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TRACC BORNEO

About

Paradise - that's where we are. Tropical beaches, nesting turtles and azure blue warm water. This is the perfect holiday destination, and a great place for your volunteer or gap year trip.

Though we dive & snorkel on fantastic reefs, we know all too well that the coral reefs are not doing well. Many reefs look like underwater deserts, all stone and rock and no life anywhere. A rubble seabed is not what a coral reef should look like. To help with this problem and rebuild reefs destroyed by people, we create coral gardens. In fact, we consider ourselves proactive underwater gardeners. After growing the coral, fish move in to create a vibrant ecosystem.

It takes time and effort. Have you got what it takes? If so, please join us at the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC). We are a non profit conservation organisation that works in Malaysian Borneo to protect fantastic creatures like the green and hawksbill turtles. We care about the coral and marine life - do you?

Website
tracc.org
Founded
1998
Headquarters

4 Turtle beach
Pompom Island
Semporna
91300 Semporna
Sabah
Malaysia

Reviews

Bryan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I was there for a week to volunteer.

this place is filled with nice and kind-hearted people devoted to taking care of the corals and making some fun out of it!

Highly recommended should you thirst for a truly natural experience (and be prepared for it.

Please do stay longer to make a real impact! (I feel my 1week stay has not helped much actually)

more of you should be doing this!

Visited August 2016

What would you improve about this program?
more first aid equipment
Default avatar
Julia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

TRACC is the best! You get to:
-Live on a tropical island.
-Swim with turtles and so many other beautiful marine creatures.
-Dive and see the most beautiful coral reefs in the world (many of which TRACC have created/gardened themselves).
-Hang out with the loveliest people.
-Get stuck in with every project.
-Eat homemade fried chicken.
Oh...and save the planet all in just the small space of a 2 week holiday!
I am 100% sure that I will be returning.

What would you improve about this program?
It can't!
Default avatar
Leo
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Trying to think about beginning this review is already proving difficult because it's hard to find the words to describe what an incredible place and experience this is. My girlfriend and I stumbled across TRACC whilst looking for somewhere to do some volunteering and I can't tell you how happy we were to have found it.

TRACC is incredibly well run. There is such a relaxed atmosphere but yet everything still gets done. Every evening, the staff set out the relaxed timetable for the following day and everyone can sign up to what they want so you can dive as much or as little as you want. We were only snorkelling so signed ourselves up to carrying out the Turtle Survey every day and what better way to spend your days than swimming with turtles every day?! After speaking to other staff and volunteers about our ambition to learn to dive, we had multiple offers of everyone wanting to take us out for a DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) and obviously we took up the offer! If you're just Snorkelling like us and want to learn to dive then TRACC is the best place to do it.

You stay in a spacious tent (although dorm rooms are currently being built as well), you have a shower as well as western toilets, delicious meals are cooked for you every lunch and dinner, you can dive as much or as little as you want, you can learn to dive, and most importantly, you get the chance to make a real difference to marine life. All you have to do is grab a mask, go for a quick swim in the house reef and you can see the incredible work that TRACC are doing and the improvement they are making to marine life.

Whether you're old or young, single or a couple, diver or a snorkeller, you should have no hesitation to go and volunteer at TRACC.

You'll meet some amazing people, you'll make a real difference and you'll have so much fun doing it! We miss it so much already and we've not even been gone for a month!

What would you improve about this program?
Air conditioning in all the tents! ;)
Default avatar
Lark
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My time at Pom Pom and with TRACC was so free, so happy, and so expansive for my knowledge and my mind. There was the freedom to dive as much or as little as I wanted, to grab a tank at 5am or 10 pm, to be involved in a number of awesome conservation projects and create my own. My knowledge expanded with every dive, even diving the same site, the same house reef everyday, I would seeing new creatures, or noticing a new coral, or a new behavior. And everyday every question or new observation or little problem was met with such enthusiasm by the Pom Pom community – everyone was talking and thinking and experiencing and loving the ocean all day everyday, making learning something new everyday come so naturally. The community and the people were also awesome – everyone helped each other out and shared their knowledge about the diving and the life and the conservation project. TRACC and Pom Pom Island has so much to offer, and if you get really involved it can give you so much!

A few recommendations… bring your own mask, fins, booties, wetsuit/rashgaurd/whatever you wear to dive in and snorkel – it’s a conservation organization and although there is spare BCD’s and Reg’s the smaller things are harder to come by.

Be prepared for simple living and ready to adapt to jungle camp life and island time – I loved my tent and all the joys that come with living freely and simply on the island, but it means insects, and slightly salty showers, lack of/faulty electricity and sand everywhere.

If you are going for your Divemaster (like I did) it is not a totally traditional dive school in that there are not a lot of other students coming through. This means a lot of the teaching assistance exercises are simulated with other Divermasters. But for me (who is making marine conservation my career) that was far outweighed by the knowledge I gained about the ocean life and ocean processes, the conservation projects and techniques, and the many experienced Divemaster's that shared so much knowledge, and simply the total freedom of diving so so much, and practicing Divemaster skills in other ways such as leading conservation dives and instructing new volunteers on how to do some of the conservation work underwater.

And most importantly – get involved and ask questions! If there is something you really want to know or do just ask someone or engineer a project and start it! There is plenty to be gained if you express the desire to accomplish something!

Default avatar
Megan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I have been back for a total of three weeks and the buzz and memories from being on the small island of Pom Pom has yet to fade. It was the most amazing experience of my life and one that I would love to make an annual occurrence. As the lifestyle and experiences gained out there were truly magnificent, from saying goodbye to internet, tv, stairs, cars and real life on the island to swimming with some of the most amazing creatures in the sea.. Green sea turtles and Hawksbill its truly magical.
I went to Pom Pom for four weeks and it was in no way long enough, I could have easily stayed for double the length of time and if money was no issue... indefinitely.

