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Gili Shark Conservation

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Arriving on Gili Air on the Blue Water Express boat from Sanur, Bali is surreal in some ways. You drive out of the busy city scape, hop on a speedboat and before long are approaching a pristine postcard looking island. Fringed with bright blue water, palm trees and hammocks. It is hard not to fall in love with the place immediately. Begadans line up to take you to your accomodation. The sound of neighing horses and the waves crashing is unique and refreshing.

I had been emailing Rose Huizenga for what seemed like years now, pre and post COVID to plan this visit. Rose, completely accommodating to the never ending changing travel plans was just as I had imagined her. A entrepreneurial free spirit. I sit here thinking about how to describe her without just listing qualities But she really is quite an impressive woman.

Sea to Sky

We Rocked up at Gili Shark, a project that was born out of nothing but love and adoration for the ocean and supporting the preservation of Indonesia’s shark population. 

The base has to be mentioned here because it screams zen and calm. The perfect place to learn, study and just be. Beautiful rooms, stunning decor and final touches, jars filled with fresh coffee and granola. The environment oozed health and well being and was a spectacular hub. 

Liquid Diving

Warmly welcomed by her team of Sharkies, local staff and her Operational Manager Maisy, we felt at home and instantly part of a like minded community. All there for the same reason but on our own paths. It provided the the most gloriously beautiful spot to meet.

The burning question of where Gili Shark came from was easily answered by Rose. Of course it came about from a group of dive pals having a beer in a bar. Now, as a diver myself I can confirm that we have all had those chats. ‘Let’s just start our own dive centre.’ ‘Lets buy a boat and take people fun diving.’ ‘Let’s sack off the person we work for and start our own thing.’ It’s a common conversation amoungst travellers and especially divers. What is not common is people who actually do it and make those chats happen, turning them into reality.

Rose sat there talking to me with a fully operational, popular, well establish and respected shark conservation project and coral catch programme, a villa and island spa, her own school, two beautiful children and a husband sipping a freshly made ginger tea. It’s hard not to be in awe of the girl. She started all this as a backpacker, one with big ideas. I honestly couldn’t get enough of her story. Her passion to create a sustainable island life with a sound, thoughtful plan was jaw dropping really. Her very energy was inspiring. 

The base staff were in the background baking banana loaf and humming along happily, fermenting things and giggling with each other. The participants and students were social media creating and talking excitedly about their mornings, making plans to build new under water structures for the coral restoration project. Her vision was being delivered. Those ideas to create something positive were functional.

There were so many questions to ask, things to find out but the easiest place to start was of course with a dive. Where else is the best place to emerge yourself in the thick of the work going on somewhere. We donned our equipment and headed out for the morning dive with a Rose guiding us around the coral project. 

The dive sites were pristine. We descended on the coral restoration project and the Sharkies got to work, busily cleaning and tending to the young corals. Turtles reclined over them, basking in the soft current and finding comfort in the new spaces for them to reside. A healthy, flourishing site. 

‘In early 2019 our research team took off on a field trip to Nusa Lembongan to meet with Blue Corner Conservation. Thanks to Andrew C.F Taylor of Blue Corner dive our research team had an amazing few days learning about coral restoration and underwent full training in how to conduct this remarkable method. Back home on Gili Air, we immediately started preparing for our own coral restoration project which we launched in the summer of 2019.

In the summer months of 2019, we placed 60 hex dome structures between 5 and 10 meters on an area where rubble has the monopoly of space in the selected location at the North of Gili Air. To a portion of these hex domes our research team will add Micro fragments of selected s of coral from communities that are known to thrive in this area. We will leave a portion of each dome free of micro fragments to have sufficient space for natural recruitment.

On a weekly basis our research team will monitor the restoration site through assessing fish biomass as well as live coral coverage and the growth rate of each fragment. The methods we will use to collect this data include; Underwater Photo Transect (UPT) and Underwater Visual Census (UVC), weekly time-lapse of each hex dome, Remote Underwater Video (RUV) and manual measurement using vernier caliper for growth rate.

It is really key to not just mention Maisy but to take my hat off to her. A really experienced, intelligent, vibrant lady who seems to be the definition of multitasking and productivity. It makes sense that Rose hired her and trusted her to deliver her vision. She is as mega as Rose with an extensive background in scientific research and marine biology. With what felt like 50 balls in the air at all times, she very cooley lead the work that was going on and managed the programmes under Roses direction. ‘ Gili Shark Conservation.

The days rolled on with us acting as voyeurs to this wonderfully oiled machine. We joined a beach clean up and were joined by various tourists who had seen the posters around the island and on the social pages and come along. You didn’t need to move more than a meter to collect almost a bag of litter, debris that had arrived from neighbouring islands and from currents riding past the Gillis. It was sad in lots of ways but positive to see so many like minded folk coming together to clean up. It was significant because beach cleans don’t need to be organised, anyone can potter along a stretch of beach and collect trash but a regular organised clean motivates people. It gives you a time and a place to be to take part. It highlights to others that it needs doing. In bigger numbers comes impact.

The sustainability of projects is key. It is easy to start something but keeping it going, keeping it maintained and productive is a whole different ball game. The core injection of local staff to all that goes on here is underrated. The relationships with people from the area are immeasurably valuable. The knowledge and passion they have about where they are from and the respect for the ocean is beautiful. Rose and Andreas know that. They consider it in all that they do and strong partnerships have been born and will continue to be born because of that understanding and appreciation of Indonesians, their traditions and their culture. 

On our nearly last day we sat down by the boat at the end of a busy dive day. Rose’s children were playing on the beach front, tiny beach blonde, sun kissed babies collecting crabs with their little Indonesia friends and carefully putting them back in the water, jumping off logs and into sea puddles. I listened to them talk English to the participants, Bahasa to the lovely local ladies they were with. It made me see the longevity in the work here. Good intentions live on. Good people raise good people with core values and they grow the next generation of people who care. In those few moments I saw the life cycle. The relationships that are formed, the concern that these kids will inevitable adopt from their Mum and Dad and hopefully continue. 

I would urge anyone thinking about doing something positive and out of the ordinary to visit this island and to sit down and have a ginger tea with Rose. It’s a tea you will always remember. Explore marine biology and conservation, gain an understanding of why it is all so, so important to our existence and life balance. Visit Gili Air and change your view and your expectation of what is achievable.

Learn more at: https://www.gilisharkconservation.com/ and https://villanangkagiliair.com/

Photography by Radoslaw Krol http://www.picagaphoto.co.uk/



About Author

Chantelle is a PADI Master Instructor and Managing Editor of The Scuba News UK. Her passions lay in travel and conservation. she has been all over the world and worked on some exciting projects and dived some spectacular sites. Her thirst to explore and drive to meet and work with new and interesting people has motivated her to keep moving. She works in some extremely remote areas and has a strong media presence. She has worked with various magazines and media and is keen to promote the good work that she comes across and the individuals who really invoke change in their fields. She has dived for over 20 years and is always seeking out the next thrill and dive experience. She can be found at UK dive shows and online easily and is always keen to hear your stories and say hello.

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