Changing Planet

West Papua’s Unbroken Waves and Untested Waters

By John Seaton Callahan, ASC Microplastics Adventurer

Papua Province on the island of New Guinea is a wild and remote area. Poor infrastructure and the simmering conflict between native Papuan and the Indonesian government have restricted development.

While exploring the coastline, our surfEXPLORE team met a cross-section of local residents, including tribal people with little involvement with or concern for 21st-century tech or culture, betel-nut-chewing indigenous Papuan people who have lived in this area continuously for roughly 30,000 years, and quite a few transmigrasi—ethnic Malay Asian Indonesians who’ve received government assistance to leave crowded areas like Java and Bali and resettle in Papua.

What we did not see was a single Caucasian foreigner (other than ourselves) in three weeks on the coast.

SurfEXPLORE is a multi-national group who travel to some of the world’s more remote and exotic locations seeking undiscovered surfing waves, and teaming up with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) to contribute to environmental research along the way. Our core team is French surfer Erwan Simon, British longboard champion Sam Bleakley, Italian surfer Emiliano Cataldi, and me, American photographer John Seaton Callahan. This was our fifth project in Pacific Indonesia, and it remains one of our favorite places to travel, explore, and surf.

When we contacted the Tourism Official in Sarmi, a large town on the coast known as “Kota Ombak,” or “City of Waves” in Bahasa, the woman there said they recorded 24 foreign visitors in all of 2014.

We had researched the coastline for several months prior, and we found that some of our marked areas did have good waves, some did not, and we found several waves in unexpected places!

And as we have at each stop on our journeys, we made scientific use out of our presence here, collecting water samples for the team at ASC Microplastics to analyze and add to their database of microplastic content throughout the world’s waters.

Learn more about ASC on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+

Read More by Gregg Treinish and His Correspondents

Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow. Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004.

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