As our stay on the island of Arborek will be coming to an end in a few days it’s a good time to look back and reflect. I’m sitting on the balcony of our little hut overlooking the receding tide with the midday sun scorching down on us as on most days. The rainy season is supposed to start and we had a few heavy but warm rain showers in the last week. Otherwise we are just sweating day and night with temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius and very high humidity. The hut has no air-conditioning, it is a simple structure made of wood, bamboo and palm tree parts. We have electricity for a few hours during the night, when a simple fan delivers a small but welcoming breeze. As mentioned in my previous post, life on the island is pretty basic, and let’s you apriciate many little things you might have been taking for granted back home. So what made us come here for four weeks?
As some of you will know I love the ocean, admire the marine life and hate how humanity is treating it. We’re still finding out more and exciting things about the deep sea and the marine ecosystem – but are brutally exploiting the marine life and are dumping our waste into our own beautiful life-support system. Anja and I are also passionate scuba-divers. Looking for projects to get involved in during our career break we came across a marine conservation project on the Great Projects web site by Barefoot Conservation in Raja Ampat that sounded right up our alley:
– Scuba-dive to record marine life in the marine protected area
– ID and track mantas to better understand their life
– Work with the local population on more sustainable fishing and living methods as their world gets more exposed to tourists and markets
– Work with the local kids to show them the beauty of the underwater world through snorkeling and teach them some English
All this in a simple, but beautiful setting.
To summarize the reality: Unfortunately we could not get involved too deeply into either one of the points as they were either not happening anymore or required longer preparation time than the four weeks we had set aside. We had a little taster, but I’m hungry for much more… Many fellow volunteers actually only came here to take their diving career to the next level, others were disappointed like us. I’m afraid the name “Barefoot Marine Conservation Project” might be a bit misleading. The guys stationed here are doing a great job with science, diving and community work, but the project promo simply promised more than it can deliver.
On the bright side, we certainly did amazing dives in this area of the world that is considered to harbour the most biodiverse marine life on the planet. We learned about all the corals and fish that are used for evaluating a marine habitat in Raja Ampat. We were introduced to performing transects – underwater surveys, vital for the assessment the health of a reef. We also visited three different primary schools on this and neighbouring islands, playing with the kids, trying to teach them English. To summarize this part: It was fun, but their attention span is certainly not longer than that of the kids in the West, who might get bombarded with multi-media all day…
As you can imagine, there are quite some interesting characters you will meet on these occasions, the stories other volunteers could tell would fill a few pages themselves. It’s amazing how many people just take off and go traveling to the remotest places of the world for months and years. The staff helping to run the project locally are usually here living in the same basic conditions for at least six months – and do not even get a salary. To hear about their backgrounds and motivations has been great.
So for now we are looking forward the first warm shower in clean water, to a comfortable bed, to good and healthy food, and to our first gin and tonic when we get back!