Already in Thailand working in Phuket, I heard about how close the GVI Thailand base was and so I immediately got in touch with Head Office, keen to swing by for a visit. I was immediately put in contact with Vanessa Ree’s, Base Manager and what an utter peach she was!
Vanessa welcomed me with complete open arms for a very brief visit to check out the turtle project and to meet some of the team and volunteers. There are a million things I could say about Vanessa but they are not enough words really. She was warm, kind, funny, welcoming, knowledgeable and excited about everything GVI were doing in Thailand which made me and others around her as excited. She is one of those people that just has a full on positive vibe and I thought she was ace!
I arrived fairly late as night and was shown to my room and run through all safety aspects of projects and briefed so that I could head out with the team the next morning. It was all very exciting.
Transfers from base to the Navy Base where the turtle conservation project runs were on time so a bunch of us jumped into the transport and set off for Phang Nga, a stunning coastal province. Each week the GVI team spend time working with Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles that have either hatched locally in the Similan islands or have been hurt or damaged in various ways and are at the centre as part of a rehabilitation programme to get well before release. Global populations have been so severely impacted by human activity that numbers are in worrying decline. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami added a further blow and nesting areas and local ecosystems where turtles reside and grow were destroyed.
The Head Start programme supports the release of hundreds of turtles every year and GVI staff and volunteers are actively involved in data collection, research and the care of the turtles. Hatchlings are supported at the centre after local nesting spots were threatened and the care of the turtles became critical. The turtles are born on a near by similan island and then raised at the centre. They release between 8-10’000 a year. Barriers come with raising turtles in captivity or accommodating them whilst they get well after accidents or sickness. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections are common and GVI help to support the cleanliness of tanks, medication of turtles and general care of all residents, playing an extremely important role.
The work is hard but rewarding in so many ways and is always promoting the building of local relationships. The support of GVI really make a difference here and it was great to be on project in the field and to see such an obvious impact.
On the day I visited the center GVI welcomed some new volunteers who were starting on project and it was an absolute delight to watch staff briefing them on all things turtle and ocean related. They covered species, threats, sustainability of turtles and were enthusiastic about the work being done here. I loved the information volunteers received via on site presentations before they got stuck in. The passion of the Marine Biologist, Ines Quilez was obvious. She was fabulous to listen to and inspiring with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field.
Heading back to base the mood was high and new and old volunteers were content with the day’s work and what had been achieved. It was time to head back for a shower and a walk around the village and a cheeky cocktail at nearby resort, ‘Thai Life’. Vanessa took me for a stroll through the village before dinner and really took the time out to show me everything that was close by including Baan Nam Khem tsunami memorial park. What a heart wrench this place was but an absolute must for all travellers in Thailand. The area still re building from the not so distant devastation was beautiful and a real reminder to not forget people lost and affected by the disaster. I love that GVI make a point of keeping this central to theirs values and educating visitors/volunteers.
I strolled around some more with Vanessa and she told me about all the projects that GVI offer here and her fantastic plans. We wandered about and sipped ice coffee made by a lovely local lady and it just felt like a really nice place to be and a hard one to leave even after only one day.
I hope to go back to GVI Thailand and I would strongly recommend anyone thinking of positive ways to travel with purpose in Asia to do the same. Check them out!