Stories from the Field
Biorock and Blue Whales
July 19, 2018
We started the day very early and headed over to the classroom where our dive instructor, Karen, spoke to us about the importance of the Biorock Project. She stressed the critical role that coral plays not only in the ocean sustaining the marine life, but also the way coral influences erosion of the coastlines and even tourism.
The efforts to conserve coral began fairly recently as an experiment— the pioneers unsure of the effectiveness of their plan. They developed a method using construction re-bar which serves as a platform that conducts electricity through pieces of coral to stimulate rapid growth.
We had the opportunity to do a snorkel and dive of the structures and view their progress in the shallow reefs just off the beach. We were also able to observe the varied marine life interacting with the coral structures. Next, we had the privilege of participating in a traditional Balinese Melukat Ceremony, meaning “Ritual of the Soul.” The ceremony is meant to be a powerful resetting of energies and a reconnection with natural energies, helping participants experience themselves in a clearer and purer way. Several offerings and prayers occur during this ceremony like sprinkling ourselves with holy water, washing our faces, and snorting coconut water.
Immediately following the ceremony, Asha gave her second talk, focusing primarily on the purpose of her work with Blue Whales. She discussed all of the threats to the Blue Whale population and some possible solutions. She also shared that the conservation of blue whales is important because they are “Ecosystem Engineers,” meaning that they are a vital functioning piece of the ecosystem.
We headed over to the bio-rock center and made our names out of the wire so they could be added to the bio-rock and eventually become part of the coral. The divers then went down and attached the wire names to the structures. In a year, we will receive a photo of our names on bio-rock to see how the coral has grown around them.
We then returned to the beach to conclude the day with a night snorkel where we observed the nightlife on the ocean floor and the much anticipated bioluminescent phytoplankton.
Exploring Marine Life at Menjangan!
July 19, 2018
Today was eventful! After a two hour bus ride, and a couple of fun detours—like a Buddhist temple—we arrived at the bungalows, our new accommodation for the next few days. After a quick lunch, accompanied by the local cats, we went to a nearby beach and body surfed through the waves. Asha de Vos, our trip expert, gave a presentation about what sparked her love for Marine Biology, afterwords.
We spent the rest of the day either on a boat or in the water and headed to Menjangan Island with Asha, Karen, and our guides from the Bali Dive Academy, to help us out.
Once we found a spot to anchor, we split up into diving and snorkeling groups. The sea life around us was beautiful and diverse, and included colorful coral, puffer fish, sea turtles, and lion fish. We all came out of the experience with a newfound appreciation for marine life.
Our First Activity with Peduli Alam
July 19, 2018
Today we learned a lot about the ever-increasing issue of waste management on the island of Bali. There are many local projects around the island working to tackle this problem, including our hosts, Peduli Alam and an organization called Trash to Treasure.
After some discussion and a video on how resource management for non-biodegradables is happening here in Tulamben and in the surrounding region, our group began working on our own bio bricks.
These bottles, stuffed with cleaned plastic waste, become building blocks for furniture and other agricultural uses. We all stuffed the bottles with the waste material to compact and reduce the volume of waste, while creating functional building materials.
We also started our On-Assignment workshops, so stay tuned for student work from the Photography and Marine Biology groups.
The Abundant Reef
July 17, 2018
Today, we gathered together by the pool, and in preparation for our travels to Menjangan Island, headed to the dive academy. On the way there, Keegan pointed out some of the crab burrows and educated us on the life of a crab.
In Bali, the learning never stops.
We then split into groups on three different boats and set out for Menjangan Island. Simone, our group leader, told us stories of past Nat Geo trips and the crazy adventures they had.
After the 45-minute boat ride, we were all quick to jump into the water; we swam along the reef’s edge and saw thorn starfish, nudibranchs, and cornet fish. It was probably the most abundant reef we’ve seen during this trip.
We adjourned along with the divers on the boat, and enjoyed our lunch. After, we took a group selfie with our dive leader, we all jumped back in for our second dive where we saw seahorses, sea turtles, and scorpion fish. This was our last dive/snorkel so we all tried to soak in as much as possible.
All in all today was one of the best days on the trip.
July 17, 2018
After riding through winding hills and narrow roads, we arrived at the canyoning shop where we learned the proper way to rappel and were all given our helmets and wetsuits.
