The last three days have been incredible and I can’t believe how many exciting adventures we’ve packed in our few days here! We headed out on the 8am ferry from the port in Jakarta to Seribu. Seribu translates one thousand in Indonesian which is how they island chain get their English name of the thousand islands but in reality there are actually only a little more than 100 islands with only 57 inhabited ones. But when you are in the middle of them and tiny islands dot every coast line as far as you can see it’s not at all hard to understand why without a birds eye map they were named Seribu.
We stayed in a “beach bungalow-ish” home-stay on one of the larger islands and were such a large group that we filled the home-stay to capacity and were the only guests. We only had a bit of time to get our rooms and settle in before we were back on the little motorcycle driven carts that make up the public transportation on the tiny island and headed to the main conservation headquarters where we met some of the main facilitators of the conservation efforts in Seribu who would be our guides around for the next couple of days as we toured the many outlets of their conservation efforts. They gave a short introduction presentation to their work before we were back on the carts and then on a little blue boat which would be our transportation about the islands during the rest of our stay.
Our first stop was an Island named Pari island (no not “party island” which is what we all heard when were first told) where the research station affiliated with UNAS is located. The station, like Tuanan and Halimun, has many researchers which study a variety of things in the islands but a major piece of the presentation was on coral restoration. As a Marine biology major who has spent much time reading scientific papers and giving presentations on the hot topic of coral bleaching this had to be one of my favorite presentations of the trip. To be so close to the source of all this research I had studied was exciting and informative. In many of these natural ecosystems there is a push for eco-tourism to support the research and protect the ecosystem by making its natural state an economic advantage but for coral reefs this can be difficult. It’s extremely easy for uninformed and careless tourists to unintentionally do over 200 years of damage to a reef by just putting their feet down in the wrong place or wearing the wrong sunscreen. To solve this issue the station has set of different coral zones all of which are protected but only some of which tourists are allowed in. This ensures there are reefs that can prosper without the danger of tourists while still providing the positive economic and awareness benefits ecotourism is known for.
After Pari, our captain took us to a sheltered lagoon where we all dove off the boat and swam around in the warm water. It was incredible. As we all piled back on the boat and whipped back over the waves to our homestay the sun set and shot colors about the sky. Sitting straddled on the bow of the boat bouncing over the waves with the spread of colors in front of me and wind whipping through my air was the most incredible feeling. It had been a good day.
After a dinner of the most amazing fresh caught Tuna and some star gazing we were off to bed to get a good night sleep before the next day which was jammed packed.
At the boat dock in the morning we all got some flippers and snorkels borrowed from the research station and all piled back on our vessel. Our first stop was Jakarta Animal Aid Network or “JAAN”. Their network is far reaching and protects a range of species from illegal trade and habitat devastation but the particular animal of focus on this island was the endemic kites/eagles that are at major risk of illegal trade. The eagles we saw were the ones the unfortunately will never be able to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild because they were injured so badly during their captivity but hear stories of successful rehabilitation from the Dutch woman who runs the island was quite a treat. Her three dogs were also quite a hit with us and we spent many minutes petting their fluffy heads. We then headed to the next island over which is a private island owned by a Chinese business man. While he is not there he allows other tourists upon request to come snorkel on his reefs which is just what we did! The reef was large, healthy and teeming with life! Sea stars, Urchins fish and coral lined the sea floor and it was easy to get lost in the labyrinth of coral that made up the reef and we spent a couple hours doing just that.
On our way to the next stop we unexpectedly found the conservation boat and after a short conversation between our guide and the conservation boat we were invited to jump of the boat and swim ashore to go follow the conservationists to see where the sea turtles lay their eggs. This unplanned excursion was the perfect complement to the sea turtle release that was next on the list. At the next island we started off with a tour of the sea turtle and mangrove restoration. This group collects the eggs from the island we were just on, hatches and raises them to about two months in captivity. This greatly increases their chances of surviving in the wild thus increasing the sea turtle population in the neighboring waters. About 20 of the turtles being raised there were ready to be released so we each were given a turtle to release. The proper technique to release the turtles is the place them with their heads facing away from the ocean and allow them to figure out they need to turn around and head back into the ocean. Gerald (what I named my turtle) got the idea very quickly and was the second of all 20 to get himself in the water and swim out into the open water. As a longtime lover of sea turtles this was an experience I never dreamed I would be able to have and one I’m so glad to have experienced. We then headed back to our own island and showered, ate and then crashed in bed.
Our last full day in the country was no less pack full of fun than the others! Coral rehabilitation was our last stop in Seribu. We were taught how the conservational its harvest and grow coral and then with cement and PVC pipes plant I back into the ocean moving into successively deeper depths thill it’s relocated to its permanent home making ton of artificial reefs. Many of us commented that these artificial reefs while not quite like the real ones were far healthier looking and inhabited than the natural ones we had seen. We got chance to plant our own reef in the pvc pipes and drop it in the shallow water next to the station. Then we snorkeled a bit around the artificial reef and head back to pack up our things. We were back on our ferry that evening and we just finished our last dinner together. He dinner was full of tears of laughter as we all went around and shared our favorite and most embarrassing memories from the trip. It was till then that it really hit what an incredible experience these last three weeks have been.
Tomorrow I’m up at four am to get on a flight home and while I’m excited to be home I can’t help but be sad about all the wonderful places and people I will be leaving behind here. There’s been nothing in my life quite like Indonesia and I would change a thing about my experiences here. Thanks for coming with me on this adventure!