The SEA People, in collaboration with Soul Scuba :
Since I started to dive in 2013, I had seen different coral plantation initiatives in many places and I had always been curious about it. I was also very keen on learning more about corals because I love seeing them underwater. I am always amazed by their variety in shapes and colors but I actually knew very little about them and they were still quite a mystery for me. So when I saw that Soul Scuba divers was offering a coral plantation day with the local NGO named the Sea People (Orang Laut), I directly signed in. The NGO was created by Arnaud, a French guy, and his Australian wife Lynn. As Raja Ampat has a very small expat community, they quickly got in touch with Thibault, the French owner of Soul Scuba divers. They got friends and started this partnership. Soul Scuba divers is providing the gear, the gas and is advertising for the activity for free in order to support the NGO. The Sea People is organizing the day and the whole amount of money spent by the volunteers for the two dives helps financing restauration projects and paying the salary of the Papuan workers.
Day with Sea People
The day starts with an introduction of the NGO, its projects in Raja Ampat and a general discussion about corals, their threats and the different plantation techniques. Then we went on a first dive in a site where the corals were planted a few years ago. I was amazed to see how it grew and how the fauna felt home in no time! One member of the Sea People took pictures on designated area to keep a track of the evolution of the plantation over time. Arnaud also showed us the less successful parts. Indeed, as corals are very sensitive, there is no single answer for all problems. Every site is unique and requires a unique solution. Hence they did some mistakes, experienced some failures and learnt a lot through trials and errors. During the surface interval, every questions we had about corals were answered and we talked more in details about our tasks as coral gardeners for the second dive.
We then geared up and went to the second site where they started the ambitious project of planting an hectare of corals. We started by collecting some broken corals close to the planting location. No healthy coral is cut to be transplanted somewhere else, there are enough broken parts or unattached corals in the surroundings. The professional coral gardeners cut the dead or sick parts and gave us the clean coral ready to be planted. We started to tie them to the metallic mesh that is fixed to the slope in order to stabilize it. This is a very meticulous and relaxing job. We are all independent, in our world, almost in a meditative state! The location is very shallow and almost an hour passed by without us noticing it. Finally, the professional gardeners check the planted pieces one by one and make sure they are well attached before cutting the tail of the zip ties. We all came up and had lunch on the boat of the Sea People before doing a second debriefing. Based on the zip tie tails we can estimate how many corals were planted today. Arnaud show us their new website where he uploads the picture, the data of today including the number of coral planted. This helps to monitor and follow the evolution of the projects. In addition as volunteer coral gardener we will be able to follow our corals in the future. The day is almost finished but there is still one question that is on everybody’s lips and I am sure it is on yours too: zip ties? Seriously? You are using plastic in the ocean? Arnaud answers honestly saying that they tried many different things, including metallic ties or biodegradable ones made from pandanus or bamboo leaves but nothing really works to the same level than the plastic zip ties. After a few weeks, the corals grow around the zip ties avoiding them to be released in the ocean. This is a minor but necessary collateral that will only leave the next millenary archeologists very puzzled.
Outlook of my experience with Sea people
This is the story of my day with the sea people but every time will be different. Arnaud likes to adapt to his audience depending on people’s knowledge, questions and the daily needs of the NGO. So it doesn’t matter if you are a marine biologist studying corals or a diver that has so far been only interested in the fishes, you can sign in for this activity because you’re going to learn a lot, have fun nd do something good for the amazing reefs nested in Raja Ampat!