So finally it’s official: we are en route to a remote but beautiful island in Malaysia to help with coral reef maintenance. The beginning is a long and boring set of flights and less boring transportation to get there. The route is Oslo-Doha-Kuala Lumpur-Kota Bharu-Kuala Besut-Perhentian Islands. A couple of hours of great opportunity to think about the whole adventure: how did we start this?
First of all, started diving 2 years ago when finally realized that scuba diving will remain a childhood’s dream if I do not dedicate any time and money to actually get into and learn it. The opportunity showed itself when my friends invited me to visit Fuerteventura together. As I was there just a couple of months before thanks to my cousins, this time I could set some time aside for diving courses and experience the bubbling sound of my breathing. And the abyss pulled me in immediately.
I’ve met some great people there with lots of interesting stories and different backgrounds. Also probably due to diving being a slow-paced extreme sport, the people are even more listening, interested in hearing each others’ stories, being more observant of each other and the surrounding nature then many other places I went to. People have to work together in dive teams, life depends on that. The thought that while one is just a few meters away from the surface, everything reminds him to the fact the conditions for life only exist in a very narrow range: even a few meters deep physics are against you, your body behaves differently under the pressure and all the sea creatures are trying to kill you (well, they defend themselves). Facing this hostile environment makes one more humble and see his place in the environment.
Since then I had some chance to do diving around the Mediterranean and the Canary islands and observed how the nature evolves in different environments from volcanic lava bottoms to artificial shipwrecks. And also felt that human waste and exposure is really ruining them. Even if divers are educated to be nice guests and observers: you should never leave any thrash and on the way out collect whatever is possible to make leave the beaches cleaner than they were when going below.
But I always feel that going there to be part of a guided underwater safari is still way much less than a person could and should do to make the world cleaner.
One day in May, an opportunity came along.
It came in the form of one of my colleagues, Aaron. He asked me if I wanted to do some diving and work on a coral reef. He had found some programmes on goeco.org, organized by some local NGOs for research. He knew that I liked diving. Touched the right point!
This is an activity what I wanted to do since I started my diving “career”: do something useful while diving and efforts to understand how much can we do to help these basic environments. We are all dependent on them as the whole ecosystem of the globe is huge interconnected networks of dependent systems. If we ruin one, the effects will have a chain reaction of moving the system into different state (with or without mankind). The required work includes cleaning, re-planting the coral reef, surveying the different species living on site, also helping out to estimate the numbers of them. Including sharks which are always interesting to see as they’re the top of the food chain, being the early “canaries” of signaling problems in the ecosystem with their disappearance.
So we immediately jumped into understand the feasibility of the trip. Also managed to get one more colleague, Deniz, who is into doing this even if he’ll be new to diving.
Even better, our company, Cisco is officially supporting these activities by giving us 5 vacation days on top of the usual yearly vacations. It’s called time2give which is very well given naming. And a perfect motivation for people to do something good for their communities.
The location of the programme is a famous spot in Malaysia, famous for being a diving destination and being a bit remote: the Perhentian islands.
Honestly, this was the first time I heard of them but will also be the first time for me visiting the far east. This forced me into studying the maps in that part of the world to understand where do the borders lie between the different countries. And while I considered myself good in geography especially after being addicted to the history of the Pacific area in the second world war, I realized that I had (and still have) really superficial knowledge of the area. Well, back to drawing table…
So for the history I learned that these islands were used as stopover for shipping goods from the bay of Thailand. I’m curious to see if that has caused harm to the nature and whether it could recover from it.
Lots of thoughts but I think there was one very good question I got from a friend: will our activities compensate for the emissions of the trip?
The answer is definitely no. But at least, we do more good than a typical trip would do. And the whole program is set up with locals, staying in the villages, no luxuries at all. Also involving the local people, understanding their relation to the nature. The footprint is definitely set smaller than a typical tropical vacation and we will do actual work for 2 weeks on making things better.
But you shouldn’t feel sorry for us working in our spare time, we will be diving at a coral reef. Really looking forward to it.