I travelled to Indonesia as a research assistant, with the purpose of aiding in Marine research conducted by Operation Wallacea by assessing the health of coral reefs through monitoring inverts, fish, coral and algae cover. Our project also involved assessing the impact of current conservation management strategies and the impact of local fisheries on the reefs. This involved working closely with locals; educating them about sustainable living and putting conservation management strategies in place to ensure that survival of the reefs for future generations.
My journey to Indonesia began with a harrowing realisation…I had forgotten my favourite travel pillow in the car. Now I faced a 14-hour plane ride to Jakarta, followed by a 3-hour flight to Makassar, 2-hour flight to Wakatobi and a 5-hour boat ride to Hoga. All of this, without the basic comfort of a travel pillow. But these basic comforts were now to become a thing of the past as I stepped onto the pier on Hoga Island. We docked close to midnight and solely relied on the head torches of the numerous volunteers who had come out to guide the new arrivals across the pier to our wooden huts. Amongst the chaos, one thing was made clear: WATCH OUT FOR SNAKES! With little light and flimsy flip-flops, trying to avoid stepping on snakes, I arrived at my hut, dropped my rucksack and crashed onto the bed.
The realisation of where I was only arrived in the morning when I was woken at 5 am to get ready for our first. Stepping out of my hut I saw the beauty of where I was. The salty smell of the ocean, the rustle of trees and sounds of crashing waves put me smack bang in the middle of an adventure novel. The first morning was one of welcome and safety talks, with a reminder of the 101 things which could bite, sting or poison us leading to almost sudden death with the nearest hospital being 3 hours away by boat. But nothing, not the various ‘dangerous’ sea creatures; the 3 days of traveling or the jet lag could keep me from back rolling into the ocean and starting my first dive.
My first breath under water in Wakatobi is one I will always remember. Just below there existed a whole new world, waiting for me discover, explore and analyse. Underwater there was an explosion of colours and new life invisible to all above. So I set off with my team, armed with our 100 m transect, video and stereo devices and underwater clipboards. From that day on my days consisted of 2 data collection dives, hours analysing the video footage, then relaxing on the beach with a beer, lying next to a bonfire, learning local games and watching the memorising sunsets.
My weeks on the island, forced me to overcome challenges I never thought I’d face, relinquishing the basic comforts of western life, learning to adapt to a new environment and form an effective research team with people who came from opposite parts of the world to me. Alongside this, I was given the opportunity to expand my scientific knowledge, make lasting friendships, delve into a new culture, learn to appreciate the beauty of nature rather than an Instagram picture and enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as sleeping under the stars in a hammock.
Amongst the various things l learnt and saw on the island, including identifying 120 marine species in Latin; marine scientific research skills; and coming up with impromptu costumes for our weekly party nights made from twigs and leafs, there were some important lessons and memories that will stay with me throughout my life as well as the ignited passions for diving and marine conservation.