Operation Wallacea at Hoga, Wakatobi - Sulawesi Tenggara

Small notes from Nesha Kannama Ichida (2nd Runner Up - Miss Scuba Indonesia 2013)

Everyone in Indonesia need to realize that our country has a lot of magical and amazing places that you won’t find anywhere else. It was a bit sad that I was the only Indonesian that was working there, apart from the islanders. Aren't we ashamed that foreigners care more about our oceans than we do? There should be more locals doing these sort of work around Indonesia. Because if we don’t start now, we might lose all connections with our own country's nature. So get up and lets save our ocean :)

Last summer, I went to Hoga, Wakatobi to volunteer as a marine research assistant with Operation Wallacea. It was one of the most life changing experience I've ever done. The whole island was filled with about 200 foreigners which consist of dissertation students, scientists ,high school students and other volunteering university students.

When I first reached Hoga, I thought it was going to be like any other volunteering jobs where I would learn everything by assisting the researchers in what they're doing. But then I found out that wasn’t going to happen unless I pass the coral reef ecology (CRE) course. And so I did.

I spent the first week there going to lectures about all the different species of marine creatures and going on dives with the CRE gang. We were actually tested underwater to identify the different species of corals and of course go through 3 written exams to pass the whole course. They also don’t let anyone be a research assistant unless they pass the scientific dive course. We were trained to lay out transects and 50-100m measurement tapes whilst identifying the different marine species without bumping into any corals. They really frown upon bad diving behaviour and would actually put us back into an Open Water class if our buoyancy's messed up. Luckily, I did really well so I was happy about that.

On the second week, I spent my days on a liveaboard traveling to the southern part of Wakatobi, Tomia Island. We were doing coral reef checks which is checking the health of the reef and entering the datas into a global network. The dive sites were AMAZING! I was actually very touched by the beauty of the reef system. I would actually categorize them as a very pristine reef. The only thing missing were sharks. Apparently they were all fished out in the Wakatobi region due to high demands from the shark fin industry. In any case, I can really see myself living on the open sea for weeks in the future, it's a very exciting experience which I think everyone should try at least once.

On my last week, I didn't opt myself to help the dissertation students in their research, which is what research assistants mostly do. I was in the monitoring team because the founder of Operation Wallacea personally asked me to learn more about what the monitoring team do because he wants more locals to get involve in it. And so i did. It was a very hard task to perform as I had to work underwater, identifying key species that affects the health of the coral reef and also assisting the head of the monitoring team in collecting and putting up tiles on the rocks for research purposes. I also need to spend 5 hours in the dry lab watching video footages; measuring, counting and naming every fish or corals in the video transect. You wont even hear anyone at 9 PM, the whole island would be fully exhausted in bed and getting as much rest as possible before our 7am dive.

Even so, It was the most fun and exciting experience I've ever done and I would definitely go back. The time I spent there with the friends I made were unforgettable.