perrywinkle snails and brittle stars.

Hanging out in the intertidal zone after the survey


The rest of the group arrived at about 10am. We split into two groups. The first group went walking around the island and to the local village. They were able to see the Bajau people, and buy things from the shop. TRACC has a strong relationship with the village and the people. One vary noticeable thing at the village is the huge amount of trash littering the ground and floating in the sea. Most of this trash gets washed up from the mainland daily. There is no ability to dispose of the trash on the island, as the people are unable to transport it to Semporna. It is a major issue, and we hope to have more clean up days throughout the year on Kulapuan.

Customer service at the village shop 


The other group went out for their first dive of the day. We went right down from the newly built jetty. It was a lovely dive site with a lot of hard corals. There was a current we swam into to begin with, then we let it carry us back along the reef. We saw turtles, a few nudibranchs, and a white moray swimming along the coral. We came up from the dive and took our gear off. The air was very calm. Then, within about five minutes there was a shift, and the wind started howling and rain started pouring down. We made the decision to go back to Pom Pom and the next hour was spent packing up the boat in the pouring rain, and trying our best to keep warm with body heat and milo!! It was a crazy weather shift from the morning, but with patience and a good sense of humour we got everything packed up and headed back to Pom Pom, arriving just as the rain stopped..!

It was a full on and exciting day, and everyone sleeping extreamly well that night. Huge thanks to our amazing boatman, volunteers,  and staff for the day.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A busy week of conservation at TRACC

This past week has been a busy one for conservation. We have had a lot of volunteers coming through with a huge amount of passion for undertaking conservation diving each day. The energy has been incredible and I am feeling very sad that my time at TRACC is so near to ending. But enough of that. I thought I would give an overview of the conservation we have been undertaking recently and how it is helping our reefs at Pom Pom.

To begin, last week we spent some time out snorkelling along our house reef, surveying the number and state of all of our bottle reefs. We split house reef into four segments so that we can rotate our conservation dives through each section to keep better track of our work over time. This information was then collated onto our data base.

We have done a lot of bottle reef maintenance this week. This involves snorkelling and collecting baskets of broken, but living coral from the sea floor. This is coral that has broken off due to stormy waters, or by tourists that have knocked coral and broken it. After collection we get kitted up in our dive gear and go back into the ocean. We take the coral and attach them with wire to the bottles on the bottle reef.  Between six of us we attach about 60 pieces of coral in 30 minutes at a depth of about three metres. The idea behind the reef is that the bottles provide a stable base for the coral to grow from, rather than just dying on the sea floor. Having more coral helps the ecosystem in so many ways- providing new habitat for marine animals, and stability for the reef.
A time lapse photo showing the growth of branching coral on the bottle reef over three months


We also went twice to an area of the island called lobster wall to collect some soft coral. Here, there is an area where there is a lot of soft coral growing naturally. We collect pieces from this area that are loose and attached to rubble. We fill up the bottom of two crates with the coral. This only takes about 15 minutes and gives us the chance to go on a fun dive to see the beautiful wall (and our lobster friends!). We then take the soft coral to an area on our house reef where we have dropped some nets. We place the coral under the net. The coral will grow and create a new carpet of soft coral along the slope- an area that is otherwise made up of broken dead coral.

Our net of soft coral growing on the slope

We spent one morning at the wreck dive site collecting gorgonian sea fans. We cut off small branches of the fans, or broken pieces that are on the ground. The fans are beautiful and delicate, and when you see it above the water it has the most incredibly vibrant colours. We took them down to the igloo shaped reefs we have in house reef. We attach the pieces with zip ties to the structure. The fans grow well on this structure, and we even discovered one fan that had attached on its own.
                                                   
Gorgonian sea fans growing on our igloo reef

Apart from these projects, we made and dropped about 24 bottle reefs, and did some mad jetty jumping! It was a really satisfying, busy week. I find it absolutely incredible how much I have learnt about different ways of creating reefs in the past two months and how much we have achieved. Planting corals has also been so awesome for my buoyancy in the water.

Dropping bottle reefs

Loading up the bottle reefs into the kayak