Lauren Sparks – Founding Director

Another couple of crazy months as we continue to navigate these difficult times while remaining focused on our research and conservation goals. Reopening in February was difficult but as a team we faced the obstacles and managed to remain open and COVID free. We always knew that reopening during the pandemic was not going to be easy, but it is a challenge that we continue to face head on as a passionate group of marine conservationists.

As the pandemic continues to effect international travel the staff and interns work together to ensure the safety and health of our IOP bubble. Regular testing, contact tracing, and strict adherence to local regulations are in place as we discover operating in a new normal world. Additional COVID-19 protocol has been implemented and we are happy to announce that by the end of September we will be a 100% fully vaccinated project. This means that all interns looking to join our project must now be fully vaccinated a minimum of 4 weeks prior to their arrival.

Now we anxiously await Indonesia’s borders to reopen once the Indonesian government has controlled the virus in Java and Sumatra. As cases drop in Bali and we reach nearly 70% population vaccinated we are hopeful that Bali will be able to welcome back tourists safely in the near future.

It has been exciting times in Nusa Penida with the water temperatures dropping and mola season starting. I have been lucky enough to snap an iconic selfie with this ocean giant at our house reef in Crystal Bay. 

We are excited to welcome our first international scholarship winner for the multimedia and dive master internship. After receiving almost 50 applications we have conducted interviews with a selection of excellent short-listed candidates and look forward to welcoming the scholarship winner in the new year. We plan to offer multiple scholarships per year to outstanding applicants with our next scholarship running in 2022 for an aspiring Indonesian marine biologist. 

We were happy to contribute to our community here in Sakti through an organized food drive to help our neighbours in need. Like many tourism dependent destinations worldwide, Nusa Penida residents face a harsh economic reality due to the extreme but necessary restrictions on travel since the pandemic. We are happy to be able to provide some supplies and support for those who have been so welcoming to us and our project. Special thanks to Pascale for organizing the event and getting supplies into the right hands.

Serena Stean – Program Director and Penida Project Manager

A massive congratulations to our next seven divemasters of 2021 certified since the last update: Mackenzie Hughes, Bestari Ghea Dwilo, Mette Rosenberg Carlsen, Monica Ortiz Lazaro, Iris Piot, Delphine Fant, and Sharmin Rouf.  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 and Enriched Air Nitrox.

We would also like to send a special shout out to researcher interns Stevie B and Jess Newham for their hard work – Stevie has helped us since the reopening of the project and has been instrumental in setting up projects such as CoralWatch and the Curiosities of Crystal Bay Macro Project. Jess has provided us with help with our data sets which will continue after she leaves us. We are incredibly thankful to both of these wonderful humans for their contributions.

Our home at Reeflex Divers continues to get better each and every day. The natural training pool has now settled and is wonderfully clear, it’s a beautiful training pool that doesn’t sting the eyes when performing the mask skills, much to the delight of everyone. Owner Roman Maral continues to work hard on his garden every day and we see new study and training areas appearing each day. As an experiment we have planted some of our mangrove propagules in the filtration system, we await to see if they like the wet environment and flourish – if so I’m not sure there are many other manmade pools in the world with mangroves helping keep them clear. We have also developed our QR codes and dive site information in the SSI database, so interns can log and verify their dives quickly and more easily, this is available for all to use in the dive shop.

We’ve been working hard on developing our Citizen Science database in-house to make sure we report all the sightings we see to all the scientists working on them and in the past few days we had some wonderful news – a manta sighted at Manta Point is NEW TO SCIENCE in the Mantamatcher database. As Monica has now left us, the manta IDs are now taken on by Alessia Tartaglia and we look forward to seeing what she finds. We will continue to upload to all our databases –  Manta Trust, Marine Megafauna, Elasmosbranch Project Indonesia, Thresher Shark Indonesia, CoralWatch, Project AWARE Dive Against Debris, Internet of Turtles, eOceans and Match My Mola!

The cold water is here! The last few weeks have seen some chilly dives on the west and south coasts of Penida with Manta Bay dropping to 22 degrees Celsius last week. This means the MOLAS ARE BACK…. Our founder Lauren has had some incredible sightings already and it’s only a matter of time before all the interns see these odd looking dinner plates hovering around getting cleaned on the cleaning stations. We are also hopeful for a return of the Indonesian Wobbegong (Orectolobus leptolineatus) and other species who seem to like the colder waters.

Rare sightings continue to pop up to delight us, this time around it was a Spinetail Devil Ray (Mobula mobular), a fever of Tahitian Stingrays (Pateobatis fai) at Manta Point, and the biggest Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus) we have ever seen on the northern dive sites of Penida. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

We all are now sitting and waiting for Indonesian borders to reopen in the hope that we can continue doing the work we love and protecting the reefs around our beautiful island… keeping everything crossed it’s soon!

