In August 2016, Jessica Menzies travelled to the heart of the Coral Triangle in Indonesia to undertake volunteer conservation work with charity Operation Wallacea. She was supported by the Jack Petchey Foundation with a £250 Individual Grant for Volunteering which helped to cover the costs of her volunteering. Not only did her work benefit the charity’s conservation efforts and the local island communities, the experience and knowledge she gained helped her to get a job working on a similar site this year.
As the most biodiverse marine area in the world, the research that is undertaken in the Coral Triangle is vital not only for conservation efforts, but for new medical and scientific findings. As a research assistant, Jessica collected data which will help the charity in their bid to designate the reefs surrounding South Buton, a Marine Protected Area. After spending a week studying at the Bau Bau site, Jessica had learnt to identify over 160 types of marine animals and plants, and learnt about the techniques and equipment she will be using to study the reefs. After passing her final exams, she spent the next three weeks collecting data through underwater surveys.
Jessica also helped to strengthen the charity’s relationship with the local community by working with them on conservation projects and helping to educate them about the reef’s ecosystems. The Coral Triangle alone supports the livelihoods of 100 million people, so the need to protect it is paramount to those living on the surrounding islands. Her team observed the fishing techniques employed by the locals and helped them to understand how techniques such as blast fishing (dropping explosives into the water) are often destructive and killing the reef. She also helped the local Kaledupan children plant mangrove roots at the edge of the water, which will provide more shelter to the villages from storms and also trap sediment, allowing the coral reef to thrive. Working with the local communities was a vital part of the project, as the end goal for Operation Wallacea is to hand the research facilities over to them so it can be run more sustainably.
Jessica has also benefitted greatly from the experience, particularly as she is studying Biology at Bristol University. She said, “Spending valuable time amongst scientists has given me an insight into how marine field research really happens and that it is important to work alongside social scientists too, and make the local community want to work with you, rather than just simply telling them how to live or making them change – no sustainable conservation project will work this way.”
Whilst the experience and knowledge she gained from the volunteer work has already helped her get a job working on a similar site, she says that “above all, it has fuelled my passion for conserving the ocean, finding out about the rich variety of creatures living there, and understanding how to help make a difference in coastal communities.”
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