Working as a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) can be exciting, hard work, but most of all, rewarding. Part of the job description requires travel to far stretches of the globe; however, as many of you know, working during a pandemic has introduced challenges and changes to typical working life. This month, OSC is releasing one of our MMO’s experience of travel as an MMO in SE-Asia.

Covid-19 has created many hurdles for all of us, making masks, hand sanitisers, and PCR tests the new norm (never an enjoyable task as I am sure you will agree). Once bustling with people, but now eerily quiet, airports strictly control passengers to ensure everyone’s safety while encouraging social distancing; however, this does not exclude you from a body search when you forget to remove your belt… Planes fly half empty, which was beneficial to passengers onboard, as everyone managed to lie across three seats and rest easily over the long flights.

Arriving in Asia from red-list countries is like the scene from Pixar’s movie Wall-E. All other nationalities from non-red-list countries are ushered in one direction, whilst you are ushered in another direction with a cleaning crew in hazmat suits disinfecting the ground you walk on and anything you touch. After completing registration, submitting all forms, and registering your phone number with the authorities for your upcoming daily quarantine check ins, you and your luggage are sprayed down with disinfectant before travelling directly to your quarantine facility. Our quarantine facility was an adapted military building; however, quarantine facilities range from this to hotels, the luck of the draw.

Our quarantine rooms were basic but occupied with what was necessary to stay comfortably for two weeks: a bed, desk, a makeshift bathroom, chair, and the ability to make tea, hallelujah. Some personnel were able to open a window; however, not everyone was so lucky. For those with a view, the front of another block could be seen as well as one tree. You do not realise how much people enjoy nature until you are isolated within one room, unable to see green. This tree became the fortnight’s entertainment for me; watching leaves blow in the wind, the sun’s rays flit between leaves as they moved, and birds perch and sing. 

Thankfully, wildlife did not mind having a lens pointed in their direction. As a team we spotted a range of species, from Malayan night herons, lizards, and mynas. When our heads were not stuck looking out the window, we passed our time with office work, painting, needlework, and jigsaw puzzles.

Day fourteen. We were all ecstatic to be leaving our rooms and be able to experience the outside world. We could not help but give each other a hug. For we had only glimpsed people past our doors when giving meals, or when we had our covid tests performed for the previous two weeks. The day was warm and pleasant after the cold quarantine room. Like 5-year-olds in a candy store, we watched the country pass by once the taxi took us away and headed towards our base of operation. The land we passed was occupied by villages, intricate temples, tropical vegetation, and wetlands.

I look forward to what this job and country have to offer for the rest of the rotation. Wish us luck getting to grips with mandarin, which we have all attempted to learn with duolingo.

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