Lauren Sparks – Founding Director

We have had an exciting 2 months with the Penida Project back in full swing and preparation for relaunching our Bira Project. The flow of our project works so well because of our consistent rolling start dates with senior interns taking a more leadership role in the new arrivals training, as they in turn become dive professionals. We have welcomed 19 students in Nusa Penida since relaunching in February and look forward to welcoming 11 more in the next 2 months and the Penida Project running at full capacity with 12 interns and 4 staff.

With the announcement of the Bira Project relaunching on September 1st, I flew up to Makasar to start preparation for incoming interns and staff. We are happy to announce that Marco will be returning to manage the Bira Project. Marco was our project manager in Bira from opening in 2019 and we are so happy to welcome him back to restart the project with us. Since the lock down, Marco has found a new passion in underwater photography, so follow his new IG account @ocean.spirit.photography to see all of Bira’s underwater residents in HD. We are also excited to welcome a new hire, Bestari, as program coordinator! Bestari is currently an outstanding intern at our Penida Project graduating in just a few weeks before starting her training as program coordinator. We are so happy to welcome her as a full time staff this September and know her expertise and organisational skills will help grow the Bira Project to new heights.

During my visit in Bira I was able to reconnect with the incredible community there. Sylvain, Blue Planet Dive Resort owner, has been busy developing new buildings at BP including a beautiful 2 bedroom villa for dive resort guests. He has been maintaining the equipment and boat and exploring new dive sites around Bira. Nori, from Tavena House has never stopped and her dedication to the green development of the area is inspiring. She has used this ‘corona time’ to expand Tevana’s coral nursery project in partnership with our friends at Ocean Gardener, and coordinated an incredible beach clean-up program which has left Pantai Puthi cleaner and whiter then ever! She is also developing an exciting eco-tourism experience to take part in her local initiatives! Stay tuned for more information and how you can get involved! We are excited to be able to assist her great work and help in the maintenance of her coral nursery alongside our own. Jenna and Stefan’s beautiful restaurant and resort, Akasha, is thriving with delicious Western-Asian fusion menu and the latest addition… CHEESECAKE! Another new addition to the Bira community is Sea Scapes with their Taco Tuesday nights and all natural restaurant and resort with an incredible resident Malaysian chef. Bira is ready to welcome Indo Ocean Project back and we couldn’t be more ready to get there!

All projects will be relaunching in Bira including the BRUV, roving survey, CoralWatch, coral restoration, and shark/turtle identification. We are also excited to bring back Trash Hero Bira as regional directors AND developing a new sea grass and intertidal survey project over the first few months alongside Marco and lead marine biologist, Pascal Sebastian.

Bira Project Now Accepting Applications

Want to join the research team in Southern Sulawesi? We are now accepting applications for September 1st 2021 and beyond.

Complete your dive master and research diver internship in Tanjung Bira with us

Serena Stean – Program Director and Penida Project Manager

I’m almost in disbelief that I am already writing the second bimonthly, how time flies when you are having fun!

A massive congratulations to our first six Divemasters of the year since the reopening:

Hugo Sibony, Tarun Sharma, Julien Orlando, Julien Vandermissen, Rosie Bancroft and Karim Bouvet-Hasab Alla.

All these wonderful people now go into the world as exceptional dive guides with some fantastic skills – we know we will see many of you again in the future and enjoyed our time together immeasurably. All of these candidates leave with specialties in hand; Marine Ecology, Sea Turtle Ecology, Manta & Ray Ecology, Shark Ecology all certified through SSI, Coral Diver certified through Ocean Gardener and various other specialties they completed on their own time with Reeflex, including Deep, Night, Navigation and Enriched Air Nitrox.

At our home at Reeflex Divers things continue to level up on a daily basis. Our brand new NATURAL training pool has now been filled and we are all delighted working to the tones of the waterfall that feeds it and admiring the natural filtration system which is made from beautiful plants, not noisy pumps and chemical filters. We are so thankful to the hard work of Roman, Yuri and Marine for turning their dream and vision into a reality. In the next few months the SECOND pool will also be filled allowing for double the training space and double the fun!

We are now preparing to relaunch our sister Bira Project at Blue Planet Dive Resort in Tanjung Bira, Sulawesi and it’s so nice to be branching back out and resuming our data collection in our second location. We look forward to welcome the first set of interns in September and can’t wait to get back out on the ocean where we belong.