To kickstart our trip, we drove up to a large hill and followed a path that took us to the river and canyon we were to be exploring. We slid, jumped, and rappelled down waterfalls; our highest jump was 11 meters and our highest rappel was 16. At the bottom of the hill were two hot springs and snacks—a traditional Indonesian brownie and a local brand of candy bars!
We headed back to Green Camp after our excursion and discussed our day until it was time for our nighttime safari—which the camp set up a local snake expert to lead. We used our flashlights to point out a bunch of snakes and lizards. The camp set up a local snake expert to come out and lead the safari.
We walked through the camp with our flashlights out and the expert pointed out many snakes and lizards.
First Official Day in Paradise!
July 17, 2018
Today was our first adventure of the expedition! This was almost everyone’s first full day in Bali, and the air was teeming with excitement as we rode to our destination by car and ferry. We were greeted at the dive center by a member of the Marine Megafauna Foundation who taught us all about the manta rays that call the waters around Lembongan, home. Each had their own unique underside pattern and name, and they are known to perform interesting underwater maneuvers. We all gathered our fins and snorkels, hopped on the boat and made our first venture out into the ocean.
A short boat ride later, and everyone was finally taking their first dive into the clear waters where the manta rays dwell. After many moments of anticipation, the majestic manta ray appeared. As we moved about the reef, there were several more encounters with these graceful animals; many curiously approached our boat to investigate.
Exhausted after an hour of diving, we stopped at the island of Nusa Penida for lunch, but it wasn’t long until the group was eager to continue snorkeling. We embarked to the nearby waters and swam along a cliff face. There, the current slowly guided us through scenes of magnificent beds of coral and schools of tropical fish. The final dive destination was truly extraordinary; a life-sized statue of a meditating Buddha, submerged twenty feet beneath the ocean. The entire location was filled with a mesmerizing aura of tranquility, but it was probably the most challenging part of the dive. Thinking back on that moment, it is very ample metaphor; moving from the surface to the depths requires overcoming the challenge of moving out of one’s comfort zone, but it can bring rewards that the statue of the Buddha represents: inner peace and happiness.
The group finished the day with a seafood dinner at a local restaurant and an orientation meeting on the beach before heading to bed, excited for the next day’s adventures.by student Indra
Cooking Class and Snorkeling Fun!
July 17, 2018
Today was a relaxing day in Pemuteran; we attended a Balinese cooking class and did some night snorkeling!
The cooking class took place at a local family-owned restaurant, just walking distance from the bungalows. We were taught how to cook bergedel jagung (fried corn fritters), sayur urab (mixed veggies with coconut), dadar gulung (pancakes filled with coconut and palm sugar), and many other delicious recipes. After the cooking class—where we earned Michelin stars—we split into our On Assignment groups.
The photography group partook in an activity to hone in on their basic skills and improve their eye, while the biology group measured the amount of crab holes on a strip of beach and extrapolated the data to make an estimate for the rest of the beach. Once we all finished with our On-Assignment activities, we went to the dive shop to do our night snorkel together.
We were able to see some amazing bioluminescent critters, nocturnal species of fish—such as lionfish and cuttlefish—and what seemed like the entire galaxy above us. Laying back in the water and gazing at the infinite stretch of stars above us, was an experience none of us will forget.
The next day, we left our Pemuteran palace and started our four hour journey to the Green Camp located in Ubud, and on the way we stopped to see a famous Hindu temple, Bedugul.
Once we arrived, we had orientation and learned how to make Gebogen, a traditional Balinese offering to the Hindu gods, and were blessed by a local priest. We then, took a tour of the Green School—made entirely from bamboo—and learned some history about the school.
We ended the night with dinner and sitting around the campfire playing games and roasting marshmallows.
July 16, 2018
Today was all about snorkeling, and in preparation for that, we were presented with a history of what Biorock is and does. We learned that the organization works to rebuild the coral reefs by creating underwater structures made out of rebar; these structures have electrical currents running through them to speed up coral growth.
After the presentation was over, we split into two different groups: snorkelers and divers. Both groups explored the BioRock structure, and met back up an hour later to discuss our findings. After lunch, we headed back to the beach to make our names out of metal wire that would later be placed onto the BioRock structures.
