On completion of the 14-day quarantine I was collected by a company driver and taken to my new base of operations, a sleepy fishing village that comes alive at the weekend. Visitors flock in to enjoy fresh seafood at the local fish market.
The town is filled with 3D art where cranes are dressed up with a humpback whale outline, walls have elaborate cartoon stories through marine characters or cats, and temples are covered in intricate artwork, depicting tales. I enjoy the pace of this town, outside of the hustle and bustle of cities but still allows for busy night markets and your common catch up at the local café.
For operations, we sail to the project site through 2 miles of iconic oyster beds traversing the Major Wildlife Habitat (the Taiwanese equivalent of a Marine Protected Area; MPA) and home of the endangered Taiwanese White Dolphin (Sousa chinensis Taiwanensis), our primary target species for conservation. Our transport is fishing boats repurposed to accommodate the Passive Acoustic Monitoring Operators (PAMOs) and Taiwanese Cetacean Observers (TCOs) during piling operations. Most crew are all Taiwanese with no English speakers, so communication is limited to Google translate, switching over to hand gestures and general miming thereafter. Although there is a language barrier, Taiwanese people are one of the kindest people I have come across in my travels, always willing to help, trying their hardest to accommodate, and feeding you as much as they can. Oyster pasties are a local must try treat and if you are onboard at 11 o’clock any day you will be expected to partake.
One of the fishing vessel’s captain has a karaoke machine aboard, including a disco ball. Every two weeks the whole team are required to join this vessel for work on equipment and obviously we all take our turn at screeching our hearts out. It is safe to say the captain, crew, and translator aboard are much better at karaoke than us, but it never stops the fun. I am glad there are no neighbours on the sea to scare away with our ‘singing’.
Working parameters of this project mean we sail in generally good weather, calm seas and sunshine, a perfect day at sea. One operation at sea will generate two days of paperwork and after arriving back in port we sit down as a team in the hotel to debrief and work through the data analysis.
Our fishing village has begun to feel like home and has been a great place to be based almost two months. We have befriended the locals, our mandarin is coming along, very slowly, but we try, and we are all enjoying the cuisine. One delicacy favoured by a certain member of our rotation is bubble tea. The sugary sweet liquid with chewy, jelly-like cubes are always the weekend delight. For others, it is the evening barbeque and Frisbee session at the beach. We all feel very fortunate to be here, working in a spectacular location with great people. It is amazing in a covid world to have such freedom and normalcy with the right management for these uncertain times.