We are slowly starting to see the dive industry around the Nusa islands come back, and whilst it is still quiet we plan to drop as many BRUVs as possible on the usually busier sites of Manta Point, Manta Bay and Crystal Bay. The BRUVs from the South have been manta-tastic and have already provided some really interesting results. One in particular dropped on the South featured Manta INNLP0077A (MantaMatcher). This manta really checked out and then showboated in front of our BRUV and is special because it is one of the mantas known to have completed the Nusa Penida – Komodo – Nusa Penida journey – leaving Penida somewhen between August 2015 when it was ID’d in Penida, spotted in Komodo in May, 2016 and returning to Penida to be sighted again in October 2016. These special mantas are one of the many reasons manta fishing was banned in Indonesia in 2015, due to the paper “Running The Gauntlet” written by the amazing Elitza Germanov and Dr Andrea Marhsall in 2014, and it is so nice to be part of this mantas ID journey. 

In order to accelerate our citizen science contributions to amazing organisations such as; Manta Trust, Marine Megafauna, Elasmosbranch Project Indonesia, Thresher Shark Indonesia, CoralWatch, Project AWARE Dive Against Debris, Internet of Turtles, eOceans and Match My Mola! With our interns in the ocean around Penida on most days this is our opportunity to collect valuable data for ourselves, but also for other organsiations doing great work to study and protect our oceans. Our current intern Monica Ortiz Lazaro spends her days chasing down belly shots of mantas from all the gopro footage interns record on dives, Mette Rosenberg is in charge of shark data and Iris Piot helps with the uploading of our Dive Against Debris data! 

We have also now become an official Responsible Operator partner with the Manta Trust and are happy to continue to spread the responsible manta tourism with all of our interns and their future customers.

With our new home in Crystal Bay we have decided to start the monumental task of cataloguing ALL the species that can be seen to create an ultimate Crystal Bay guide. This is a huge project that we anticipate will take at least a year to complete, probably more. We have started with macro and the senior interns can now spend some their time doing dedicated macro dives looking for all the smaller critters that inhabit the bay, Reeflex owner and macro lover Roman Maral has provided so many of the photos already in our database and we have opened it out to all divers via our Facebook group “Curiosities of Crystal Bay”. From nudibranchs to cephlapods and odd shaped bottom dwellers… the interns are out in the “science position” with heads down and legs up checking every square centimetre on shore dives and intern Stevie B is currently collating all the treasured finds… the HUNT IS ON!

As we said in the last update the water is getting a little chillier around Penida and our first Mola was sighted by Michaela on a survey dive in SD Point a few weeks ago, Arya also spotted a Wobbegong in Crystal Bay so we now know we are officially coming into the “colder times” when the waters of Penida get really exciting. In other observations we have now recorded our first Cowtail Stingray and have also had reports (and footage) of 7 rare Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) down deep at Mangrove dive site – it won’t be long until we go down there and check that out for ourselves.

As we said in the last update the water is getting a little chillier around Penida and our first Mola was sighted by Michaela on a survey dive in SD Point a few weeks ago, Arya also spotted a Wobbegong in Crystal Bay so we now know we are officially coming into the “colder times” when the waters of Penida get really exciting. In other observations we have now recorded our first Cowtail Stingray and have also had reports (and footage) of 7 rare Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) down deep at Mangrove dive site – it won’t be long until we go down there and check that out for ourselves.

It warms our heart that we now have 170 mangrove propagules growing in the Reeflex nursery with space for more in the coming weeks, and it’s amazing to see all the science now gaining pace and we will be reporting each month on what we have achieved.

We are here, we are open and it’s SO GOOD TO BE BACK!

Pascal Sebastian – Lead Marine Biologist

With a successful reopening of Indo Ocean Project back in February 2021. We proudly managed to grow our sampling number on our project. We have recorded total of 503 shark, ray and turtle sightings, 31 roving surveys, 11 BRUV deployments and 14 water quality tests around Nusa Penida and 3 CoralWatch surveys in our house reef at Crystal Bay.

We have produced 94 BRUV’s to date with one of the deepest deployment so far:  31 m depth in Malibu Point. Reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), blue spotted stingray (Neotrygon Kuhlii) and brownbanded bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) are some of the remarkable recorded species along with the key predatory fish species such as red snapper (Lutjanus bohar), blubberlip snapper (Lutjanus rivulatus),  longface emperor (Lethrinus olivaceus), giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis), bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus), yellow-edged lyretail grouper (Variola louti) and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).

As part of our commitment to be involve in direct conservation as well as data collection and management, we have partnered with Ocean Gardener and Reeflex Divers and together we have successfully propagated 196 coral nubbins of Acropora sp. in Crystal bay. Growing the number of coral nubbin’s in the nursery is an imperative step to replenish the damaged part of the reef caused by the high wave action in July 2017. We will continue to propagate coral in the nursery with different types of coral such as Galaxea sp., Tubipora sp., and Sarcopyhiton sp. to diversify the community and to restore the ecological value of the reef.

