Volunteer Blog

Early 2014 discounts...

Hi there...        Welcome to Sea Sanctuaries. 

You have landed here because you have selected to claim the offer on Facebook regarding our discounts at the start of 2014. So...    Heres how it works..

If you sign up for our two week volunteer program starting in JANUARY then you will recieve a huge 30% discount. This means that the volunteer fee is $1120. This includes you accommodation, your food and everything else whilst you are on board Hang Tuah, our research vessel. It doesn't include travel to Sorong (West Papua), park fees ($50) or diving equipment hire (available if necessary at $100 for the trip).  The trips available in January for this discount are 28th December - 13th of January 2014 and 13th January - 27th January 2014

If you sign up for our two week volunteer program starting in FEBRUARY then you will receive a massive 20% discount. This means that the volunteer fee is $1280. This includes you accommodation, your food and everything else whilst you are on board Hang Tuah, our research vessel. It doesn't include travel to Sorong, park fees ($50) or diving equipment hire (available if necessary at $100 for the trip).  The trips available in January for this discount are 1st February - 13th of February 2014 and 13th February - 27th February 2014

If you sign up for our two week volunteer program starting in MARCH then you will receive a wonderful 10% discount. This means that the volunteer fee is $1440. This includes you accommodation, your food and everything else whilst you are on board Hang Tuah, our research vessel. It doesn't include travel to Sorong, park fees ($50) or diving equipment hire (available if necessary at $100 for the trip).  The trips available in January for this discount are 2nd March - 15th of March 2014 and 15th March - 29th March 2014 

To claim any of these deals then please simply email us at expeditions@seasanctuaries.org or simply fill in the contact form in the 'contact us' tab at the top right of the page. 

Look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in paradise!!..

Steve Woods...  Sea Sanctuaries




This is an email from Lida Pet-Soede of WWF Indonesia. Please read it & if you agree sign the petition to help conserve the dwindling shark population of Indonesia. I don’t know about you but when I started to dive in Indonesian waters +20 years ago there were a lot more sharks so we need to do something about it now.

Dear colleagues

Together with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs – championed by Pak Toni Ruchimat, director KKJI, WWF Indonesia under the lead of its Marine Director Wawan Ridwan, launched a shark campaign last week.

The campaign objective is two-fold:

To stop selling of shark products in supermarket chains, restaurants and hotels. Through delivering 10,000 petitions from public on demand for sustainable seafood and on request for no selling of sharks and through promoting the WWF seafood guide to consumers.

To stop promotion of shark consumption in national TV stations. Through delivering 10,000 petition from public on demand for sustainable seafood and on request for no promotion of shark culinary on TV shows

Aside from collaboration with the Ministry many Indonesian celebrities and personalities support this campaign.

The report, An Overview of Shark Utilization in the Coral Triangle Region, examines the catch, trade, and management of sharks in waters of the six Coral Triangle countries, plus the neighbouring countries of Vietnam and Fiji and remains available viahttp://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/coraltriangle/publications/?206126/AN-OVERVIEW-OF-SHARK-UTILISATION-IN-THE-CORAL-TRIANGLE-REGION .

Campaign Background

As number one shark fishing country according to FAO, Indonesia contributes 15% of global sharks catch. In 2007, based on export statistics from MMAF, there are 800 tons of exported dried shark fins products worth USD 7,302,529. But this revenue falls short of providing a better livelihood for fisher groups. Shark fishermen remain mostly poor. And the shark fin production seems to decrease under a lack of shark fisheries management. In 2012 there were only 434 tons of dried shark fins products exported. Many scientists concluded that the decrease is caused by overfishing of sharks.

In many areas, the economic value of shark meat and products is less than could be earned from shark related ecotourism enterprise. In 2011, the Australian Institute of Marine Science conducted a study on Shark diving in Palau. The result is shocking: the shark diving in Palau was responsible for the generation of the annual tax revenue of US$1.5 million to the government and US$1.2 million per year in salaries to the local community. In a nut shell, it becomes increasingly clear that the short term economic benefit of shark fishing do not weigh up to long term benefits of a healthy balanced population that includes such apex predators.

