If you had one hour to spend how would you spend it?

By Amy Saeki-Zhai

“If all of us each dedicated one hour a year to volunteering, we can make a big difference in our environment,” said Lyn, an environmental volunteer from the Gold Coast.

I first met Lyn a few months back at a sea slug survey event. I had heard a rumor that I could see the colorful nudibranchs featured on the cover of National Geographic magazines only 30 minutes down the coast. I expressed my enthusiasm about seeing them, and in turn, Lyn shared with me the different scientific names of the nudibranchs and the best ways to find them. Within 20 minutes, the group found five other species, such as sea hares, anemones, and hermit crabs, endemic to the Gold Coast. Astounded by her extensive knowledge, I asked Lyn how she came to become a volunteer.

(Lyn on the right side of the photo, setting up wildlife monitoring cameras in Austinville Valley,16/8/23,photo credit to author)

Carefully setting down a massive rock she had flipped over to examine, Lyn told me that her volunteering journey had sprung from her desire to live an active and healthy lifestyle after retirement. She felt she lacked opportunities to leave her house and connect with the local community and nature. 

After seeing a post online from a council-run Landcare program, Lyn immediately signed up for a series of tree-planting events. From there, she heard about the weekly sea slug survey and felt her dream to see nudibranchs finally come true. “The moment I saw my first nudibranch was when I knew I was hooked,” said Lyn. Little did I know that she would appear at all other environmental organisations around the Gold Coast.

(My first nudibranch, 11/07/23, photo credit to author)

After my first encounter with the sea slugs and Lyn, I was inspired to check out other organizations besides Naturally GC. I participated in every activity I could, including waterbug surveying with Watergum, seagrass surveying with Ocean Connect, and a few morning bird surveys. Regardless of the location and time of the activity, Lyn was always there as well.

 At five-thirty in the morning, Lyn pulls up in her ute with a big smile.  I asked her what she thought was the best part of volunteering.

 “It is all about discovering what’s in our backyards. Through volunteering, I discovered I could identify the colorful nudibranchs on National Geographic just minutes from my house. Who would’ve thought? These species being so close to us is why we should work hard to protect the environment. We don’t want to lose them!”

We have arrived at the sandbank and are measuring the transect for data collection. Standing knee deep in the water, green seagrass rippling along her ankles with a measurement tape in one hand and clipboard in another, Lyn continues,

 “I’ve also met amazing people and connected with others through the iNaturalist community. It’s very satisfying. Volunteering takes me all over the Gold Coast from Currumbin, Springbrook, and Boonah. No matter where the activity takes me, it’s always a happy place. Volunteering has given me a purpose in life.”

(Sea grass, 14/07/23, photo credit to author)

Lyn pauses to take out her waterproof camera. She has found a Blue Velvet Headshield, a type of nudibranch. Its vibrant blue color is truly a wonder to behold.

(Blue Velvet Headshield, photo credit to Elena Prays, 14/07/23)

After the survey, we kayak back from the sandbank to the gazebo. The group unloads the data collection equipment. We find that someone accidentally took back an eel in their kayak. Smiles and laughter ring throughout the beach. Lyn turns to me with a broad smile and says, “I think I’d be a hermit if I didn’t volunteer!”. She walks back to her ute, still laughing.

 It’s been over three years since Lyn started volunteering. When I comment on how far she has come along in her journey, she replies, “It has just begun; there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.” Nowadays, many people spend countless hours addicted to social media or gaming. These things can be addictive, but so can volunteering. Lyn says to those still considering, “Don’t wait any longer!  Volunteering is very rewarding, mentally and physically. You can make a difference with whatever activity you participate in, even if it’s just one hour a week, a month, or even a year! It will make a difference to you and the event you go to.

(Nudibranch, 28/11/23, photo credit to Lyn).

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