Raja Ampat 2012: On the Way

This is the second in a multi-part series chronicling the 2012 trip to monitor the health of coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This year, Conservancy scientists are traveling to Raja Ampat alongside colleagues from CI and WWF.

This post was authored by the Conservancy’s Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai (@smangubhai).

At last, after two years of designing this project and six months of intense planning, we are finally on our way to survey the reefs of Raja Ampat. Before we left, we double-checked and triple-checked that we had everything we would need for the next 16 days. This is because there was no turning back to pick up anything we had forgotten once we left port. (And in case you are wondering, there are no opportunities to shop along the way for missing items.)

Raja Ampat is remote and we anticipate having no communication with the outside world except for the brief use of a satellite phone to send blog updates from our trip. Yesterday, Purwanto (from The Nature Conservancy) and Ismu (from Conservation International) tested the satellite phone to make sure it was working correctly. We also made sure we had brought all the safety gear that we need because the nearest hyperbaric chamber (used for people who get diving sickness or the “bends”) is in Makassar, almost three hours away by plane. There is a big emphasis on dive safety.

We had smooth, calm seas as we pulled out of port, and it took us only four hours to get to our first destination, the reefs on the southwestern tip of the island of West Waigeo. While en route, the teams that will be responsible for tracking fish populations practiced estimating the size of fish to get their estimations to within 5cm accuracy. “Everyone got more than 75% correct on their first go,” Purwanto told me with an enormous grin.

This is the first time that teams from our three NGOs have worked together to monitor coral reefs in Raja Ampat. Our first dive this afternoon was a “practice” or “training” dive, as we need to make sure we are all identifying corals and fish in the exact same way and we need to settle the most efficient way to work underwater. While there were not a lot of fish in the water to count, the fish team did see two grey reef sharks, a large green turtle and a school of bumphead parrotfish. This was enough to put a smile on everyone’s face and get us excited to begin monitoring the reefs tomorrow.

As the sun started to set, I could not help reflecting on how lucky I am to work with such committed and skilled Indonesian field scientists and to be monitoring reefs in the global center of marine biodiversity. It does not get better than this!

Learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

(First image: Trip participants practice estimating fish lengths. First image credit: Sangeeta Mangubhai/TNC.)

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