While the scuba divers attached our newly crafted names to the underwater structures, the snorkelers cleaned up a coral reef. Once the water activities for the day came to an end, we all headed out on a beach walk to the tip of the bay. From there, we watched the sunset and the photographers had an excellent opportunity to take photos. After this we had dinner and prepared for the presentation given by Asha, the National Geographic Expert.
Overall, today was a great day, filled with many different adventures!
Our Bali Adventure Continues
July 16, 2018
We continued the day with an informative talk by the manager of the Bali Diving Academy, Karen, who taught us the differences and characteristics of many of the local fish the hopes that we could identify them as we continue our snorkels and dives here in Pemuteran.
Then we had another chance to go diving and snorkeling, and with our new knowledge, we were able to look for and identify different species off fish.
After lunch, we had the chance to participate in a Balinese purification of the soul ceremony; a local priest blessed us with holy water from the two places we were diving.
Then we listened to the second talk by Asha, a renowned marine biologist and ocean educator who started her own company pioneering blue whale research and environmental conservation. She was also the first women in Sri Lanka to get her PhD in marine biology. She talked to us about some of the challenges whales face in the ocean and how our environment relies on all species and ecosystems to run smoothly.
We concluded the day with a fantastic dinner traditional Indonesian foods.
We Made it to Bali!
July 16, 2018
We began the day with an amazing Hong Kong breakfast and it was awesome to try foods we never had the opportunity to before; there was even a section of authentic halal, Japanese, and different types of Chinese food.
After breakfast, we gathered in the Hotel’s garden and played a trivia game—it really brought out our competitive sides and was a great way for our group to bond. We then watched a truly inspiring National Geographic Video which kickstarted a discussion about what each of us wanted to get out of this trip.
We all realized we had the same environmental interests: finding ways to help with plastic destroying the planet and coral bleaching and destroying the reefs.
We were all so excited to head to Bali, and once we arrived in Denpasar a few days later, we finally got to meet our group leader Sean and another one of our peers, Indra.
We were greeted with an authentic Indonesian dinner at our new hotel, The Grand Palace, and went over the itinerary for our next exciting day in Nusa Lembongan.
July 11, 2017
Today the group went surfing with the International Schools Surf Camp. After having a quick practice surf yesterday, the group was ready to hit the waves for some more serious surfing. Both the conservation and the photography students finalized their presentations this morning and were looking forward to spending our last afternoon in Bali on the beach.
Although a little overcast, we had a blast relaxing on the beach and getting the hang of surfing the whitewash of the beautiful black sand beach. Some people chose to play soccer or go on beach walks, while others chose to chill out and catch some rays.
The Biorock Project
July 6, 2017
The past two days we have been working with the Biorock Project on their solution to the dying coral reef habitats. The Biorock is a man-made structure that speeds up the growing process of coral polyps by sending electrical currents to the structure. This current sterilizes the structure and creates a safe and efficient environment for these polyps to grow. The organization, Biorock, has been placing these structures off the coast of Bali and they have asked us to help them the past couple of days. We have done everything from welding metal pieces to blessing this structure with a Hindu priest in the hopes that it will one day become a safe home for a coral reef. In the video below, we’re all holding our names before we weld them to the structure.
Turtles and Menjangen Island
July 6, 2017
On Sunday, June 2, the Nat Geo Student Expeditions group was able to partake in a bucket-list experience that was certainly a first for the majority of the students. We visited a turtle rehabilitation center in Pemuteran and released two eligible hawksbill sea turtles, Shelly and Flip Flop. It was an inspirational sight to see Shelly and then Flip Flop work their way through the warm sand and then joyfully let the cool ocean waves splash over their shells as they reached the water. It was a moment that none of the students will ever forget.
Later that evening, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. As the sun went down, the group left the Tirta Sari Bungalow Resort and headed down to the beach. There we equipped ourselves with snorkeling gear and fearlessly stepped into the cool, dark waters; awaiting the unknown with butterflies in our stomachs. Beginning our excursion of night snorkeling with bioluminescence, we felt what can be described as the closest thing to magic with blue sea stars, colorful fish, and coral reefs most foreign to us, making it an unforgettable experience. Although some sea creatures, such as sea urchins and eels, were scary to most, we soon learned that under the water was not such a scary place at all. With the moon and the stars as well as our trusty flashlights guiding us through the salty sea, we found our way back to shore after an hour or so of our divine dip, laughing and smiling together in awe of the surreal experience.
