Around 9 pm, we motored slowly out of Sorong Harbor on the Putiraja, leaving the shore lights behind us. The team has been excited all day as we finalized our itinerary, organized last minute logistics and packed the remaining gear.
Our departure was far from quiet. Trips like this bring out friendly competition between team members, with everyone retelling “big fish” stories from previous dive adventures. That was followed, of course, by an extensive wish list of what everyone hopes to see or experience on this trip to Misool. Somehow, I am not worried about meeting their expectations — Misool is stunning both above and below the water, and no one is going to be disappointed.
But working in a remote place like Raja Ampat is not easy. Even after nearly four years of working here, I cannot get used to how challenging — and costly — it is to work in a place like this. Can you believe Papua has the same cost of living as Indonesia’s capital Jakarta? The Conservancy has a field station in Misool in the village of Harapan Jaya, and everything we need — including equipment, fuel, food and drinking water — needs to be brought in from Sorong, which is 98 miles away across a lot of open ocean.
Doing monitoring in these remote regions is no small feat. Safety is a big issue for us — the nearest hyperbaric chamber for divers in emergency depressurization situations is a 2.5-hour flight from Papua! In the past, we have tried running our reef health monitoring from our field station using our speedboat, but it is just time-consuming, costly and logistically complex to reach far-flung locations. A few years ago Joanne and I decided we would try running our monitoring work from a small live-aboard dive vessel. Not only did it end up being more effective for our work, but we found it rewarding to bring together a local team of scientists to do the monitoring.
Having everyone all together offered us the chance to provide one-on-one training and mentoring for our staff and partners and to create a network of peers among Indonesian scientists. With each expedition, we try to increase their skills as scientists and create a sense of pride in the contributions they make to improve their own country’s knowledge about their environment and to better take care of it.
On this expedition, we have divers from two organizations — The Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Society. We also have three representatives from the local communities of Misool and Kofiau (the second marine protected area in Raja Ampat where we work).
Sitting on deck under millions of stars with not a city light in sight, I am reveling in the fact that, for the next 15 days, I get to be a coral scientist again, and remember why I love this job!
Explore further coverage of this expedition on nature.org and learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.
Image 1: Dive vessel for the expedition. Image 2: Sangeeta practicing her coral identification. Credit: TNC.