After completing my Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology and Ecology, I decided to take a break from studying and took part in the PADI Dive Master Internship and Marine Conservation Training in the Seychelles with Global Vision International in April 2011. It was such an amazing experience! I couldn’t believe that I found a programme that combined my love of the sea with the chance to stay with a group of volunteers from all over the world in a tropical paradise! For the next few months my world would be filled with beautiful coral and fish and I’d spend most of my time underwater! What a dream...
The first thing that hits you when you arrive in the Seychelles is the heat, humidity and incredible beauty. There are beautiful flowers, fruit trees and jungle wherever you go and the sea really is as blue as it looks in photos. I spent 10 weeks at the Cap Ternay base which I absolutely loved. You stay in very simple dormitories with about 7 or 8 people in each dorm. I really recommend a mosquito net! The base is situated in an ideal location. It is nestled in a valley between hills covered in spectacular granite boulders, palm trees and jungle and there are beaches about a 5 minute walk from both sides of the base. It couldn’t be more like paradise! I loved the fact that I could get a break from city life and things like traffic, television, computers. It allowed me to become so relaxed and enjoy the important things in life!
In the first few weeks you have lectures about life in the Seychelles, marine conservation and you start learning how to identify different fish or coral. On my phase we studied coral. I was a bit disappointed at first to find out that we didn’t focus on fish, however, I ended up finding the coral very interesting and it has made me more appreciative of coral reefs. I also found that I normally would not have studied the coral and so it was nice to be able to identify different coral species - all things I probably would not have noticed before. We also had access to the fish notes and slides and so we could learn their names in our spare time. I initially thought I’d never be able to learn all the names of the corals or be able to identify them but the GVI staff are very helpful and made learning the names lots of fun. Once we’d passed our written exams and could identify the corals underwater, we were allowed to do the coral reef surveys. I really enjoyed diving twice a day, being surrounded by beautiful things and doing our bit to help marine conservation in the Seychelles. We even got a PADI Coral Reef Research Diver Distinctive Specialty! Whilst learning all about the marine environment, I also completed my PADI Advanced Open Water, PADI Rescue Diver, Emergency First Response and BTEC in Supervision of Biological Survey Techniques-so a lot of good things to add to my CV! I was a bit embarrassed about my lack of diving ability in the beginning. I had received my PADI Open Water about 2 years before I joined GVI and hadn’t dived much at all. I was amazed at how quickly my diving improved and how much I enjoyed it. I’m now addicted to diving!
I also became involved in the GVI community projects where we’d take orphans from the President’s Village Orphanage to the beach and teach them how to snorkel. It was so wonderful to see how much fun all the children had. We also used to go to the beach to give marine conservation lessons with children from the International School Seychelles, which was really enjoyable and I loved playing games with the children. Not only could we help out by doing the biological surveys but we could help to educate the local children which meant a lot to us. Towards the end of the phase we took part in a ‘Marathon Snorkel’ to raise funds for the President’s Village Orphanage. It was a lot of fun as we all set off in fancy dress outfits and snorkelled around the coast. GVI also organised beach and reef cleans and we were amazed at how much litter we had collected. It was so nice to know that we were helping the Seychelles in so many ways.
I loved living with so many different people and learning about their lives and culture. The base is about a 20 minute walk from the bus stop and then about 1 hour to the capital, Victoria. Since we had food provided at base there was little need to go to the shop. Occasionally we would treat ourselves and walk to the nearest shop (about 25 minutes away) to buy chocolate or ice-cream. The food is simple but very tasty. There are various fruit trees around the base so picking delicious fresh fruit like guavas, mangoes, paw paws, pineapples, bananas, starfruit and coconuts is a must! Every Friday there is a massive barbeque with superb food and it’s definitely the favourite day for those who eat meat. Friday night is also the time to get creative and make a fancy dress outfit-you’d be surprised how many things you can make from a coconut leaf!
Each week you are part of a different group that is responsible for certain things-cooking food, recording information on the boat, communicating with the dive boat using the marine radio, filling tanks and keeping an eye on the compressor and making sure the dorms and bathrooms are clean. This system worked really well because it helps you to get to know all the volunteers and makes doing chores fun. In our free time we would go for a snorkel, hike up to the top of Cap Matoopa to have a look at the amazing view of our base, hunt for fruit, sun tan in the garden or on the beach, play games, paint cool murals in the bathroom, relax on the giant hammocks or just chat in our dorms. On the weekends, we’d often go into town and explore Victoria, go to the internet cafe, have lunch at a restaurant or go into Beau Vallon for delicious local Creole food on the beach. We would spend most of our time sun tanning and swimming at Beau Vallon beach and then those that were energetic enough would go through to the bar La Faya and the club Tequila Boom for some pool and dancing. To celebrate the end of the fifth week we went to another island, La Digue (such an awesome experience and the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to) and then we splurged after our tenth week and went to Silhouette Island for a weekend of luxury at the Hilton. I really recommend travelling to see some of the other islands because even though it may cost you a bit, they are all very unique and have a variety of different animals and vegetation, however, beautiful beaches are common throughout!
After 10 weeks at Cap Ternay, I spent 12 weeks working at the Underwater Centre as a dive master and living with 3 of my friends. I loved being able to take people on dives and also to teach those who needed help. We also assisted the Instructors on courses which was lots of fun. We saw the dive masters from other dive shops quite often - either underwater or at their houses. It was good being able to cook for ourselves and to live close to the shops. Towards the end, we all knew the dive sites so well that we could find and point out a lot of the animals because we knew where they lived. Being able to surprise clients with turtles, white tip reef sharks, eels and rays was very satisfying! Spending every day with the dive shop staff like the skippers, instructors and dive masters was probably what made the experience for me. We made lifelong friends and had such a wonderful time, even if it was raining or we had difficult clients!
After the dive master internship I had planned to go home but I was faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I simply couldn’t resist. I was offered a place on the Whale shark Internship under Dr David Rowat of Marine Conservation Society Seychelles! I spent the next 2 months living with 5 other volunteers helping MCSS undergo their whale shark research and taking clients out on snorkel trips to view the beautiful animals. We also got involved in other projects and I was fortunate enough to see a turtle nesting, help catch lemon sharks and watch them being tagged and help to find stingrays to be tagged.
When I left home I had no idea what I would experience - who would have thought that I’d spend 8 months living on the beach with adventurous people, seeing things like manta rays, whale sharks, turtles and their hatchlings, all different types of sharks and rays, dolphins, sailfish, eels and beautiful fish and coral almost everyday! I learnt so much about myself, other people, the Seychelles, diving and the natural environment. I would recommend this expedition to anyone looking for a change of scene, a chance to meet new people and for those who love the marine environment. I wished I didn’t have to come home...