This campaign is part of WWF Indonesia’s Sustainable Seafood Campaign, with specific target to reduce consumption of shark species.  As the largest archipelago country in the world, Indonesia should to take part in global movement of sharks conservation efforts. This campaign is held in Jakarta. It will make Jakarta a pioneer among big cities in Indonesia to support shark conservation through consumers’ perspective.

Jakarta will join other big cities such as:

  • California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois where possession, sale and trade of shark fins was prohibited.Ontario, Toronto also ban the possession, sale or consumption of shark fin products.
  • Mexico where shark finning is prohibited and also banned shark fishing several months each year.
  • Beijing (Chinese Government) which prohibit to serve shark fin soup in state banquet.
  • And Taiwan where shark finning in domestic fleets is prohibited.

Please sign the petition, we need more signatures so it would be great if you could motivate your colleagues and friends to do the same.


Many thanks! Lida Pet-Soede

WWF Coral Triangle Program leader. WWF Indonesia

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No Take Zones Marked Out

We have created signs demarcating the limits of the No Take Zone & positioned them around the edges of the conservation zone so that fishermen, divers & others know the exact limits of the No Take Zone which we have agreed with local village leaders, traditional leaders and local government. The GPS co-ordinates of the No take Zone are enshrined in our Marine Conservation Agreement which was signed by all on 11/11/11. I think you will agree that the signs clearly show everyone what is legal & what isn’t. Even though we have the signage up in the conservation area we still need 24/7 presence on our floating field station, community patrols and the soon to be finished Look Out Tower.

Volunteers 2013

Shiona & Will May 2013

Shiona & Will joined us on 1st May to take part in our volunteer programme. They have been working in Cambodia for the past year using their skills to help NGO’s perform better. They have thrown themselves into our project with enthusiasm. They started to learn coral and fish ID in the ‘classroom’ & the reefs of our Penemu No Take Zone. Then they ‘graduated’ to dive transects & map the area. Their community development skills have come to the fore in our projects on the island of Fam and we are waiting for their final report on how we can improve things. It’s been a pleasure working with you guys


Penemu Conservation Zone Look Out News

Our Penemu conservation area is the bull’s eye of marine biodiversity in not only the Coral Triangle but also on Earth. There is no other place beneath the waves with as many different species of fish, invertebrates and corals as the western Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat. If you don’t believe us check out the interview with Drs Erdmann & Allen who are the leading conservation scientists who undertook a scientific study in February 2013 on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9PGN6dpC3g

In order to protect this beautiful & important area we have community based ranger patrols & we are constructing a look out tower to monitor the area 24/7 for illegal fishermen. The look out tower is under construction (helped by the ever resourceful Max Ammer, Tertius & Sea Sanctuaries volunteers) and should be finished soon. The photo shows the view south from the look out & the boat is our floating ranger station KM Hang Tuah where the Sea Sanctuaries staff & community patrols reside when not on land. 

Welcome To Raja Ampat

Gillian explores the island of Fam with Simon, Julian & new volunteer Will

We’re pleased and excited to announce the arrival of two new members of the Sea Sanctuaries team.

Matt Baronio hails from Brazil and is a marine biologist with a wealth of experience in setting up and running marine conservation programmes. Matt says he is really looking forward to working with Sea Sanctuaries because the project is situated in the Bull’s Eye of the Coral Triangle. Matt will be responsible for managing our conservation, survey and patrol programmes.

Matt Baronio, Marine Biologist

Share this:Gill Peacock also joins us. She is a dive instructor from the UK & says she is used to the hardship of north Wales so is looking forward to the warmth and beauty of Raja Ampat. Gill will be managing our live aboard dive boat Hang Tuah & also our community programmes.