Pascal Sebastian – Lead Marine Biologist

After our successful reopening of Indo Ocean Project back in February 2021 we have managed to grow all of our data set sample numbers;

  • 708 shark, ray and turtle sightings
  • 57 roving survey dives conducted
  • 17 BRUV deployments
  • 20 water quality tests
  • 5 CoralWatch surveys in Crystal Bay

We are delighted to announce a science milestone here at Indo Ocean Project and we have successfully deployed the 100th BRUV around Nusa Penida MPA since 2018. I would like to thank all the interns, staff and crew who have been involved with the process so far. Let us reminisce smashing the fish with sleepy faces in the morning, broken SD cards, the two selfies instead of videos, from the peaceful to raging currents. It has been a rollercoaster ride of science, yet so much fun! Thank you to all the support throughout this time for your contribution to the Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area.

We would like to give a special thanks to our interns Mackenzie Hughes and Mette Rosenberg Carlsen for their contribution to improve our data collection. With their expertise in data science, we have managed to turn our data collection completely digital, making the statistical analysis far more efficient. Mack will continue to volunteer to help us in the future although he is already back home in US. We look forward to developing a scientific publication with him in the future. Exciting times!

As the part of our commitment to involve in direct conservation, we have successfully propagated 196 coral nubbins of Acropora sp with additional 100 nubbins of Tubipora spp. In Crystal Bay. Growing the number of corals in the nursery is a critical step to replenish the damaged part of the reef caused by the high wave activity back in 2017. We will continue to propagate coral in our nursery with different type of coral such as Galaxea sp., Tubipora sp., and Sarcopyhiton sp. to diversify the community and to restore the ecological value of the the iconic Crystal Bay dive site.

In response to the coral bleaching event of 2020 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 a value of 3.5 – average to good (scale is 1 to 5). Thanks to the incoming colder water, we hypothesize that the year 2021 will be a thriving moment for the coral reefs around the island. This is a good indication to propagate more corals allowing for optimal survival and growth rates in preparation for the next bleaching event.

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

Our community coordinator Arya has exceeded his target of 100 additional propagules potted in the nursery by July 31st, bringing our total number to over 300 mangrove babies. Now we wish them luck to grow and flourish until they get replanted into their new home in 3-5 months.

In the month of July, we continued to source recycled plastic bottles to repurpose as our propagule pots. As single use plastic is banned from project facilities and partners we reached out to our local community. Our interns were not shy to go around small warungs and restaurants to ask for bottles. The local Penida community were curious and we were able to educate and inform more people about our growing mangrove restoration project and the development of a green belt on the north east coast of the island.

Announcement of our new experiment. We have planted 10 propagules into our partnering dive centre (Reeflex Divers) new all-natural swimming pool and wet land garden. So far they are thriving and growing with new leaves. Their health and growth will be closely monitored over the coming months.

Good luck babies.

Marine Debris Assessment 

Passionate and caring divers in our community reported ghost net sightings on an eastern dive site called Batumulapan. Our team did not hesitate to respond and after an assessment dive decided it was safe to take action. With scissors and safety equipment in hand a team of 8 spent a challenging dive freeing the reef of the entanglement. The total weight of removed nets was 15.4 kg.

 Unfortunately, we had to leave some behind as we didn’t have capacity to bring up more. We leave this important task for next month.

Freediving Workshop

To provide interns with a complete dive master training experience we have added several workshops and lectures, and the team headed to Freedive Nusa for a ½ day introduction to freediving workshop with owner and freediving instructor trainer, Kirill Popov. Learning breath holding techniques helps to improve air consumption rates and gives divers more confidence to handle emergency situations in the water.

New Arrivals

In the month of June and July we have welcomed 5 new ocean heroes. Yes, they are heroes since they are living proof that traveling during the pandemic is not easy, but still possible. Michaela made sure of a stress-free trip from Jakarta via Bali to Nusa Penida and welcomed them with the biggest hug. Yes, she is vaccinated 🙂 

Kylie Lampe came to us from USA, Letizia Pessina from Switzerland, Lauren Wise from UK, Alessia Tartaglia and Anna Viglino from Italy. Once they arrive to Nusa Penida, they can breathe freely again and put the challenging journey behind. “We were waiting for so long, however we are here now, it was worth it, let’s have fun and go diving.”

So… What is the first day at the project like??

After a warm welcome by Michaela, introduction workshop begins. Interns are introduced to the Reeflex dive shop team, IOP team and current interns. After a nice cup of coffee, we start with orientation in the dive shop followed by introduction and refresher workshops. After a little break we are ready to sign the paperwork and internship agreements. After proper sizing of diving gear, a personal locker in the gear room is assigned. First taste of Penida food and we are ready to get wet in our natural swimming pool to refresh the dive skills and prepare for the coming weeks of intensive diving.

The first day finishes some new swag, Indo Ocean Project Research Team and Reeflex t-shirts to represent during their stay. Damn, they look good. 🙂

Image Gallery 

Want to join the team?

We are accepting applications for 2022 and beyond for our research diver and dive master internship program. Apply online today!