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Motorbikes, Mola Mola and Mantas

One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Bali is the motorbikes. Like giant metal insects, they are nimble, speedy, deadly, and they buzz through narrow streets. They see no lines or lights in the road. Is there a car stopped in front of you? Who cares! Can you weave your motorbike between two moving cars? No doubt!

I didn’t have the street smarts to ride one. Just looking at them made my bones feel hollow as a delicate bird, my skull soft as a ripe melon. But after exploring Bali on foot, and by car, the moment of truth arrived. It happened where I least expected it on a little island off the Balinese coast. And I didn’t join a pack of rugged Indonesian bikers- I simply clutched to the back of a marine scientist.

You see, I left The Nature Conservancy’s Seattle office to spend a month working with the Coral Triangle Center (CTC). In Washington, I write about salmon, coastal forests, sagelands and Puget Sound. Now I'm in Bali, helping this small nonprofit start a membership program. This place is literally on the other side of the planet, but the “Nature Conservancy is awesome” feeling is exactly the same.

Check out a slideshow of my trip to CTC’s learning site at Nusa Penida.

A Shared History and Lasting Partnership

The Coral Triangle Center is just one example of what the Conservancy does best. Around the globe, we build local capacity so conservation happens from within. The Conservancy’s Indonesia program protects marine habitats and lush forests (Orangutans! Komodo dragons! Tarsiers! If you don’t know what a tarsier looks like, look it up immediately).

The Conservancy launched CTC back in 2000 as a hub for the development and exchange of marine knowledge. In 2011, CTC became an independent foundation in Indonesia. The Coral Triangle provides for millions of people and contains 75 percent of all known coral species. Yes, 75 percent! I’m not a scientist, but I saw corals that resembled: a.) the brain b.) a fruit basket c.) the antlers of a mythical elk d.) a mermaid e.) hands waving at me. It’s no joke—just look at some of these!

But, corals are in trouble. Overfishing, blast fishing, pollution and climate change are killing the reefs. That means fish, fisheries and millions of people are in trouble too. And this is why CTC’s work is so very important.

CTC is all about training and learning—scientists help design Marine Protected Areas and build local leadership for lasting marine conservation. This helps ensure reefs in the Coral Triangle survive.

What is a Marine Protected Area?

What is an MPA, you ask? An MPA is coastal or ocean water that is recognized by the government and communities as having specific conservation value. All stakeholders--government officials, partner organizations, park managers, communities--work together to plan how to best protect their waters and get other big-time benefits. Win-win!

In 12 years, CTC has trained more than 2,500 people on elements of MPAs. CTC uses its nearby Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area training site to deliver customized, hands-on instruction in marine monitoring and care.

A Day at the Penida Islands

So, back to my moment of truth. I’m on Nusa Penida, land of pristine beaches, colorful corals and…motorbikes. It’s also home to the gigantic mola mola fish, manta rays, sea turtles and tropical fish. Nusa Penida was established as an MPA in 2010 and 16 villages here depend on tourism (fabulous diving and surfing), and also seaweed farming and fishing for survival. The MPA here is working. It’s a real-life success story.

I was given the chance to see it all for myself. So I clung to the back of my colleague and off we swerved. And let me just say- I loved that motorbike!

That trusty bike zipped me across the island to see the seaweed business in action. Women laid out enormous batches of seaweed to dry and gathered armfuls into baskets, tying seaweed offshoots to ropes laid in the water for new seedlings. I was rowed through the tranquil, clear waters of a mangrove forest, where 13 mangrove species flourish under the protection of a local village. Mangroves act as shields to protect reefs and also attract tourists and provide more jobs. I planted my very own mangrove seed (see the slideshow!) and snorkeled around the most diverse and beautiful corals in the world.

Then the motorbike scooted me to the CTC Lembongan Community Center, where marine trainings take place. I met local fishermen who work with CTC to plant coral fragments on underwater concrete blocks, so small corals can have a chance to grow.

I want to live in a world where these corals thrive, where the gigantic mola mola makes its annual pilgrimage to shallow waters, where sea turtles bob and people farm seaweed and catch fish. CTC is making that world a possibility for future generations.

Even though the Conservancy’s work in Indonesia is happening on the other side of the world, I see the same kind of success back in Washington. The Conservancy’s science-based, partnership-inspired approach changes people’s lives. And we have marvelous partners in the Coral Triangle like CTC, sprung from our commitment to conservation. This is what your support makes possible.

You can help coral reefs and the many creatures they shelter. There are so many ways to contribute. Sometimes you have to use your voice or put your money where your mouth is. Or maybe I should say: sometimes you just have to get on that bike and go. This is the chance. Won’t you join me?

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