In May 2016, Stephanie Driver travelled to the Raja Ampat Islands in remote Indonesia, to volunteer for the Barefoot Conservation, taking part in both marine conservation and community work. The Jack Petchey Foundation awarded Stephanie with a £300 grant to help cover the cost of her volunteering.
The community project Stephanie was involved in taught English at four local schools. Each week, Stephanie and the other volunteers planned English lessons and visited the schools to teach the children. As levels of tourism are steadily increasing throughout Raja Ampat, being able to speak English is important to the local community, as it will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities brought by tourism. Stephanie found it challenging yet rewarding, commenting; “I have never taught a school lesson before, let alone to children who do not speak much English at all, so this was a new experience which helped me to develop my communication, interpersonal and teaching skills. I feel proud to have played a part in helping children develop their language skills which may help them to have a more prosperous future.”
The aim of the Barefoot Marine Conservation Project is to examine the health of the reefs and how the ecosystem is changing with development in the Raja Ampat area. The building of a new airport close to the islands, along with developments such as different fishing methods, ingredients for Chinese medicine, a demand for prize fish, increased use of petroleum powered transportation and a heightened number of snorkelers and divers in the area will all be factors that may impact on the health of the reefs. Along with the other volunteers and scientists at Barefoot, Stephanie was involved in the collection of baseline data regarding the current state of the reefs. The data was then provided to the local Fisheries Marine Department who manage the area and monitor the marine lifecycle.
One way in which Stephanie collected data was by taking part in fish surveys. For this she had to take an Advanced Open Water scuba diving course, and needed to learn and be able to identify over 100 different 'target' species of fish which were selected by the Fisheries Marine Department as they indicate the health of a reef; for instance the presence of a wide variety of butterfly fish indicate a healthy reef as they exclusively feed on coral. Stephanie also undertook coral surveys which involved observing what species of coral was growing at each point along the transect line. Stephanie also had to take manta ray and nudibranch (sea slug) surveys in the reef.
Although it was hard work, with Stephanie diving twice a day, six days a week to survey the reef, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Stephanie said, “This was a unique and unforgettable experience that has a positive impact on environmental conservation whilst simultaneously providing me with a fantastic opportunity to progress my interest in the underwater world, and scientific knowledge. Living on a desert island with people I had never met before for a month also brought a separate set of challenges but these were undoubtedly outweighed by the amount of fun, laughter and happy memories that came hand in hand.”
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