I am on my 27th hour of travel back from Bali and I am still in the air. I don’t know what day it is, or what time zone I am in. But I do know that I just experienced some life changing events that will ripple through out many lives.
It began last summer. I was staying on the Northwestern corner of Bali, sitting on a beautiful sailing ship named Mir, talking with Gaie, one of the founding members of Biosphere Foundation. We were discussing what the local Balinese people needed to help their conservation efforts for the coral reefs of Menjangan Island. She wanted to know what Trees To Seas had to offer. I told her that I could give people professional dive training and certifications. So the idea was hatched that TTS would come the next summer and conduct a Dive Master Course with some of the leaders in the community.
As I put the program together with Phil Dustan our criteria became evident. I needed individuals that were more than just leaders. I needed waterman and reef advocates. I needed commitment to the cause and especially to the course. My two Candidates emerged: Ketut Sutama and Wayan Ardika.
Sutama, an elder in his village used to be a fisherman. He used to practice dynamite fishing and collect aquarium fish by injecting cyanide into corals where they hid. Both are illegal but still current practices within the area. Sutama was convinced through Biosphere, that Menjangan Island was a precious economic recourse. The shift from fishing to tourism began about 15 years ago and he has continued to help convince many of the other fisherman in the village that a fish on reef can bring much more money than a dead one in the market. That was when the village began to shift from fishing to guiding. Sutama now leads the Mooring Buoy Team, established by the Biosphere Foundation and is part of Friends of Menjangan.
Wayan works at the Menjangan Resort. He apprenticed with his father as a carpenter in early 2000 to help build the resort. He went from carpenter to gardener, tending the newly planted grounds. When Water Sports became established he started to work as a snorkel guide. A few years earlier he had learned to clean trash off coral while diving with the Biosphere Foundation. Last year I remember him saying in passing, “ I dream of one day getting my Dive Master, but impossible”. We chose Wayan because he was one of the first to join Friends of Menjangan, he is on the Eco Commission for the resort, organizes clean ups on the island, and is developing a passion for conservation.
On June 4, 2015 we started the Divemaster Program. With my assistant from Trees To Seas, Jake Taylor and Dr. Phil Dustan we started from page 1 of the PADI Divmaster Manuel and read aloud each chapter. A typical day would start at 9am. Sutama and Wayan would show up to the Biosphere Foundation field station in Buleleng where we were staying. Sierra Silverstone, Biosphere’s Botanist and Agro-Forester keeps the station for volunteers, internees, and visiting scientists. From 9am to 2pm we read the PADI book and worked through Knowledge Reviews until everyone’s head hurt. Then, after some lunch, we would take our gear down to the Bintang Beach for in-water scenarios until it got too dark to dive. We celebrated each day with a tasty Bintang, Indonesia’s local beer and namesake of the beach. And that’s how it went for 12 days straight. There was some variation; we did a night dive at Dream Wall on Menjangan, mapped the reef off the Watersports Dock, and went to some other locations.
We quickly discovered that the dive training was the easy part and that the real challenges lay within the pages of the Dive Master book and its formal conceptual learning which opened my eyes to the westernized structure of PADI’s course. These guys had never experienced questions that were framed in the negative, true or false, or fill in the blank. At the edge of their English comprehension, Wayan used a translation app on his phone while he and Sutama struggled to understand the meaning of complex sentences. Concepts like liability insurance, finding a form on the internet, or upselling a dive package were alien to them. We taught them the physics of water pressure with stacks of water glasses and used the proportion of pens and pencils lying on a table to illustrate the theory of partial pressure. We felt much more like students than teachers, learning how to describe things like photosynthesis and primary productivity using words and ideas that Sutama and Wayan could understand.
In the end, both men passed their final exam with high scores, but the real test will be in the sea. We chose Wayan and Sutama as our first students so they can be role models for the rest of the community and it’s ocean-based livelihood. Their Dive Master certifications will give them more influence on the diving practices of their tourist guests and other guides. Hopefully they will be able to pass on the knowledge we gave them about reefs, how to clean corals on their tours and how to replace broken fragments to implement a more sustainable eco-tourism style approach for the reefs of Menjangan Island.
Next year when we go back, we have an even bigger job. We will resurvey the reef to measure it’s changing ecology since sequential studies in 2000 and 2011. This information will help us solidify conservation solutions that local Balinese can implement to protect their reef ecosystem that has become such an important economic engine of their local economy. Though today’s global changes threaten coral reef stability, it is the effort of local conservation that help reefs become more resilient to global pressures.
All ecology is local.