Changing Planet

Out of the Blue

Shortly after sunrise on April 2nd we successfully navigated Mir back to her mooring in Banyuwedang Bay in northwestern Bali after over three months at sea — a three months that brought us clear across the Indonesian archipelago and back, covering over 2,500 nautical miles along the way, all in the name of adventure and conservation.

Calm day on the Banda Sea. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation

Did That Really Happen?

The crew aboard Mir made it safely back to Bali, and our long-anticipated voyage to Raja Ampat has sadly come to an end. As can happen with any slice of time, this adventure is already beginning to take on a dreamlike quality in my mind — did that really happen? Was I truly just traveling through the most biologically-diverse marine ecosystem on the planet on a 108-year-old ship? The surest way for me to verify that it wasn’t all just a dream is by closing my eyes and reliving some of the moments from these past three months, knowing full well that my imagination could never have conjured these otherworldly visions on its own — visions of looking up from eighty feet below the water at thousands upon thousands of fish circling above me in such perfect unison they appeared to be one single, gargantuan, cyclone-shaped, super-organism. Visions of standing on the bow as we slowly approached a remote island at sunrise and expecting to see pterodactyls swooping off the turrets of stone as the land came into focus to reveal steep, jagged cliff faces speckled with broad-leafed plants overflowing out of any little spot that could hold a cup of soil. Visions of being on watch late at night and looking over the side of the ship at long ribbons of bioluminescence streaming and twisting away from Mir’s hull as she cut through the otherwise pitch-black waters. And one especially wild vision of diving in a tidal “river” between two islands where the current was so strong that when everyone else grabbed ahold of a boulder to stop themselves, and I missed it, I had to dig my hands into the sandy bottom where I was dragged away from the rest of the team while “gusts” of water threatened to tear my mask from my face and it felt like I was on a gravity-free planet about to get blown into outer space, never to be heard from again. But of all the things we saw in Raja Ampat, the most spectacular was what we went there to see in the first place: the vast trove of healthy coral reefs, all of which hosted a chaotic profusion of sea life on and around them.

Fish tornado. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation

Voyage Back to Bali

We left our final anchorage in Raja Ampat on March 10th to begin our long voyage back across those big blue spots you may have seen on maps of Indonesia. Although we were sad to leave a place we had come to love so much, our adventure in no way diminished once we did; on one of our first nights underway between Raja Ampat and Sulawesi, an electrical storm came so close to the ship that the thunder was already clapping while the lightning was still spiderwebbing pink and welding torch-white across the skies beside us, causing us to throw our hands up to our ears. The four of us who were up at the time all thought the power had gone out on the ship before realizing we had each been momentarily blinded by the flash.

We saw many of these eerie, floating fish attractors in the seas around Sulawesi. Our presumption is that these scarecrow-like paddle people have a double purpose: 1) to keep birds from landing on them so fish aren’t dissuaded from gathering below, and 2) to make them easier for the fisherman to relocate. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation

After spending a few days diving in Wakatobi National Park off the southeastern coast of Sulawesi, we continued on to the small island of Moyo, where the Biosphere Foundation has an ongoing “Friends of Moyo” project. There, we were reunited with our hero, Sutama, and his wonderful and hilarious wife, Wayan, who flew in to meet us from Bali. We spent a week in Moyo transplanting broken corals, and adding many small moorings to the beautiful reefs off the coast of the island. Sutama led us in these efforts, while also training the local dive leaders of Moyo who are eager to carry on the critical work of protecting their reefs from anchor damage, destructive fishing practices, and pollution.

