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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

Ban Nam Khem – place of salty water – is where we will be spending most of our time during our eight weeks here. Where we are sleeping is just a short 20-minute walk from the main part of the town, where we can purchase mango sticky rice, coconut treats, and iced coffees. Before the Tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004, the town was comprised mostly of fishermen families. However, the tsunami hit Ban Nam Khem severely. In fact, more than 50% of the population, which does not include the Burmese residents, were killed. Because of the damage to the boats and to the surrounding reefs, today the town is comprised mostly of local shops, although some fishing boats can still be seen by the water. During our tour of the town, we were able to see the remnants of old fish factories and the tsunami memorial, which today serve as a reminder of the effects of this natural disaster.

We’ve also recently learned what we will be doing each week. Our weekly tasks will include aquarium cleaning for two different sea turtle conservation initiatives, biodiversity surveys at the Khao Lak National Park, and community work with the local schools. So far, we’ve done the biodiversity survey, which was, although hot, sweaty and humid, much like playing a game. Just like Find Waldo, we were asked to look for as many reptiles, insects and mammals as possible, and trust me, it was hard. As soon as they told us the “rules of the game”, I was sure I was going to impress everyone with the skills I had acquired as a Find Waldo connoisseur. Little did I know that finding leaf-colored animals in a forest was a difficult task. My group managed to find around 8-10 animals in our two-hour hike. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to learn that the other group had seen a Wagler’s Pit Viper, one of Thailand’s dangerous snakes!