I went as a snorkeler but you could visit Pom Pom as a diver also, with amazing dive sites around the island and other dive sites and islands in the surrounding area with so much to see. From the ever-growing biodiversity that TRACC is working so hard to bring back after unsustainable and illegal fishing methods previously devastated the vast coral reefs and fish, sharks and mammals in the surrounding area. The organisation not only offers a brilliant experience for volunteers but also providing a future for the ocean and its inhabitants.

Although the conditions are not ideal for everyone, I believe that any keen conservationists or students looking for a future in marine biology, ecology or conservation would look past the camping style accommodation and enjoy their trip for the amazing work they would be doing and the wonders they would see in the waters. But the accommodation is always improving and the TRACC organisation would love to provide more suitable living arrangements for volunteers of all ages and traveling abilities.

This was my first ever solo travel/stay abroad and I was a little shocked at first at the toilet, shower and washing facilities but 3 days in I just didn't care. You had what you needed.... running water to shower in, a western toilet to sit on, a tent to call your own with a working fan and food available whenever you wanted it. Albeit a little samey and lacking of vegetarian options but you would never starve. With weekly trips to the mainland for shopping and drinking water, additions could be made to the regular shopping list and if there was enough space on the boat a trip to Semporna could usually be arranged.

And if you wanted to spend a night or two in a hotel or a room with a proper bed, there are cheap alternatives to your tent if a little bit of civilisation is craved in Semporna.

I would say a good mosquito repellent, an open mind and the love for the ocean is definitely required with all volunteers. If you have that you will love every second! It opened my eyes to the big wild sea and living without home comforts and I love it! Already plan to return next year and carry out my PADI open and advanced water and I can't wait!

What would you improve about this program?
Updated introductory information to be sent out to all new volunteers before they arrive on the island.

Programs

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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

What position do you hold at TRACC Borneo? What led you to join them?

Hazel Oakley TRACC Borneo Administrator

Hazel: Now, I'm the administrator. I do the paperwork, manage all the bookings, answer all the e-mails and make sure TRACC is well represented electronically. But I joined TRACC as a volunteer, then as an intern and finally as paid member of staff.

As a biologist it can be very hard to get your foot in the door. You have a degree but no experience and there is this wheel of stone that can be very difficult to crack. No job = No experience = No job = No experience.

Volunteering at TRACC gave me my first opportunity to actually put my theoretical knowledge into practice. Then, knowing that they offered internships to promising volunteers I committed myself 100% to putting the most in and getting the most out of my experience.

What do you find most challenging about your role? Most rewarding?

Hazel: The most challenging part of my current job is managing people's expectations. We're not a hotel! Our primary objective is reef restoration and conservation. Everyone does their laundry in buckets because we don't waste our financial resources on generating the masses of electricity required to run a washing machine or paying else someone to do it.

A project we have in development is trying to set up a school for stateless children so that we can break the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, lawlessness, statelessness and non-sustainable development that they are stuck in. That needs our resources far more than having an unlimited supply of fluffy white towels!

The most rewarding thing about working for TRACC is when you realize you did in fact make a difference. The little moments that prove all this work actually achieved something. When you dive on the reef, and yeah, you can see the plastic bottles and blocks of cement, but it's also covered in coral and fish and life that 12 months earlier wasn't there.

When you go into a village and realize the birth rate has dropped 80% because 5 years ago, you introduced a group of illiterate village women to the concept of family planning. When your local friends and staff and interns start to campaign and educate their friends about shark conservation or turtle egg poaching or recycling. When your boat man shouts at kids for throwing a plastic bag into the sea....

What has been your favorite story so far of a volunteer's experience with TRACC?

Hazel: We were going out for a dive one day, and it was the perfect day; The sun was incandescent, the sky was a perfect hemisphere of brilliant blue and the sea was like a mirror, not blue, but silver, like driving through liquid mercury. Then, over to our right, there was a sudden movement on the surface, and another, and another, like someone was throwing pebbles into the sea.

So we turned the boat towards it, cut the engines and just drifted. As we got closer to this curious patch of motion you could hear every movement going pfft, pfft, pfft and suddenly we were completely surrounded by this huge pod of dolphins! They weren't going anywhere or doing anything, they were just hanging out.

So we put our mask and snorkels on and just lay there, in absolute stillness, watching them for at least half an hour. There must have been 60 or more; diving, swimming, chasing each other, but mostly just indolently floating. It was fascinating.They were so serene.

And whilst it was a perfect moment, it was also curiously dissociated. Nobody made a sound. I don't even remember breathing, as though the slightest movement would break the spell. We all said, afterwards, how privileged we were to have been there and seen that.

What do you hope volunteers take away from their experience at TRACC?

Hazel: I hope our volunteers leave us with their eyes opened. Bomb fishermen are just trying to feed their families. Statelessness means you get a job anywhere someone is willing to skirt the law to employ you, you keep your nose clean and you save up to buy your children an identity so that your grand children might go to school.

Ecotourism doesn't just mean taking tourists to a pretty bit of biodiversity but making sure that their tourism dollars goes into to maintaining, improving and expanding it. I also hope our volunteers have a great time, make great friends, do great things and are inspired to do more, travel more, meet more people learn more, live more.

What advice/tips do you have for anyone considering volunteering and scuba diving in Borneo?

Hazel: Get off the internet and do it!! The hardest part about doing anything incredible is deciding to do it. People think it's difficult, but really you just need a plane ticket. Once you've got that, everything else falls into place.