Recent Black Hills State University graduate Kori Hague works as part of the reef team to gather data on the health of Cambodia’s coral reefs and other marine environments as part of her volunteer work with Marine Conservation Cambodia.
Recent Black Hills State University psychology graduate Kori Hague never thought she wanted to focus her career on research; her mind changed after working with Dr. Aris Karagiorgakis, BHSU assistant professor of psychology. Hague is now in the process of getting her undergraduate work published and recently returned from a trip to Cambodia where she studied marine conservation.

After graduating in May, Hague wanted to spend her summer volunteering overseas and began looking into various projects.

“I got really interested in research through Aris, and once I realized the project in Cambodia was using the same (research) methods but only in marine conservation and not psychology, that is the project I focused on,” Hague said adding that the project also involved scuba diving, something that also piqued her interest.

Hague spent nearly three months on the island of Koh Rong Samleom, a small fishing village two hours from the mainland of Cambodia, volunteering for Marine Conservation Cambodia.

Founded in 2008, Marine Conservation Cambodia is devoted to protecting and conserving Cambodia’s marine environment and the livelihoods of the island communities that rely on its resources. Hague said the project coordinators have been working on several initiatives including getting the villagers back to their traditional way of fishing.

Villagers began using bottom-weighted trawling nets to fish which destroyed the coral reefs and endangered the fish population, she said. The project has also been working to protect Cambodia’s seahorse populations. Seahorses are believed to hold magical and medicinal qualities causing many people to dive and capture the unique marine life.  

“It has taken a really big toll on the seahorse population,” Hague said. “(The population) was basically decimated before this group came in.”

As a volunteer, Hague dove twice a day to monitor selected marine ecosystems within Cambodia’s coastal areas. The volunteers were split into two groups: the reef team and the seahorse team. The groups gathered data on the health of Cambodia’s coral reefs and other marine environments by documenting the number, health and living conditions of seahorses as well as the number of selected fish species and invertebrates within different sections of the reefs.

According to Marine Conservation Cambodia, all the information gathered is shared with the local and national fisheries administration to support their needs in decision making with regards to conservation strategy.

When the volunteers weren’t underwater conducting research, they spent time cleaning up the local beaches. “We did beach cleans there three times a week,” Hague said noting the problem of people in Cambodia throwing their trash on the ground.

“It was amazing how much rubbish was everywhere,” she said. “There was literally a ditch in the middle of the city filled with plastic water bottles.”

Hague lived among the villagers taking time to help build playgrounds, teach English to village kids and learn Khmer, the official language of Cambodia.

“You just really got to connect with the people, not only the locals but the volunteers who were from everywhere,” she said adding that her two closest friends she met were from Belgium and Israel.

Hague said her volunteer trip to Cambodia helped her realize there is a vast amount in the world to explore and experience.

“You meet so many people who have so many views,” she said. “I think it is vital to travel father than your own country.”