I have just spent the month of July in Raja Ampat Marine Park in Indonesia. As divers, you all know what this means... crazy biodiversity!!!!!
However, though I definitely got in the water quite a bit, I came here for an altogether different purpose. I wanted to learn about the area-specific strategies used to manage the marine protected areas of Indonesia. To achieve this I worked with managers who take top-down approaches, and an NGO that does more of a bottom-up approach, through direct community involvement and action.
I came away with the affirmation that both are necessary, and collaboration is the key to successful management.
To understand the diving and tourism infrastructure that is existent in Raja Ampat, I visited the Arborek Dive Shop, a small establishment that is the only one on Arborek Island. It is owned by Githa and Marsel; a passionate couple who both care deeply for their community and the marine environment. Diving with them was incredible. As I become more comfortable with my Nauticam system, I can feel my thought process underwater beginning to change. I find myself looking for beautiful compositions in addition to interesting marine life. Marsel is also a photographer and diving with him was a lot of fun. From taking us straight down to 40 m for an amazing school of sweetlips to jumping in the water with me TWICE in a row to find mantas, he gets how exciting it is to not only witness these natural phenomena but to be able to document them as well.
I used to be someone who believed that to experience something fully, I had to be completely present in the moment, and a camera was just something else between real life and myself. Now, however, I am slowly beginning to feel that a camera is a portal for me to view what is in front of me with a totally new perspective. I had so much fun playing around with the Panasonic Lumix GX9 walking around the village. It forced me to narrow my view to just my viewfinder and see small snapshots of beauty and action as their own moments that together made up the whole experience I was so enjoying. Without the camera, I might have missed these subtleties that ended up enhancing my trip.
The Arborek dive shop has also been working with Wide Open Projects; the NGO that, by happy coincidence, was there at the same time as me. After visiting Raja Ampat in 2016, their 3 inspirational founders have been returning to give back to the community in meaningful ways. This year they brought the materials to build almost 50 coral transplant structures to stabilize the reefs in front of Arborek. As tourism and boat traffic is increasing so too is the damage to the reefs. I helped them with this project, and with developing a monitoring protocol that will hopefully allow them to monitor the success of their structures over time. This protocol is dependent on the fact that we can take good quality photos of the structures. As the capabilities of underwater imaging improve so do its scientific applications. From documenting animal behavior to watching change over time, imaging has become a technique that can be used to collect reliable data. I am excited to be able to use it for this purpose.Raja Ampat has been as epic as I dreamed it would be. As the epicenter of global biodiversity, it is a vital place for us as divers and conservationists to protect. Please read my blog here to learn more about the challenges and nuances of Marine Protection here. I feel so lucky to have been able to not only visit this place but to have met and learned from people who live there and care about it. The community and children of Arborek were a pleasure to be around, and enforced the importance of giving something back to the communities that welcome us!