Volunteering with Atoll volunteers was everything I could have ever imagined, but the biggest surprise to me was how much I gained from the program. Working with the turtles in its self was incredible. To watch them grow, get to know their personalities and then release them back into the ocean. To know that you have had a positive impact on saving such a beautiful creature from extinction, it is very rewarding. It’s not an experience that comes around often and I’ll hold it close to me for the rest of my life.
During my 6 weeks of volunteering on Naifaru I learnt a lot, not just about the turtles, but about marine life and the ocean in general. I studied the fish that were common in the Maldives because it is awesome to know what you are looking at. I loved the weekly coral gardening, and whilst our corals weren’t growing at a fast pace and lacked nutrient dense water, they were still improving and it was the best to able to message home – ‘Hey mum, what did you do today? I just gardened my corals!’ – haha. However, where I learnt the most, was in the classroom. During my stay we started teaching at two of the local schools, to educate the children on the ocean and its importance to our environment. We also aimed to address issues such as waste management and turtles being kept as pets. Every class was different and I learnt just as much, if not more, than most of the children. It was great to help and watch them learn.
School was not the only time I was able to interact with the locals, often they would visit the marine centre and ask questions about the turtles. It’s great to see their interest and to be able to get to know a few of them and learn about their culture. Volunteering with Atoll Volunteers lets you experience the true Maldivian way of living. If you’re up for a cultured experience as well, then this is for you.
It wasn’t all work and no play, we frequently went on excursions to near by uninhabited islands and reefs, were we spent most of our time snorkelling and exploring. I swam with turtles, sharks and rays, along with all the beautiful reef fish, eels and other interesting sea life. I often practiced free diving and by the end of my 6 weeks nearly reached 15 metres! It was awesome to see my diving skills improve. Just before coming home I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at a resort where I got to experience a little bit of luxury.
Most importantly, I got to work with some incredible people and gain new friends from all over the world. Everyone brought their own character and culture to the table meaning the conversation was never boring. Hearing about other peoples adventures and experiences inspires me to continue exploring the world and doing what I can to look after it.
If you are thinking about volunteering with Atoll Volunteers, I would highly recommend it. Remember, the longer you stay the more you will get out of the experience. My biggest piece of advise would be to leave home with no expectations, just an open mind.
The feeling of total fulfilment when you know you’ve contributed – just a small amount – to such an important cause is enough to make me want to go back again and again and again.