June 26, 2024

A Volunteer’s Perspective: A Deep Dive into Marine Conservation with Reef Check Italia

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island

Submitted by Jia Cashon

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island, North Sulawesi, Indonesia is a must for divers interested in beginning their journey in scientific diving and coral monitoring. This course, set in a stunning location with some of the best diving I have ever experienced, teaches some of the most commonly used scuba monitoring techniques worldwide. We learned how to assess benthic invertebrates, fish populations, and conduct CoralWatch bleaching surveys. Additionally, we were taught how to interpret data and identify trends over the years.

Before the Course

If you can arrive in Manado early, there are a variety of activities you can enjoy. On land, many visitors explore Tangkoko National Park, which is renowned for its rich biodiversity and opportunities to see unique wildlife such as tarsiers, crested black macaques, and various endemic bird species. For underwater adventures, Bunaken Island offers a marine protected area with numerous beautiful dive sites. Located in the Indo-Pacific region, Bunaken boasts the highest marine biodiversity on earth, featuring vibrant coral reefs, an abundance of fish species, and the chance to see megafauna such as turtles and reef sharks.

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island

What to Expect

For beginner divers, the best preparation for this course is to practice buoyancy. I cannot stress this enough: to handle surveys and maintain the workload they require, you need to have perfect buoyancy. The reefs in North Sulawesi are teeming with life, and there are many delicate corals that protrude from the benthos. Fins should never touch the bottom so as to not break the corals. Some dives may be wall dives, but expect most to have the reef on the bottom. Familiarity with your dive computer is highly recommended. If the current is strong or if you happen to be separated from the group, you should be comfortable enough to make a safety stop and surface with an SMB on your own. Expect to have your hands always occupied and to work with the current as well.

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island

Record Your Memories!

Plan on bringing a camera, as identifying reef species can be overwhelming. Photographing organisms that you are curious about, or if you need to know them for the course, is the best way to identify and understand what you’re looking at. It also provides you with a record of what you saw. I brought an Olympus TG-6 and found it a great camera for underwater photography while traveling since it is small and compact. This camera takes excellent macro shots and has a built-in flash to color adjust for smaller organisms. Many people also brought GoPros for video footage as well.

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island

What We Spotted

We saw an incredible array of marine life, but overall, the highlights were the smaller organisms. Among the most memorable were the vibrant nudibranchs, a personal favorite of mine, as well as tiny shrimp and seahorse species, cuttlefish, peacock mantis shrimp, blue-ringed octopus, and frogfish. These encounters provided excellent opportunities for honing our photography skills as well as making every dive memorable and exciting. Each dive brought new discoveries which made the experience both educational and thrilling.

End Remarks

Reef Check Italia’s expedition to Bangka Island

Whether you’re interested in scientific diving or an experienced diver, this program will enhance your diving skills and understanding of marine conservation. The diving in the Coral Triangle is also unparalleled to anywhere else on this planet. Participating in the Reef Check Italia course is not just about a dive holiday, but a commitment to protecting our ocean’s coral reefs through the knowledge of scientific diving- something I hope you may one day get to experience.

Stay tuned to Reef Check Italia for the announcement of 2025 course details and available scholarships.