Reefs In The Wild: Raja Ampat

Renowned marine biologist & underwater photographer Dr Richard Smith recently spent time with us on our scientific survey of the Sea Sanctuaries conservation area. We featured the results of the survey, which was lead by eminent scientists Dr Gerry Allen & Dr Mark Erdmann, in our earlier blog.

Richard published an interesting article on his time in Raja Ampat in the online magazine Ultramarine and we have got permission from the publisher to republish this and you can read the article and see some great photos here but the website will prompt you to register before granting access.


Is It Important To Save This Fish?

New species of dottyback, photo courtesy of M Erdmann

This dottyback is a recent discovery to science & it was found by Dr Gerry Allen & Dr Mark Erdmann on the Sea Sanctuaries ‘Expedition & Conservation’ cruiseaboard Dewi Nusantara in early February 2013. If this fish could talk it would probably yelp out in horror ‘Yes – SAVE ME!’ but how important is it for us to protect all known existing species?

According to current counts there are 1.9 million species known to science, but this is a huge underestimate of the actual number of species not yet classified. According to some estimates there could be anywhere between 10 million and 30 million species of animals, plants, bacteria and other creatures. And these are still only a fraction of what has inhabited our planet since conditions have allowed life to thrive. So lots of species have evolved and then died out, leaving us the current cast. We have probably ‘lost’ 99% of creatures that have inhabited the Earth – that’s a big number.

So in the here-and-now (and assuming we won’t have a Jurassic Park style revival of those 99% of species lost) is it important to keep everything we have? Most commentators begin with a description of the complex web of life – the inter-connectedness of species and ecosystem. Then they move on to what they call ‘ecosystem services’ or – in layman’s terms – ‘what us humans get out of it’.
What does the dottyback do for us?

What ecosystem services apply to our friend the dottyback?
Well, it inhabits an area around 60m deep on the coral reef slopes of Batu Rufus, at the eastern edge of our Penemu No Take Zone. This marine community, the encompassing ecosystem and similar systems around the world, provide all sorts of services to us humans.

The first, which benefits us all, is the supply of food & water. More than a billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein. Fisheries and associated industries employ 38 million people directly, while another 162 million are indirectly supported. Other provisioning services include pharmaceutical compounds derived from marine algae and invertebrates.

Secondly, we have ‘regulatory’ services such as regulating climate, preventing natural disasters such as floods (mangroves protected areas from the 2004 tsunami) and disease. The marine environment also plays a key role in the carbon cycle where phytoplankton ‘fix’ atmospheric carbon in vast quantities, locking it up in the deep ocean. The list goes on and on but it’s clear that all of us, in one way or another, are dependent upon the riches of the ocean.

Can we dismember parts of the ecosystem and biodiversity without it affecting us?
Well, if 99% of species have already been wiped out then the answer must be ‘yes’ and we can still carry on without any consequences. But the problem that we face is not threats to small numbers of specific species over long periods of time; the threat we face is wholescale changes to the planets environment, whether from ocean acidification, climate change, over fishing, logging, desertification or a number of other ills.

Whole ecosystems are threatened and the loss of particular species within each ecosystem alters the delicate balance of life in a system already under huge stress.

Save Our Dottyback
So yes, it is important to save this little Dottyback – and  we need to conserve its habitat in Batu Rufus. But that’s still not enough – we need to conserve the wider ecosystem and tackle, head on, the larger perils we & our planet face.
Sea Sanctuaries mission is to establish large scale marine conservation areas in richly biodiverse, imperilled habitats. So far we have created, and manage, two large No Take Zones comprising more than 700 square kilometres of the Coral Triangle.

Join us and help conserve this special place and oh yes… Save Our Dottyback!


360 Degrees Of Marine Conservation

The Underwater Earth guys take their 360 camera for a spin around Batu Rufus. Photo: Angela Beer

We have been lucky enough to be paid a visit by the guys from Underwater Earth who are on a mission to reveal our oceans. They reckon that our oceans and their inhabitants are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and this has been one of the contributory facts to the damage caused to our seas by acidification, destructive fishing, over fishing, shark finning and all the other horrors perpetrated over the past few decades. We protect just 1% of our oceans compared with 14% of our land.

