Greetings from Raja Ampat! This post comes to you in during a moment where, for the first time this year, we’ve had time to bring you up to date on all that’s been going on during Q1 of 2023.

It’s been a hugely busy period for our growing team in the field; with expanded restoration efforts and trialling of new methods, annual boat maintenance, surveying and providing solutions for coastal erosion, new partnerships and new team members… amongst so many other things!

We apologise for the gap in communications, but please know this gap was being filled with so much activity, all of which continues to enhance and expand our work in Raja Ampat.

As always, we thank you for your support, all of what we share here today is directly enabled by our donors and supporters worldwide, for whom we are very grateful.

Please find below a summary of all we’ve been up to… and we look forward to sharing more with you as this year progresses!

Galaxea* gets a makeover…

During December, our boat ‘Galaxea’ was dry-docked – pulled out of the water to inspect and repair anything that’s needed that typically cannot be accessed when a boat is in the water. Whilst we’d completed a drydock in April 2022, it was either do it again in Dec22/Jan23, or wait until Dec 23 – something we were not willing to do in terms of maintenance and safety.

After a successful dry dock, a decision was made to take a dive into the wood and wooden spaces above the waterline… and that turned out to be quite a deep dive… Over the course of 3 months, the team, along with support from local woodworkers, electricians and mechanic, walls, floors, ceilings, railings – pretty much anything you can think of – was opened up, inspected, repaired if needed, re-fibreglassed and waterproofed.

Completing all this was a critical task, that if ignored and delayed in favour of other efforts, would ultimately have cost the foundation in more ways than one! With that in mind we are immensely grateful for the effort of all who contributed.  As for Arno, Piet, Pak John, Linus, Aldi and Petrus, you’ve never seen a happier team than the moment we returned to the island and these ‘Orang Laut’  (SEA People) were able to return to their more natural habitat – on and under the sea!

*Legally our boat is named “MastroAldo”, a name we inherited but bears no meaning or relevance to our mission.  However, given it is extremely complicated to change the boat’s name over here, and also because it’s considered bad luck… we are keeping this legal name, but on paper only – day to day our flagship vessel will be referred to as ‘Galaxea’ – named after a coral we love, and for the well aligned symbolism of the ‘galaxy’.

A Collaboration with Coralive

In mid March, upon returning to our mooring at Yenbekwan Village we were straight back in to our reef restoration effort. We started with a collaboration with dear friend, mentor and colleague, Aki Allahgholi, of Coralive – an NGO dedicated to protecting and restoring healthy oceans around the world, with 9 reef restoration sites across 7 countries, along with multiple other community projects. 

Together, with the support of V-Sun, we restored 250sqm of degraded reef, utilising mineral accretion technology (MAT) – a method Aki uses frequently, but was new to our efforts and a first in the area.  Known previously as ‘biorock’,  this method supports coral growth by applying low voltage direct current electrolysis, and provides us with the opportunity to compare and contrast our low tech, low cost community based approach with an innovative, yet more costly, technological based approach.  The end goal of this collaboration is to determine which method performs best over time within the remote Raja Ampat context, and ideally we would like to determine whether it is feasible to combine the best of both worlds. 

Joining Aki was Daniel Bichsel, professional videographer and photographer who documented the effort… we look forward to sharing some of his amazing photos and video in the not too distant future – for now, you will find one particularly amazing piece of footage at the bottom of this email.

A huge thanks to Aki for such kindness, patience, wisdom and calm (and also the ‘dad jokes’)… and to Daniel for capturing these moments in such a professional and relaxed manner,  it was an absolute pleasure the have you both on board!

A quick snapshot of a collaboration between The SEA People and Coralive – an amazing experience for all to compare and contrast methods and approaches with the same goal: protecting and conserving the world’s coral reefs.

New To The Team

We are thrilled to continue to expand our team and therefore our outputs and impact, whilst further supporting local community livelihoods through capacity building.  Please allow us to introduce you to…

Cornelya Patty – Our first female Coral Gardener

Here in Raja Ampat; sometimes cultural barriers, expectations and traditional gender heirachies can prevent girls and women from participating in the workplace and leading conservation efforts.  Yet increasingly, this is changing and women are beginning to not only take an interest, but a more active role in conservation, and are working harder to apply their skills and experience to contribute to the protection of the natural world.

After 2 years of searching for the right female candidate to join our team, and considering how integrate her into the team in a culturally appropriate manner, we met Cori – the younger cousin of Linus, one of our current Coral Gardeners.  A graduate of marine biology from University of Papua, Cori moved to Waisai in 2022 to care for her younger family members.  With skilled employment opportunities rare in Raja Ampat, Cori was faced with a choice: stay and meet familial obligations potentially without paid work OR move away and seek employment, ideally in a position in line with her degree.

