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Indonesia, Wakatobi National Park – Research Experience

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

By Jonny Dawson

Based in Indonesia at the Hoga Island Marine Station, an idyllic tropical island surrounded by white sandy beaches and pristine coral reefs, this wasn’t the most dreaded experience of my life. I was part of large group of volunteers undergoing research in this isolated pristine location, which took the best part of three plane journeys (one of which involved herding cows off the grass runway) and two boat trips to get to.

My initial assignment was to investigate the relationships and influence of human populations upon the adjacent coral reef habitats and its fish populations within the Wakatobi National Park. Through multiple planned monitoring tasks, data collection and analysis it was evident that despite the site’s isolated location, any form of human presence can result in negative consequences on the reef system and its associated flora and fauna populations.

However, what became more alarming as my time on the island progressed, was the increased exposure of the ecosystem to wider anthropogenic pressures and subsequently its resident local human populations.

The Bajua are the local indigenous community in the area, and during my six weeks, I was luckily enough to interact with them and discuss their traditions and way of life. Now part of a Netflix documentary due to their famed fishing and diving abilities, the Bajau live on stilt villages in the ocean and have a unique reliance and relationship with the sea. Key members of the community gave detailed insights into how their landscape had changed over time, indicating the slow decline of the surrounding ecosystems which threaten their very existence.

Despite providing negligible contributions to the global crisis of climate change, such populations are unfortunately at the frontline of its repercussions. Overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, and the migration of fish threatens their resources as a result of a severely degraded reef environment.

This highlighted not only the modern-day stresses that are directly put on the reef habitat, but also the indirect impacts that are felt by the indigenous communities that solely rely on them.

It was a significant eye opener to a coral reefs supplementary importance and the potential considerable cost that will result if we continue to neglect the protection and restoration of such complex natural systems.

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