Their major project, the Catlin Seaview Survey, was announced at the Economist’s World Oceans Summit in February 2012 & is now well underway. They’ve completed their survey of the Great Barrier Reef which you can browse on
 underwaterearth.org and they are currently working on a survey of the Caribbean.Richard Vevers, CEO of Underwater Earth says “our oceans can’t afford to be out of sight any more. For the first time in history, we have the technology and means to reveal our oceans. And that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

Aaron, the only non-diver of the UWE team enjoyed his first ever dive with us

Richard and his crew joined us aboard the Hang Tuah recently (with about 500kg of hitch kit) and spent a week surveying the reefs, bays and islands of the Penemu No Take Zone. As you can see from some of the photos we all enjoyed their time with us. The take away was that they were overwhelmed by the biodiversity of the reefs of Penemu and they hope to be back for a full survey early next year.

New Species Found In SS No Take Zone

Dr Mark Erdmann logs his findings after a dive

We have just undertaken a scientific survey of the marine biodiversity of our two conservation zones in Raja Ampat. The survey was undertaken By Dr Gerry Allen, who is an internationally renowned authority on the classification and ecology of coral reef fishes of the Indian and Pacific Oceans & Dr Mark Erdmann who is head of Conservation International’s Bird’s Head programme.

Gerry & Mark hit the second highest fish species count ever reached on a single dive, with 357 fish species recorded giving further evidence that our conservation area is the biodiversity Bull’s Eye of the Coral Triangle. Their four day rapid assessment survey was conducted to provide important base-line data. During the expedition Gerry & Mark also discovered 2 fish species previously unknown to science one of which is a Dottyback (genus Pseudochromis; family Pseudochromidae) and the other is a Goby (genus Trimma; family Gobiidae), with a third new species to be confirmed.

Highlights from 4 day survey in the Sea Sanctuaries’ No Take Zone:

  • 357 fish species recorded on a single dive – second highest count ever
  • 2 new fish species discovered – third new species is pending confirmation
  • Average number of species per site: 281 (“exceptionally diverse” – Dr Mark Erdmann)
  • 3 sites recorded over 300 species
  • 707 fish species recorded within the 5,600 hectare No Take Zone surrounding the island of Penemu

Dr Gerry Allen said “The Penemu area is home to an incredible wealth of fish diversity, undoubtedly one of the richest areas for tropical marine diversity on the planet. Our total of 707 species, recorded in just a few days in such a relatively small area is absolutely exceptional.”

New species of dottyback, photo courtesy of M Erdmann

New species of goby, photo courtesy of M Erdmann

Simon Day, Co-Founder of Sea Sanctuaries Trust added “The NTZ area was targeted by Sea Sanctuaries Trust because some of the first scientific surveys in 2001 already showed exceptional biodiversity in Penemu. That we are still discovering new species and reaching record species counts highlight the importance of the Penemu area, and Raja Ampat in general, in the effort to preserve marine habitats that sadly remain under very real threat. Dr Allen & Dr Erdmann’s findings give Sea Sanctuaries, and the local communities in the Fam Islands, renewed optimism for the future of the area we have pledged to protect.”

You can see a short video of Gerry & Mark’s survey on YouTube



From A Great Height

Melissa’s Garden by day is full of life – at night the critters come out to play

Taking advantage of a clear night sky with a nearly-full moon, my dive buddy for the evening and I head out for a night dive. Melissa’s Garden – one of the most famous dive sites in Raja Ampat that also happens to be in our No Take Zone – is a shallow plateau in and around 3 small islands. As the speedboat approaches the largest island a handful of silhouettes silently take flight. ‘Bats’ notes my dive buddy, before shortly correcting himself – ‘Not bats – frigate birds’.

