The Song Saa Foundation, a Cambodia-based organization dedicated to protecting the land and waters of southern Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago, was officially launched on September 21.
With coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass beds – inhabited by sea turtles, whale sharks and seahorses – the Koh Rong Archipelago is one of the most diverse and least known marine environments in Southeast Asia.
For Rory and Melita Hunter, the creators of the Foundation, the launch represents a culmination of seven years’ work and commitment to the Archipelago.
The Hunters first came to the region in the mid-2000s and later built the first high-end luxury resort in the Archipelago – Song Saa Private Island. Underpinning the development of the resort was a commitment to sustainability explains Rory Hunter:
“Being the first to develop a resort in the Koh Rong Archipelago came with a tremendous sense of responsibility to ensure that whatever we did had a lasting, positive impact on the surrounding environment and gave opportunities and a future to the local community. We also wanted to lead by example and set a benchmark for others to follow by showing that property development, conservation and community engagement were not mutually exclusive concepts.”
Initially under the resort’s award winning conservation and community program and now under the Song Saa Foundation, the Hunter’s and their team have worked diligently to protect and improve the natural and human environments of the Archipelago. Melita Hunter says:
“Starting with the creation of Cambodia’s first ever marine reserve over 7 years ago, through to the implementation of a village wide solid waste management system, we’ve been fortunate to have willing partners with the local community to put plans into action and deliver tangible results.”
Earlier this month, the Foundation coordinated the biggest medical outreach project ever undertaken in the Archipelago. Completed in collaboration with the US-based organization, International Medical Relief, the project resulted in 1,000 people receiving medical attention over a five-day period. This amounted to over half of the Archipelago’s population.
The Foundation is now in the process of converting a boat into a mobile education and sustainability-learning center. Dubbed the ‘Boat of Hope’ project, it is intended to commence education voyages by late 2014.
To celebrate the launch of the Song Saa Foundation, a series of activities took place on September 21 including a beach clean-up event to mark International Coastal Clean-up Day, an annual global initiative. Local children also held races with boats they had constructed from discarded materials retrieved from the surrounding ocean. Dubbed “plastikis,” the boats have been developed under the Foundation’s Song Saa Sea Turtle environmental education program for kids, which aims to raise awareness of issues such as marine waste and recycling opportunities.
Executive Director of the Song Saa Foundation Wayne McCallum describes this approach as “working from the mangrove roots up.”
“We enjoy bringing human creativity and expression into our activities,” he says, “The people of the Archipelago do not need to be preached to; they are aware of the issues they face and want to do something about them. What we at the Foundation can do is look at ways to help them, developing solutions that fit their situation. We think of it as working from the ‘mangrove roots’ up!”