Staff Spotlight: Benjamin Graves

Bira Project Co-Manager


With a PhD in Western Art Music from the University of Cambridge, a Master's in Music from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and a BMus(hons) in Orchestral Clarinet from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Benjamin's first true passion is classical music; this making up the majority of his career to date - having had his music commissioned and performed all over the world and working as tutor in Orchestration and Composition to Undergraduate musicians at Cambridge. Coming a close second is a love of the ocean, and it was his experience both diving across the world - from Ireland to Fiji and New Zealand to Grand Cayman - combined with the tutoring of university-age students which brought him to Indo Ocean Project, to co-manage, alongside his wife, Jess, the project in Bira, South Sulawesi.


What is your favorite travel memory?

Kayaking on Khao Sok, Thailand, in search of wild gibbons, then proposing to Jess from a tent on a floating platform on that same lake.

Khao Sok is an extraordinary place and much like many places of travel has a feeling of poignancy as well as beauty: to provide hydro-electric power to Phuket the Thai government flooded a vast stretch of forest valley, so displacing countless animals. The resulting lake gives, not only green energy to hundreds of thousands, but also unparalleled access to forest canopy and unique views of wildlife, such as the gibbons and great hornbills, but the tips of drowned trees poking out of the water serve as a poignant reminder of all that was lost for the sake of progress.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I have learned a great deal about patience and compassion, and how to stay calm in a crisis. Such a remote working location requires a steady head in an emergency and an ability to collaborate at close hand with those around you. It is important to respect and recognise the independence and fortitude of both staff and interns and utilise such attributes for the sake of your growth and theirs.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

James, an intern from 2022, was diving on the Great Wall dive site, a particularly spectacular and dramatic site, when he and his group saw a white manta ray. This is particularly special due to the rarity of this animal to Bira and because James was assisting on the course which was the start of intern Pradish's SCUBA journey. It will be an experience which will stay with Pradeesh for life.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would attend the Research Internship at Raja Ampat. The reports of students visiting the Bira project who have dived there describe a completely different experience regarding wildlife, topography and conditions, and not least the opportunity to search for the red bird-of-paradise, therefore it would be a completely novel experience.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Most Divemaster programmes involve mostly assisting with beginner SCUBA courses and providing assistance to dive-shop managers with sales and gear fitting. While Indo Ocean Project involves such important work, it also offers a broader range of diving experience, such as research diving and assisting on more rarified SCUBA qualifications, such as Rescue Diver and Deep diving specialties.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Communication and treating those around you - including aspirant Divemasters - like professionals and adults and respecting their input and opinions. As a mentor and tutor, it is important to recognise your own weaknesses and have the self-confidence to invite input from wherever it may come and implement it into your own conduct.