We watch as 10 silhouettes become 50, become more like a hundred. More and more birds rise up into the night sky from this tiny little island and we sit, mouths agape at the spectacle. Suddenly the patter of raindrops all around us breaks the silence. ‘Rain’ notes my dive buddy. So there we are, in the rain, eyes cast aloft when the grim realization dawns that it’s a clear night and the only thing between us and that nearly-full moon is a hundred and something frigate birds…  My dive buddy has to correct himself again: ‘Urgh, that’s not rain – it’s bird crap!’

So the moral to the story is this – if you’re not sure what’s overhead, it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut. Otherwise you may find yourself talking crap, in more ways than one.

Back soon with more pearls of wisdom from Raja Ampat,



Manta, An Anexpected Visitor

It’s another day in paradise and I’m working at my desk when Asong comes running in, gesturing wildly for me to follow him shouting ‘Quick, quick! Ikan besar!’ (- big fish!). So I grab my camera and run out onto the deck where all 7 boat crew are leaning over the side pointing at what, at first glance, looks like nothing but ocean. It doesn’t take a genius to know experienced boat crew aren’t going to wake up one morning and get excited at the realization that they’re surrounded by water. Sure enough, as my eyes adjust to the morning sun, I catch a glimpse of white and shadow just below the surface. As it gets closer the form takes shape and I realize that we’re being circled by a manta ray.

Our manta visitor

All eight of us stand, transfixed in awe, as our magnificent manta gracefully glides and turns through the water, coming up to feed and then disappearing again. Each time it returns there’s a collective sigh of relief that the magic isn’t over yet.

But then, as quickly as it appeared, the manta leaves and one by one we reluctantly go back to work – goofy smiles on our faces at the thought of our lucky encounter.

It’s another reminder of the wonder of Raja Ampat, the richest marine environment in the world and a place I’m fortunate enough, for now at least, to call home. Paradise indeed.

Wish you were here? Come & join us!




New Year, New Volunteers

Tanja & Fred on our last dive – come back soon!

We kicked off 2013 with Tanja Havemann & Fred Werneck, who joined us in Sorong on 31st January for a flying visit to Penemu before returning home to Zurich on 9th January. But here at Sea Sanctuaries we can get quite a lot done in a week, so we managed to cram lots into their short time on board.

Once they arrived on the Hang Tuah we got straight into the water for an afternoon dive and were immediately greeted by two hawksbill turtles and an eagle ray. A pretty good start! That evening we got stuck into fish identification studies and learning to identify the main families.

Over the next few days we conducted rover surveys of key species to start to build up a picture of some of the more regular sightings and prolific species in the area. We conducted Tanja & Fred’s PADI Adventure Drift Dive so they were able to develop their skills diving in current which is very handy in Raja Ampat.

Day 2 was tricky test time and Tanja and Fred spent the day identifying fish and practicing their skills. They picked it up amazingly fast so we completed their Project Aware Fish ID speciality and they’re now certified fish identifiers…

Turns out Fred has something of an eagle eye and managed to spot ghost pipefish, octopus and lots of juvenile filefish, but Tanja got her own back with the first wobbegong sighting.

Tanja puts her artistic talents to good use creating her slate for the rover surveys

Tanja & Fred both work in conservation, mainly from a financing and fundraising perspective, so they had lots of great ideas to support Sea Sanctuaries Trust marine conservation and the community projects on the island of Fam too.
We found time to visit the village of Saukabu, dropped in to say hello to Julian at the Sea Sanctuaries field station, and Fred & Tanja picked up a pair of traditional indonesian diving goggles as a souvenir.

Tanja & Fred model the traditional Indonesian goggles they bought in Saukabu

On our last day of diving we had a fun dive in Melissa’s Garden, a famous site in Raja Ampat that attracts many divers to Penemu, followed by a beautiful dive around Batu Rufus with plenty of black tip reef sharks to keep Fred happy (he got his first ever shark sighting in Penemu!)

