What's it like to be a volunteer


It’s a typical day on board the good ship Hang Tuah – a  liveaboard dive boat moored next to the island of Penemu. It’s hard to believe that I’m in one of the most remote, but also most beautiful, places on the planet because it’s just like a home away from home.

I woke up with one thing on my mind this morning: FISH! After several days of learning fish ID techniques, estimating fish sizes with the fiddlesticks (bizarre name for wooden fish cut outs that are lined up underwater so we can practice sizing) and getting to know the various marine habitats it’s time to put everything I’ve learned so far to the test. Eek! 


We sat out on the deck eating breakfast and the volunteer project manager briefed us on the plan for the day. It was going well until we spotted a pod of dolphins cruising past and we all got a bit distracted… After we’d clicked away with our cameras and the dolphins had carried on by it was back to business. This morning we were to do our final practice long swim survey at a site that Beth and a couple of the previous volunteers nicknamed ‘The Catwalk’ – apparently because there are always black tip reef sharks parading along the reef. I was a bit nervous that I would get something wrong, but we’re all in the same boat (if you’ll pardon the pun). Beth gave us a quick review of the stuff we’ve learnt and she was confident we’d all have no problems – I wish I was! It was time to get our scuba gear together and head out.

School of Barracuda

A 10 minute ride on the speedboat and we all got in the water, slates at the ready to conduct our survey over the coral reef. On the descent we were greeted by 4 bumphead parrotfish – the first time I’ve ever seen them. They’re massive! It was a great dive and even though we were all concentrating on the survey we still got to see the ‘catwalk’ of sharks passing by. Beth was busy keeping an eye on our slates and checking our fish IDs as we went along. At the end of the dive we went back to the Hang Tuah for lunch and a debriefing: the moment of truth.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about – we all passed with flying colours! Phew. So now we can conduct long swim surveys and really help to make a difference.

This afternoon, as a treat for all our hard work so far, we took the kayaks over to Secret Bay to go exploring. Wow. It’s such a beautiful spot – the classic image of Raja Ampat. Gorgeous turquoise water surrounding lots of small limestone karsts covered in lush green trees. There were some very strange squawks that weren’t coming from the parrots flying overhead. It sounded like something out of Jurassic Park. We tied up the kayaks and Beth led us up the hill to look out over the bay. Picture perfect. On the way back down, someone suggested we kayak back to the Hang Tuah rather than going back in the speedboat. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but something tells me there’ll be a few aching shoulders tomorrow – it’s further than it looks.

One of the other volunteers (who will rename nameless because I don’t want to embarrass them any more than they already are) forgot to put suntan lotion on this afternoon. Rookie error. Naturally we’ve all had a good laugh at his expense and the obligatory jokes about lobsters, tomatoes and anything else that’s bright red, were bandied about thick and fast over dinner. I’ve also been on the receiving end though – I got a bit over excited when I thought I saw a turtle at the surface… turns out it was actually just a coconut.


Exploring Secret Bay 

Amazing hard coral coverage...

This evening we’ve been comparing photos of the trip so far and also planning some activities to do with the school kids in Saukabu over the next couple of weeks. I think I’m most looking forward to the snorkeling trip – I just can’t get enough of the marine life here.

When I first thought about combining an overseas trip with volunteering I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s really exciting to think that I’m helping to protect this amazing place and doing my bit for marine conservation, as well as making a bunch of new friends along the way. I get to spend time in real Papuan villages, meet the local people and I don’t feel like a tourist. AND I’m diving in Raja Ampat every day! Awesome.

So you have a rough idea what one day can be like but what about the other two weeks. Expedition life is about adventure, challenge, adaptation and involvement. Life in Raja Ampat is exciting but not always predictable. We have a general schedule but we have to adapt every day to changing circumstances so this is what it looks like if everything works to plan

Day 1    Arrive in Sorong and be met by the team. Check into hotel and meet other volunteers
Day 2    Early transfer to our liveaboard dive boat Hang Tuah. Safety brief and introduction to Sea Sanctuaries
Day 3    Presentation on conservation diving. Check dive in morning. Fish identification briefing and fish ID dive in afternoon
Day 4    Fish sizing and ID dive in morning. Learn to lay transects & dive in afternoon. Fish ID
Day 5    Dive to find key indicator fish species in morning. Learning to lay transects and dive in afternoon.
Day 6    Visit local village. Involved in community development projects all day
Day 7    Work with Sea Sanctuaries ranger patrol. Climb Lookout Post in morning. Transect dive and climb Secret bay hill in afternoon
Day 8    Transect dive in morning & afternoon gathering conservation data adding to our overall map.
Day 9    Visit local village and jungle walk in morning. Transect dive in afternoon.
Days 10-13    These days will be spent conducting surveys.
Day 14    Departure to Sorong