Stories from the Field
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!