From left to right: Sutama, Dolphin, Wayan, and Nadia. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere Foundation
Sutama and Wayan Chandra transplanting corals near Moyo Island. Photo by Kitty Currier, Biosphere Foundation
Laser and Sutama tying a mooring buoy line to the rocky substrate. Photo by Nadia Low, Biosphere Foundation
Sutama certifying local Moyo divers: Chandra, Herwin, and Arif as Biosphere Foundation Coral Reef Stewards. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere Foundation.
Gorgeous waterfall on Moyo Island  it felt incredible to swim in fresh water after months of salt. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation

While in Moyo, we also visited a local school where we met with nearly 150 students, teaching them about the detriments of plastic pollution and the importance of healthy coral reefs. We sang and danced with them, and performed the same skit that we put on in Mansuar, where once again I played a sea turtle who nearly chokes to death on a plastic bag that I mistake for a jellyfish. In Bahasa Indonesia, jellyfish is “ubur ubur,” and apparently my pronunciation of the word is so hilarious that now every time I see one of my Indonesian friends, they yell: “ubur ubur!” in a drawn-out and exaggerated accent and then burst into laughter. Just now a boat filled with Balinese dive leaders spotted me where I’m typing this and all shouted “ubur ubur!” in unison and then nearly fell overboard with delight.

Schoolchildren of Labuhan Aji village on Moyo Island, Indonesia. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere Foundation

On the Horizon

We’re living at a critical moment not only for humanity, but for all life on Planet Earth — a moment when many say it’s already too late to steer us off our current crash course with environmental destruction. Coral reefs are a strong indicator of overall ocean health, and alarmingly, they are projected to be nearly gone in the next thirty years if ocean temperatures continue to rise at current trends. After seeing the spectacular underwater ecosystems of Raja Ampat, those of us aboard Mir are more motivated than ever to not sit idly by as our elegant biosphere slowly fades out, and whether it’s too late to change our species’ destructive course or not, the truth of the matter is that these reefs still exist today, and that means there’s still hope. If we lose our reefs for good, there’s no getting them back, so now is the time to act; our grandchildren won’t be given the same opportunity if we do nothing.

Mir crew, 2018. Photo by Woody Heffern, Biosphere Foundation

Though our expedition to Raja Ampat is now behind us, the work of the Biosphere Foundation is only gaining momentum; as of this week, Sutama officially became the head of our NW Bali Marine Stewardship Program where he will continue to develop programs to educate local people — including officials from the local Nature Parks, and Indonesia’s National Parks — in simple, yet effective, methods to protect their oceans. Also on the horizon is the Biosphere Foundation’s new educational center that will soon be built in northwest Bali where both local and international students can participate in our land and sea environmental stewardship programs. We hope you’ll join us.

To learn more about the Biosphere Foundation, visit our webpage at: www.biospherefoundation.org

S/V Mir. Photo by Nadia Low (and her drone), Biosphere Foundation

 

 

 

Sam Keck Scott is a freelance writer of both fiction and nonfiction. His work has has appeared in Harpur Palate, The New Guard Literary Review, The Earth First! Journal, and Nautique Magazine. In addition to writing, Sam is a terrestrial and marine biologist, a conservationist, and an avid adventurer. When not living out of his truck or a hotel room for work — or exploring some far-flung land or sea — Sam lives in an airstream trailer tucked between two dilapidated chicken coops in rural Sonoma County, in Northern California. Last winter (in the northern hemisphere) Sam was working for the Biosphere Foundation as a mate on their 108-year-old sailboat, Mir, which they sailed from Bali to Raja Ampat and back, setting up small-scale coral restoration projects along the way. Follow Sam's adventures here, and you can find both the Biosphere Foundation and Sam on Instagram at @biospherefdn and @samkeckscott, and on Twitter at @biospherefdn and @samkeckscott
  • Peter Oppenheimer

    Wow, Sam. What an adventure. Thanks so much for sharing. Wonderful writing. Mind-blowing photos. Meaningful action. Carry on.

  • Chloe Scott

    What an amazing and inspiring journey, thank you for sharing it with us – fantastic writing.

  • Brandon Breen

    Awesome post, and spectacular journey – Thanks for sharing the words and photos!

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