This June, Aiglon's Year Nine students had the opportunity to journey to Thailand as part of Aiglon's Discovery Trip programme –a core part of how we work to integrate our classroom learning with the wider world.
The trip was divided up into two key groups: the first group focused on exploring Thailand from a cultural perspective while the second learned to dive and focused on ecology and coral reef work opportunities. The below article was written by Mrs Pigott and it follows the journey of the ecological service group.
It was a long, tiring journey down to Koh Chang but the students kept up good spirits and were happy to explore the Bang Bao Pier before jumping in the pool. We had a delicious dinner of Thai food and then collapsed into bed.
On Tuesday morning they started their scuba diving. The new divers spent the morning studying theory and then the afternoon in the pool doing the first of their confined dives. The theory was hard work but they loved practising the skills, learning how to breathe, swim and deal with problems underwater.
Out on the boat, the advanced divers braved some choppy seas to reach the turquoise waters of the Koh Rang National Park. They took some time to refresh their skills before heading off to explore the coral reefs. We saw huge shoals of yellow snapper and fusiliers, shrimp, hermit crabs, rays, nudibranch and so much more!
After some more pool time, we headed down to Cliff Cottage for plenty of Pad Thai, mango shakes and coconuts. The evening finished off with some reflection time before bed ready for another day of developing new skills tomorrow.
Diving Lessons Advance
On Wednesday the advanced divers started the next part of their PADI training. They learnt about how to navigate underwater using compasses and natural features. For Peak Performance Buoyancy, they practised how to manoeuvre in the water using just their breath to move up and down which will be really useful for our coral surveys next week. We also had a wonderful first dive on the HTMS Chang wreck where we swam among huge shoals of barracuda and played with the batfish. In the pool, the new divers finished off their training and completed their swim test ready for their first open water dives.
We all headed out to the Koh Rang National Park again on Thursday. There were a few nerves from the new divers but these were quickly forgotten when they got in the water and saw all the colourful fish! In the evening, we met up with the rest of the year group for a Thai buffet and a catch-up.
On Friday, we finished off the courses with everyone passing with flying colours. The advanced divers used their buoyancy skills to learn underwater photography and Soyo managed to photograph a turtle munching on some coral. Back at the hotel, there was some time for reflection on our achievements before a celebratory dinner.
Saturday was a much-needed rest day with a lie-in and some pool time. We spent some time talking about the experience so far and setting some new goals for the week ahead. Then it was time for a bit of shopping while a few of the boys fished off the pier - and finally caught something!
Shipwreck & Debris Clean-Up
It was wonderful how enthusiastic our divers were to get back out on the boat on Sunday. With their new qualification under their belt, the Open Water divers had the chance to visit the HTMS Chang wreck for the first time, seeing how life will come to a place if there is somewhere for it to settle. The huge shoals of fish, mysterious galleries and impressive towers were a great treat for all their hard work. As we were closer to Koh Chang, there was the opportunity to do two more dives exploring the local coral reefs. Advanced divers learnt how to identify different varieties of coral and then put their skills to the test by completing CoralWatch surveys. This is the third Aiglon ecology project to have contributed to the University of Queensland’s citizen science project. It is great to see how the reef is managing in difficult times.
Monday saw the Open Water divers also trying their hand at CoralWatch surveys. These are a real test of your diving skills, requiring the students to carefully control their movements in the water so that they can get close enough to survey the reef and prevent damage. We had a few people start floating upwards as they wrote down the results but with instructors and experienced Aiglon divers in the water, everyone stayed safe.
Meanwhile, the Advanced diving group faced another new challenge: underwater debris cleanup. After instruction on what and how to remove debris underwater, as well as some synchronised swimming tips from Mr Pigott, we were dropped off in an area designated for cleaning by the park officials. Possibly the greatest challenge we faced was getting three staff and eight students to swim in a line about a metre apart. We did have to abort the first sweep when we drifted into shallow water and couldn’t keep under the surface. A little deeper and we were able to tackle the many plastic bottles, wrappers and fishing debris left by park visitors.
We were rewarded for our efforts with an incredible, and rare, dive on the Three Finger Reef. Lying in a channel, the current is often too strong for inexperienced divers but we were lucky enough to be able to explore it in great conditions. Along with hundreds of different types of hard and soft coral there were rays, pipe fish, nudibranch, angel fish, eels and much more.
Everyone settled into a quiet evening routine with reflections, dinner and bed - ready for our last day diving.
Coral Watch Project
Tuesday took us back out onto the local reefs with a few more CoralWatch surveys and a last look around the wreck. These incredibly diverse coral reefs were some of the students' favourites. We also had the opportunity to look over the coral propagation project that took place in March of this year. While the stormy weather has knocked it about a bit, there was good evidence of the coral growing and plenty of life starting to make homes among the rocks.
The evening reflection brought mixed emotions but it was great to hear many of the students were keen to improve their diving skills and get involved in projects in the future. We had a good chat about the impact of our trip on the environment that we wanted to save. While there doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer, the discussion was important and students reflected on changes they could make in their own lifestyle.
Wednesday was a no-dive day, ready for our flight on Thursday evening. So, we joined up with the year 9 Cultural trip for a morning of community service: Trash Heroes Beach Cleanup. Kitted out in our bright yellow t-shirts with gloves, bin bags and plenty of water we spent a good few hours picking through broken polystyrene containers (which I have vowed never to use again) and what looked like the remains of a fishing boat wreck. Hopefully some of the discussions we had been having all week about reusable water bottles, unnecessary plastic bags and packaging were consolidated in this long hot morning.
The afternoon was spent chilling by the pool, pretending to pack, shopping and fishing. We then wandered over to Cliff Cottage for a barbecue with all the dive instructors, staff and year 9 students. A great way to end a wonderful trip.