The next day was truly magical. We started the day off with a delicious breakfast at the Tirta Sari Resort and soon after went to the Bali Dive Academy. The students gathered their equipment and hopped in a couple of vans to a busy dock filled with moving vehicles and a load of small, wooden dive boats. The group split up onto different boats and drove away from the shore’s commotion. We headed toward Java, a mountainous island off the coast of Bali. The terrain had multiple volcanoes covered in beautiful clouds.
We ultimately went to Menjangen, a different island near Bali. First the group snorkeled and dove at Eel Garden, which consisted of a wall of coral and different marine creatures that were easily visible through the crystal-clear water. After a tasty lunch, singing, dancing, and sunning on the boat, the group took a short boat ride to Shark Tip, where divers even saw a black tip reef shark in the deep blue. The snorkelers saw hundreds of vibrant fish among the many different corals. The group was even able to spot the crown of thorns sea star, which competes with coral for resources. Since the population of the sea star has been increasing, many different species of coral are becoming endangered. After another boat ride back to shore, the students returned to the resort. Overall, the past two days were very special and an experience that we all will never forget.
Jumping in the Deep End
July 3, 2017
Today we all woke up in Tulamben, on the northern coast of Bali. With the company of geckos and the ambiance of American and Indonesian pop music, we all ate our breakfasts, which varied from pineapple and banana pancakes to traditional Balinese dishes: black rice pudding and Nasi goreng, which is an egg on top of a bed of fried rice or noodles.
After some yoga, socialization, and morning adventure, the group gathered in the poolside pavilion for group stretching, and met Matt, Anna, and Dan, who are instructors with Apneista, a free diving and yoga center here in Tulamben. We tried on snorkel gear and prepared for the exciting day of free diving.
We split into groups and learned about the theory of free diving, learning that anxiety in the water can be regulated by acknowledging the mind and body connection. We practiced equalization, breath control, and the concept of relaxation. In addition, we learned basic facts about snorkeling and free diving, including how the body physically reacts under water pressure, how to expand lung capacity while free diving, and the dangers of hyperventilation, which had previously been believed to help divers to stay under the surface for longer. It turns out that we have an innate reaction to being underwater that is shared between mammals; our bodies know how to conserve oxygen underwater!
After our first lesson, we took a lunch break with curry, noodles, tuna skewers, and Indonesian fruits that we couldn’t name but we all liked. We all enjoyed our juices through our reusable stainless-steel metal straws.
After lunch, we finished up our courses and learned more about free diving to get us prepared for the water.
Next, we geared up and headed into the ocean for our first free dives. Alongside the diving instructors, we practiced equalizing our ears as we dove down, went upside down, and eventually duck dived to the depths below. There were buoys set up with ropes attached from which we dived down. Many people reached quite far down along the rope and were also successful with duck dives.
After a quick break, we returned to snorkel along the USS Liberty shipwreck. It was very interesting and exciting to experience the marine life firsthand, swimming alongside and right above fish we recognized from Disney’s movie, Finding Nemo, and various aquariums. Some of us duck dove through parts of the ship, being guided by the instructors while some of us rested on the surface and admired the wildlife. Once we snapped some underwater photos with the National Geographic Society Flag, we headed to shore.
We returned to our bungalows, showered, and got ready for another delicious Balinese meal. After an active day, we gathered and learned more about our group leaders as well as discussing the highs and lows of the day. It was yet another great day in Bali.
We woke up early the next morning, yet again stunned to be staying in such a beautiful paradise. A full breakfast of Balinese black-rice-pudding later, we packed our bags and settled into the bus with my already close Nat Geo friends. The sun shone brightly to greet us as we mounted the bus and set off on our road trip from Tulamben across the island.
Even though it was hard to leave Liberty Dive Resort, we were all excited for the new adventures Pemuteran had for us. The bustling towns and shimmering landscapes along the way had each and every one of us breathless—we had never experienced such an awe-inspiring island. A couple of hours and some rumbling stomachs into the ride, we decided to stop at a resort near the beach for a pleasant and delicious Indonesian buffet.