During the maintenance of the nursery, we found one of our nursery tables was flipped over by the strong waves in May 2021. With a helping hand from Serena and our intern graduate – Karim, we managed to secure the table into the correct position. This is a learning point for us to improve our coral propagation strategy with more secure nursery tables.

To mark a year of 2020 bleaching event caused by El Niño around Nusa Penida, we are continuing our reef health monitoring with CoralWatch. Our observations show that the bleaching event has not occurred around the dive site with an average value of 3.5 – average to good (scale is 1 to 5). Thanks to the incoming colder water, we believe that 2021 will be the thriving year for coral reef around the Nusa islands. This is a good indication to propagate more corals as the survival and growth rates will be higher in preparation for the next bleaching event.

In September we will be opening the Bira Project in Sulawesi and we are looking forward to collecting the data from another part of Indonesia. Bira Project will give a huge impact as a comparison study to Penida Project as well as the science within the area itself and assisting in developing a new zoned protected area. We are excited for the news of the sharks, rays and turtle sightings there, likewise the incredible story of our future interns.

Ocean Gardener

Ocean Gardener is an NGO founded in 2016, and dedicated to coral reef education. It has been funded over the desire to use our 20 years of experience in Coral Farming, in Indonesia, to use these coral farms for education purposes. At the end of the last century, we created the first commercial coral mariculture farms in Indonesia, to allow the coastal community a living out of their reefs.

Michaela Dudasova & Arya Wol – Program Coordinators

Mangrove Project

We are happy to announce that our mangrove activities are going according to plan.

Our community coordinator Arya found a local supplier that is able to provide well-nourished soil for our new baby propagules. Interns and Arya were not shy to jump on and embarked on the mangrove soil journey. This was not an easy task. They had to go through a small lane in the jungle where digging resumed, carrying bags uphill and transporting back to the nursery site.

Our team of 11 interns were divided into 3 groups. One group was making sure that pots have 3 holes so mangroves can breathe. Second group was planting and the third group looked after organizing the nursery and fixing the watering system.

We are proud to announce that we have planted 176 propagules of Rhizophora mangle, red mangroves, propagules into the nursery. Now they will be cared for over the next 3-5 months before transplanted at our restoration site.

The plan for the month of June is to pot an additional 124 propagules to fill our entire first nursery that has a maximum capacity of 300. We will also be relaunching more nurseries with other stakeholders in Nusa Penida.

Marine Debris Assessment 

A Dive Against Debris Diver takes direct ‘fins on’ action for the ocean, collecting critical survey data from any or every dive that can be used by marine researchers and policymakers for conservation efforts. Our aim is to keep our favorite dive site “Crystal Bay” free of debris and contribute to Project AWARE’s global underwater debris database. 

In the month of May we dived in twice for a “treasure hunt”. Our 15 divers in two groups were equipped with mesh bags and scissors. By now we figured that the most amount of debris we find are under the boats moored in the bay. The most common debris were clothing and ropes. total weight of the combined debris was 13.17 kg. 

We conduct a minimum of two dive against debris per month, assisting in keeping iconic Crystal Bay clean and corals free of trash, able to thrive.

New Arrivals

In the month of May we have welcomed 6 new ocean champions! Yes, they are champions since they are living proof that traveling during the pandemic is not easy but still possible. Cara and Samina came from UK, Iris from France, Mette from Denmark, Monica from Spain and Delphine from Australia. Michaela has organized their stress-free journey from Jakarta to Bali and welcomed them with the big smile “you made it”. On their first day they have been filled in with an introduction workshop about Indo Ocean Project activities, information about our beautiful Nusa Penida, how their program is structured and what it means to become a dive professional with us. These ladies were not shy to jump into the ocean for their refresher course and check out dives that is waiting for everyone one their first day. I am delighted to announce that all of them are doing exceptionally well in their divemaster training and can’t wait for the final hurdle which is the famous ‘snorkel test’. If you don’t know what “snorkel test’ means you will know once you join us ;)

At the Project

These days our interns are enjoying their new accommodation in Namaste bungalows that is just 30 meters from our headquarters in Reeflex dive shop. It is perched on a cliff, where interns can take a 30-minute stroll down to the Crystal Bay Beach.  We are occupying 3 rooms cooled by a fan or air conditioning, spacious bungalows feature a private terrace overlooking the gardens. They are furnished with a desk and two wardrobes, while each bathroom comes with shower facilities and toiletries. After a long day diving and attending workshops, it’s perfect to jump into the Namaste swimming pool. There is also a possibility to cook their own meals. Thank you for Namaste’s friendly staff for looking after us so well!

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