With family in Yenbekwan village – the site of our current restoration effort –  and working just 45mins from Waisai, Cori no longer has to make this choice: she can be close to home whilst being gainfully employed in a position that utilises, and further enhances and expands upon the knowledge gained during her studies.

Welcome Cori, we are glad to have you with us and firmly believe that your inclusion in our team will change the dynamics of our community based conservation effort and make it more effective than ever before.

Andika Trilaksana – completing a Masters Degree in Local Development

The SEA People Orang Laut Raja Ampat Reef Restoration Community Conservation

Having joined us in April, Andika, who is originally from Bekasi (Java), is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Local Development from the University of Padua in Italy, and joins us to complete the field component of his degree.

Andika previously worked with non-profit organizations focussing on peatland conservation, farmer empowerment, and territorial sustainability in other remote areas of Indonesia, which have provided him with experience and skills that will help him achieve his goals here in Raja Ampat.

With past involvement in social economy research, local community and stakeholder engagement regarding the importance of responsible land use practices, during his time with us Andika will be focussing on assisting in the preliminary stages of obtaining an internationally recognised sustainable certification for Mansuar Island.  This will involve the multi-disciplinary task of gathering information from local people relating to understanding, hopes and expectations around ‘sustainable practice’.  Through a combination of conversation and informal group discussion, Andika will engage with a broad range of community members in order to better understand their perspective on environment and economy in Raja Ampat.

This process will provide valuable insight into the 4 communities on Mansuar islands, and represents an important and (very!) rare effort to gain a deeper insight into community beliefs, needs and challenges. A complex task, but Andika is already demonstrating his motivation and ability to achieve this goal!

When the Orang Laut meet the Orang Hutan

Orang Laut (bahasa Indonesia) = The SEA People (eng).
Orang Hutan (bahasa indonesia) = The Forest People (eng) 

During the month of April we had the absolute priviledge of spending some time with reptile expert Nathanael Maury, along with his colleagues and friends, Eric and Jeff from The Gibbon Experience – all of whom are based in Laos, deep within the Nam Kan National Park.

Nathanael, whom Arno met by pure coincidence on a flight from Singapore, is one of the world’s leading experts on the reptiles of SE Asia.  With encycolpedic like knowledge… it comes as no surprise that he’s currently putting together a (literal) first of its kind encycolopedia on the topic.  Adept and at ease with reptile handling – think snakes, crocodiles, lizards and turtles – Nathanael has been featured in multiple international documentaries as he shares his vast knowledge and enthusiam about reptiles.  He is completely at home within the forests of the world, and it was our priviledge – and also an eye opener – to take a walk through the Raja Ampat’s forests and see so many reptiles that we would otherwise have not spotted at all!

Jeff and Eric, of the Gibbon Experience, utilise a unique model of eco-tourism to truly immerse visitors the abundant beauty of the national park…treehouses! Waking up in the dense canopy each morning brings visitors so much closer to the unique forest animals, including gibbons, who’s song is considered as one of the most beautiful rhythms in the wildlife world. Beyond the treehouse experience and further education about the forest itself, this effort supports local community ranger patrols in the national park along with sustainable agriculture which aims to reduce the ‘slash and burn’ technique which devestates forest area. 

It was such an enriching week for our entire team; to exchange on the challenges and rewards of community conservation and development in remote areas and natural spaces, to talk in detail about our respective projects and seek alternative perspectives and ideas, to be taken for illuminating walks through the forest with people that know forests so very well, and then take these very same people for a dive in the world’s richest reefs. 

Thankyou to Nathaneal, Jeff and Eric, your knowledge, wisdom and committment to the green spaces of the world are both inspiring and amazing, and we are glad that people like you exist!

The SEA People Orang Laut Papua, Conservation and Reef Restoration Raja Ampat

When the Orang Laut meet the Orang Hutan… inspiration, motivation and smiles all round! (abent from photo: Lynn – because she took the photo and the group was too big for a selfie!) 

A Final Word

With so much more to say (and even more to do) we will leave this update here, but look forward to bringing you more news either via email, Facebook or Instagram as the year progresses.

To sign off, we leave you with this image from Daniel.  On this particular day he was filming the waters directly above Yaf Keru – Yenbekwan, and received an unexpected surprise… (a bit more on this later, as all is not as it seems!)  

Again, thankyou for your valued support; your emails, messages donations and encouragement truly go a long way, and for this we are very grateful!