We stopped again, shortly after lunch, to visit a Hindu temple. Troops of monkeys climbed sacred sight while we stepped inside the temple walls to admire the fascinating ancient architecture. We observed the ceremony before a Balinese Hindu swami invited us to join in prayer. We were blessed with rice on our foreheads and holy water, and here we had a taste of the richness of Balinese religious culture. While I doubt many of us have had this experience, it was amazing to be included in such a sacred meeting.
Then we arrived at the Tirtasari Bungalows and mingled with our new roommates. I can’t remember the last time I smiled as much as I have today—we’re all bonding so quickly and it’s so much fun to be able to have new and exhilarating experiences every day. At first it was strange to be away from the residences that we arrived at first and to eat in an unfamiliar place, but now we really feel like explorers; we’re on the move and immersing ourselves in the Balinese culture more and more every day.
Volcanoes, Trash, and Tempeh
June 27, 2017
After a long trip from all corners of the globe, we arrived in the small town of Tulamben on the northeast coast of Bali. It was dark by the time we arrived from the capital, Denpasar, so we weren’t able to see our surroundings until the next morning. What we did know, based on the breeze, the smells, and the snorkel gear, was that we were very near the ocean.
After digging into a scrumptious dinner and yummy fresh fruit drinks, we drifted off to sleep in our comfy rooms.
Morning brought sunshine, an ocean breeze, and the clouded peak of Mount Agung, Bali’s tallest point and largest volcano. At 3,031 meters tall, Agung dominates the small Indonesian Island and provides a stunning backdrop to the lush tropical vegetation. When the clouds parted by lunchtime and we had a break from our orientation meeting, we had a glimpse of the rock peak directly from poolside.
Two representatives from local NGOs joined us to present their hard work. Trash Hero and Peduli Alam have been working to deal with the growing problem of garbage and plastic in Bali. With no developed central waste collection and disposal system on the island, most of the garbage ends up in the countryside, in the ocean, or being burned. This presents a massive problem for an island where 80% of residents rely on income from tourism. Around five million people visit Bali every year, with the average tourist using two recyclable plastic bottles every day—in a place where recycling facilities are almost nonexistent. We’ve already done our part by being gifted reusable straws (made of stainless steel) by our trip leaders and making an effort to not use any plastic bottles by refilling our own water bottles. Also, we spent a few hours on a beach cleanup in front of our hotel in Tulamben and managed to collect 13 bags of trash, along with a huge mass of lines and nets. An impressive feat for a short time, but it did show us that we can make a difference in tackling such a massive problem.
With a busy day already behind us, we settled in for some more Balinese food including some vegetarian options. Tempeh is a local specialty made from soybeans that are sometimes fried or cooked in yummy sauce. This cripsy version of tofu is totally awesome with fresh pineapple, papaya or orange juice then some rice, and chicken satay with peanut sauce, and you’ve got yourself a perfect end to an amazing day in Bali. We can hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Coconut Tree Climbing, Campfires and Canyoning at Green Camp
July 15, 2016
As soon as we arrived at Green Camp, we jumped straight into amazing things, like making traditional Balinese offerings, climbing a coconut tree, and relaxing around a cozy campfire with guitars, drums, and lots of singing all around!
The next day started with a workshop with our new friend Clara who taught us all about meditation, chakras, and communication with animals! We took a tour of the Green School, learned how to compost, and planted tomatoes. Then we ventured out in the rain to trek through the rice paddies and stuck our feet in the mud to plant rice.
And yes, it gets better! We were surprised with an opportunity to go to a Bollywood dance workshop where we all danced for hours, cooled off with some fresh juices and milkshakes in an adorable cafe, and saw the city of Ubud at night!
The following day, we went into the town of Ubud to walk around the local market, pick up some gifts and treats, and work on a photography scavenger hunt. After finding many cute dogs, outrageous hippies, and sustainable souvenirs, we headed back into Green Camp to learn about a traditional Balinese martial arts dance, and then put our new skills to use in the Green Camp mud pit!
