The biggest threat to thousands of species and the health of natural environments is human pollution. Since Projects Abroad launched its first Conservation & Environment Project in 2000, the organization and its volunteers have been committed to educating local communities about their impact on the environment and the importance of reducing waste. In recent years, this has become a major focus at Diving & Marine Conservation Projects due to the enormous amount of waste that is dumped in oceans.
Last year, volunteers collected more than 8000 kilograms of waste during community clean-ups, with 5000 kilograms collected in Thailand alone, reports Nathalie Claessens, a Program Advisor for Projects Abroad Canada. "Each of our offices said that the majority of this waste was a form of plastic – one of the most serious threats to marine wildlife."
It was clear that further steps needed to be taken to address this crisis and the organization began running campaigns in Cambodia and Fiji. Here, volunteers travelled into communities to distribute reusable cotton bags that could replace plastic bags, ran awareness campaigns about the negative impact of plastic on marine life and ecosystems, and built recycling stations in local schools. The Conservation Project in Cambodia is itself plastic free and staff and volunteers use bamboo straws and reuse glass bottles.
"We all share the responsibility to minimize waste and take the state of our oceans seriously," says Claessens. "Participating in a Diving & Marine Conservation Project gives anyone the opportunity to get actively involved in protecting endangered marine species and environments, especially coral reefs."
A lot of the work also revolves around education – for an important reason, as Claessens explains. "The local community plays a significant role in conservation efforts. Our volunteers discuss various topics with them, from overfishing to responsible waste disposal. In the long term, we hope our efforts will produce ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions and stimulate local community action for generations to come."
Projects Abroad runs three Diving & Marine Conservation Projects in Belize, Cambodia, and Thailand. There are no requirements to join and volunteers spend their first week learning to scuba dive and getting their PADI Open Water certification before getting further involved in activities in the water. Each program has long-term goals in place and research conducted is shared with local authorities and international scientists. The organization also runs other marine-focused conservation programs: Shark Conservation in Fiji and Sea-turtle and Coastal Conservation in Mexico.