I’m not gonna lie… I was late. I had stuff to take care of back home and I was late. I quickly put on a bikini and some shorts, picked up my dry bag and put on the symbolic green Eco Day Koh Tao t-shirt that was given for free to me at the beginning of my Sairee Cottage Diving Divemaster training and ran all the way to the dive shop. I saw Marcel, one of the coordinators of these Eco Days Koh Tao, quickly ran to him and said “ I’m so sorry!! I got caught up in something this morning! I still would like to participate in this day if I can.”
He just turned to me and smiled and calmly said, “Of course, there is a lot of work to be done. Come with me.” So I did and he found me something to do. This is how my first Eco Day started.
It was not my first time on Koh Tao, I had been there a couple times before. And every time, I kept missing the darn Eco Day! They do one every month and I just kept missing it. Bad timing I guess. So when I came back to do my PADI Dive Master training, I made sure I would be a part of it.
I started diving in December on Koh Tao and the ocean quickly become important to me. As a music teacher living in China, I took every opportunity I could to educate my students about their choices as consumers and the impact they have on the future of the planet and its oceans.
I wanted to do more so I reached out to my diving friends on Koh Tao. They all referred me to PADI Course Director Marcel van den Berg, the IDC coordinator at Sairee Cottage Diving. I had heard about him through different people and social media posts but had never had the chance to meet him. I wrote to him, explaining my endeavour to help change the minds of young people in a country where it matters most, China. He replied right away. He was happy to help and gave me references and links I could use in the classroom. But I felt I could do more. I wanted to get my hands dirty. Talking is easy. Acting is harder.
So Eco Day Koh Tao came and I was excited to finally get started. (I know, I was late, but please don’t read into that too much. I’m just that person that’s always 15 minutes late. I’m working on it.) It is important to note that Koh Tao is a small island. But regardless of its size, it certifies the most divers in one year than any other place in the world. So, as you can imagine, there are a lot of dive shops. There is competition. PADI … SSI … small groups, better prices, the best dive sites… and all that jazz (forgive the music quote, professional deformation). But on these days, all of this is forgotten. All the shops come together. There is no more belonging to one house or the other. It just becomes a big family. From what I saw, Marcel works very well together with other shop managers and instructors. This is not a one-man effort. Everyone needs to be involved. It takes a village, right? Well, that is the feeling I got from this day. I got to be part of a village, a community. I met people from other dive shops that I probably would not have met otherwise. Had fun, made new friends, laughed but more importantly, worked hard. Dive Centers like: Sairee Cottage Diving, Roctopus Dive, Mojo Divers Koh Tao, Good Time Thailand, Scuba Junction and Big Blue Diving have some of the Best attitudes I have seen in the Dive Industry Worldwide!
We had our usual boat briefing. Marcel paired the divers with people from other shops to ensure as much mixing and mingling as possible. The snorkelers were left to their own divide when it came to finding a buddy, but it quickly became apparent that this needed to be a big group effort. We arrived at the chosen dive site: Light House. (Yes, there is an actual light house there, just in case you’re wondering.) Divers went diving, snorkelers went snorkelling, kayakers kayaked. And we all ended up on the rocky shore of this dive site. We were all smiling, joking, excited to be doing something different with our day. Then we started climbing the rocks. Shock. Complete, absolute shock. I had never seen so much debris (except in a landfill, but this is the ocean we’re talking about!). There was styrofoam EVERYWHERE!
Packaging styrofoam, styrofoam attached to ropes with fish hooks, big pieces, small pieces… and A LOT of flip-flops. Like enough to have a garage sale. Our smiles became more neutral. How to proceed? Where to start? And the more you looked around, the bigger the devastation seemed. It kind of felt like moving day, you know, when you need to pack your entire life in boxes? You just never know where to start and it can get pretty overwhelming, pretty quickly. But then your friends arrive to help out and you get motivated. You make a strategy. And that’s what happened. Ours was pick a spot, and pick up the sh*t that you see. And so we started. Big green bags in hand and a feeling of determination in our hearts. We worked, we laughed, we struggled, we sweated (we sweated a lot). At some point, we just started to look at each other with a bit of despair. Are we actually making a difference? Are we making a dent? I remember standing on a rock and looking at the ocean. Thinking to myself “and this is just the crap I see. There is more out there.” I felt a little discouraged.
Marcel showed up in the water during this “moment” of mine. “What’s up Gen?”
“I don’t know Marcel, there’s a lot of stuff up there… feels never ending.” He nodded and left. Came back a few minutes later with all the divers that had just finished their dive. Like Gandalf at the end of each Lord of the Rings movie… Reinforcements! So we had this second wave of motivation and we just got back to work. We became this well oiled machine. Nothing could stop us! NOTHING!! … except the night dives. We needed to be back in time to give the boat back for the night dives. So we left, tired and thirsty and hungry. (It was okay, they promised to feed us after). I made my way down the rocks and looked back at the site before getting back in the water to swim back to the boat. I did make a difference today. I totally made a difference today! We all did!
Then it was the boring part: cleaning up the boat, making sure we all have our gear, getting everything off the boat. But in the midst of all that, we all just went on the sun deck of the boat and chatted and laughed. Relaxing and looking at the sun starting to go down on the horizon. There was a sense of accomplishment in the air but also of comradery.
Turns out, we broke a record that day. Over 50 bags collected and ?? kilos of boat rope. Pretty awesome for a first Eco Day! We all went home to get cleaned up before the big celebration “get together” (this is where the free drinks and food come into play… also serves as good motivation), but before I left, Marcel came to see me and told me “Great job today, you were amazing.”
I smiled, like a five-year-old girl who got a gold star on her homework and said, “Thanks!”
I still don’t know what I did to be “amazing” and I’m pretty sure he told everyone that (because in all fairness, we were all pretty amazing that day), but the important thing to remember here is how it made me feel. It made me feel special and important and like I made a difference in this day. And if he told the same thing to the others (like I suspect he did because he’s just the kind of guy who lives on positive reinforcement), then everyone felt pretty important. And THAT is how you get people to stay involved. You make them feel needed and important, because they are. We all are. This is a group effort. The fight is big and long and challenging. But being around people like Marcel and his collaborators make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. His organisation makes it easier for you to get involved. All you need to invest is your time. So what are you waiting for… #getinvolved. I did.
PADI Divemaster Trainee
Sairee Cottage Diving on Koh Tao, Thailand