We ended the day with a night safari in which we saw spiders, a vine snake, and many other nocturnal creatures. On our last morning, we had an early wake up call and headed north to go canyoning at the GitGit waterfall. We spent the majority of our day climbing through the canyon and rappelling through waterfalls. When we returned we got to experience a workshop on traditional Balinese drumming techniques and learned a few songs. The night ended with some work on finishing up our On Assignment projects and tomorrow we head to Medewi for surfing!
Post by students Eloise & Ansley.
Ocean Adventure in Pemuteran
July 11, 2016
Our group just arrived in Ubud, but the past few days in Pemuteran were unforgettable!
Upon arriving in Pemuteran, we met our Nat Geo expert, Tierney Thys! On our first full day, we went out into the bay to snorkel and dive near BioRock structures that local conservationists have installed to help support new coral growth. After our excursion we learned how to weld our own BioRock structure and crafted our names out of metal wire to attach onto the structure. That evening we learned about biological phyla during our first presentation from Tierney. Boy did we learn a lot!
We spent our second day at Menjangan Island, one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in the world. In between diving and snorkeling we enjoyed jumping off the boat into the clear blue water. As if the day couldn’t improve, we were invited to a Balinese wedding that evening and were able to see traditional Kris dancing.
The next morning we went for a snorkel and dive at Close Encounters where we saw sea turtles swimming in the wild. Fittingly, our next stop was a visit to a turtle hatchery, where we were able to meet and chat with the founder and learn about how he was able to introduce a sustainable program to save the area’s turtles from egg poaching. That afternoon we held a beach clean-up, worked on our On Assignment projects, and learned about the Mola fish, which Tierney has been researching for the past ten years. The evening capped off a perfect day with a night snorkel where we were able to see bioluminescence and gaze at the stars while floating in the calm ocean.
Our last full day, we began our morning by releasing one of the rescued turtles back into the ocean! We named her Virginia. We then met up with Reef Check, an international organization dedicated to collecting data and monitoring coral reefs worldwide. Sadly we learned that Bali and the world’s other major reef systems are suffering terribly from coral bleaching and human impact.
Our last night in Pemuteran, we experienced the most memorable event: a traditional dance performance and concert put on by local dancers and musicians from the local orphanage!
By students Ben and Dylan.
The Challenges of Being a Coral
June 30, 2016
We’ve arrived in Pemuteran and on our first day enjoyed a beautiful sunset!
One thing we’ve learned since arriving in Pemuteran is that it’s pretty hard to be a coral nowadays. In recent years, there has been a lot of damage to the reef in Pemuteran because of unsustainable fishing and invasions of crown-of-thorns starfish and sea snails. On our dive and snorkel, we saw the effects of global warming and an El Niño year—lots of coral bleaching. Interestingly, certain corals, or even parts of corals, are more susceptible than others.
Coral bleaching occurs when waters are warmer than usual. Coral is in a symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic algae, Zooxanthellae, which gives coral its color and provides it with food. In turn, the algae is given protection by living inside the coral. When the coral is stressed, it expels the algae and if the water continues to be warm the coral will eventually starve to death. Luckily, these factors are being combated with a conservation effort called Biorock, which began in 2000. Biorock provides coral nurseries for the reef, which consist of metal structures attached to 12 volt cables. This creates a chemical reaction that causes mineral structures to settle on the metal, and creates a base for coral. Baby corals are then attached to the structure. We had the opportunity to see the structures on our dive and snorkel, and the biodiversity of all the colorful corals.
Biorock has an “adopt a coral” program which encourages people to donate money and sponsor a baby coral, which they then get to see grow and become part of a bigger reef structure on the Biorock. We are planning on adopting corals, and placing a biorock structure later in the week, so today we shaped our names out of metal so we can later identify our corals.
By students Elizabeth and Maddy.
Sam Plans a Gap Year Following his Bali Expedition
April 11, 2016
What drew you to that particular NGSE trip?
I was drawn to the Bali expedition because I have always been interested in marine biology and marine conservation. The ocean is essential to our existence and its crucial that we understand the issues that are compromising the health of the sea.
Protecting Coral Reefs and Sea Turtles in Bali
July 8, 2015
We’ve had a couple of very special days here in Pemuteran. During a full day of diving and snorkeling, we visited the BioRock Reef Project. While exploring the developing reefs, the divers had a rare sighting of a sea turtle and the snorkelers saw a squid!