Expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands: Gearing Up

A well-prepared diver

Note: the following post is the latest in a series chronicling the ongoing expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands. Read more here.

Today we’re at Daram Island, located in the southeast corner of the Misool MPA — about as remote as you can get in Indonesia. We’re anchored off a small island smothered in tropical rainforest all the way down to a perfectly white sandy beach.

During the day we listen to the calls of tropical birds, which give way to the cries of bats in the evening. And yet, I can hear the strains of Bollywood music coming from a crew member’s mobile phone — strangely surreal!

Working in remote places is both wonderful and challenging, and it requires a lot of preparation. We have to bring lots of spares of everything we need. Often, people are curious as to what we need in order to work in places like Raja Ampat. To stay underwater for an hour and record all our observations, we require fairly simple — albeit specialized — gear. And some of the items we take along on expeditions like this may surprise you…

Three times a day, we load our equipment onto speedboats and head out to the sites we’ve chosen to survey. To find those sites, we use GPS units — small handheld devices not much bigger than a mobile phone. Once we’ve reached a site, we get into our wetsuits and SCUBA gear. We have enough air to stay underwater for about 60 minutes, so we have to work quickly to collect all our data! We collect data over a defined area that we measure out using five 50m tapes laid out on the reef.

While underwater laptops haven’t yet been invented (I’m sure that’s not far away!), we do use wrist-mounted dive computers that calculate safe dive times based on how deep and how long we’ve been diving.

Ali recording sea cucumber

We use underwater paper — plastic-coated paper we can write on with a normal pencil — to record our observations of fish or corals. The paper, pencils and anything else we need are firmly strapped or tied to our slates, because dropping something underwater means you may never find it again!

And, of course, we always dive with our cameras — safe and dry in underwater housings — so we can document this fabulous underwater world.

There are also a few somewhat odd things we can’t live without:

  • Innertubes: Taken from car tires. Turns out, these are the best “rubber bands” for keeping our papers attached to the slates.
  • Dive hoods: While we’re only a couple degrees south of the equator and the water temperature is 30°C (86°F), we still get cold because we spend around three hours a day underwater.
  • Toothpaste: Not just for brushing our teeth! Toothpaste is great for cleaning the insides of our face masks, and stops them from fogging up.

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.

(First image: Community monitoring assistant Naftali gets ready to dive into a site. First image credit: TNC. Second image: Community monitoring assistant Ali takes note of a sea cucumber on his slate. Second image credit: TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.

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