Tanja & Fred – keep practicing your fish id back in Zurich in preparation for next time!
I was very sad to say goodbye after such a short visit. Tanja & Fred’s enthusiasm and energy definitely meant we got far more done in just one week than I’d expected.  I really hope they’ll come back again and help us as we embark on our base-line data surveys…

Fred does his best Jaws impression

Find more pictures from January 2013 in the gallery >


Our Pioneer Volunteers In December 2012

A visit to the look out post on Batu Rufus

I welcomed our very first marine conservation volunteers to Papua on 21st November 2012. Elfi McMicken and Lukas Vollmer (an aunt and nephew team from Germany) came on board the Hang Tuah in Sorong and didn’t waste anytime getting straight to work!

Lukas & Elfi got straight to work building our new dive benches

Next on the list was creating our fish fiddlesticks and Elfi & Lukas got creative, making fish of all shapes and sizes. The fiddlesticks will be put to use teaching future volunteers how to estimate fish lengths underwater so they can complete fish transects and gather base-line data about the marine life in our No Take Zone.Lukas, a qualified cabinet maker and carpenter, put his skills to great use and within a couple of days we had fantastic new dive benches on the aft deck to house our tanks and gear. Everyone chipped in, whether it was sanding down wood or keeping the workers plied with tea and cookies!

Santa brought us a blue ringed octopus on our Christmas Day dive!

Once we arrived at the mooring in Penemu our main focus was exploring the area and starting to build up a really good idea of the dive sites we have in the NTZ, mapping those sites and logging key sightings and activity.

In total, we logged a fantastic 39 dives during Elfi & Lukas’ stay! We were super excited by the diversity and volume of marine life we found in the area. It was really encouraging to see black tip reef sharks on almost every dive but we also spotted a huge range of creatures and critters.

Elfi & Lukas set off on the kayak to explore Secret Bay

Lukas was keen to continue his PADI training – so in between mapping sites and logging dives, we also completed his Advanced and Rescue certifications.Among the favourite sightings were two blue ringed octopus, a pygmy seahorse, an eagle ray, several hawksbill turtles, tassled wobbegong and a couple of big crocodilefish. We also got in a fantastic night dive which brought us a huge decorator crab, lots of shrimps, nudis and a cone shell.  Not a bad start to Lukas’ log book, considering he arrived in Papua a newly certified Open Water diver.

But the action wasn’t just below the water – our friends from Papua Diving, Tersius and Banbam, came on board to help start work on the foundations for our look out post on Batu Rufus and we went over to Batu Rufus to inventory the materials and climbed up to the site to check out the progress.

We also spent some time in Secret Bay – the jewel in Penemu’s crown. A beautiful bay dotted with small islands, it’s perfect to explore by kayak so, after a climb up to the ridge to take photos, we hit the water and eventually decided to kayak all the way back to the Hang Tuah. Next time, I’m going to make sure I’m not solo in the kayak – it’s further than it looks and Elfi & Lukas definitely had an advantage! There were some aching shoulders the next morning…

Elfi checks on our Christmas Dinner…

Sadly, Christmas was our last day on the boat and on 26th December, after a very busy 6 weeks, we headed back to Sorong and it was time for Elfi & Lukas to take their flights.That didn’t stop us from decking the boat up for Christmas though and we got festive with tinsel, decorations and Christmas lights. On Christmas Day we celebrated wtih two dives and lovely dinner of roast chicken with chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes and veggies, all washed own with a bottle of rum for our Christmas tipple!

So our pioneer volunteers got a real taste of Raja Ampat and were a massive help. Thanks to them we have fabulous new dive benches, fish fiddlesticks, a rain catcher, 18 dive sites on the map and some great memories!  It was a fantastic start our new marine conservation volunteer program. Thanks Elfi & Lukas – I hope you come back soon… we still have to find that elusive frogfish!

There are loads more pictures of our experiences in the gallery >