My time with the Gili Shark Conservation has been rewarding in so many ways. I've spent 7 weeks with the Sharkies now, and wish I could stay forever!
I'll start from the beginning. I fell in love with Gili Air in the first few days I was here. It's a wonderfully charming little island. Everyone is genuinely friendly and not just because they want to sell you something. They're wonderful. It's so easy to get around, just a short walk to any of your favorite spots! I never really felt like it was too small though; there are still restaurants I haven't tried, places I haven't been, and new things I could do if I were here for longer. The food is amazing - so much variety! Not all of it is cheap (by Indonesian standards) but still cheap compared to the United States. Many restaurants have live music, and some places even have DJs for beach dance parties on Fridays if you're into that. All in all, this island is just an incredibly fun, friendly, fantastic place to spend some time!
Now for the important part, The Gili Shark Conservation itself! I loved this program and learned so much. They have a lot of projects currently running, all of which are working towards clear goals that I absolutely believe they will achieve. During my stay here I gained two PADI specialties: Scientific Diver and Aware Shark Conservation Specialty Diver. In addition to those qualifications I was able to participate in Roving Surveys, Reef Check Surveys, Coral Health Index Surveys, Coral Restoration Projects, RUV dropping and watching, Dives Against Debris, and Beach Cleanups. I learned about Indicator Species that are integral to the health of the reef, how to identify them, and why they're important. I also learned about different kinds of coral and what roles they occupy on the reef.
Of course you can't have the Gili SHARK Conservation without the sharks! I learned so much about sharks. We learned about their crucial role as apex predators on the reef, and both the dangers to them and efforts being made in shark conservation. On that note, one of the Gili Shark Conservation's ultimate goals is to collect enough data around the Gili islands to prove to the Indonesian government that this area is an extremely important place for sharks. Several dive sites are actually nurseries for White Tip and Black Tip Reef Sharks. If we can prove that this area is a crucial habitat, ideally the Indonesian Government will extend the protection of the current Marine Protected Area (MPA). As Indonesia is at the very top of the list of countries that fish and kill the most sharks, this would be extremely beneficial. On a fun note, I did get to dive with quite a few sharks while I was here! It's amazing to be able to spend time with such ancient and important creatures. It's not frightening in the slightest, just exciting and super cool!
Being a part of the Sharkie team and diving on the Sharkie boat is a treat itself. The team is made up of some of the most wonderful people I've ever met. Zara is the sweetest, most brilliant, wonderful person. She encouraged me in so many ways and inspired me in others. She works incredibly hard but always had time for me when I needed it. Love you Zara! Andre, the lead scientist, taught me so much about Marine Biology. As I've been considering that as a career I'm so glad I was able to learn from someone who's definitely excelling in the field. His enthusiasm is contagious and made me excited about even the more dull aspects of research. He's also an awesome, easy going, and fun guy overall; we shared many laughs. Jocelyn brings so much energy and joy to the group. She's a blast to be around and will always put a smile on your face. Jocy's just the best. Katon is a wonderful dive guide and one of the most genuine and fun people you will ever meet. He's a joy to be around and his dance moves are legendary. I felt extremely safe and comfortable diving with all of them and it really felt like I was part of the family.
During my time here, I lived both in the house near Villa Nangka and in the rooftop room above the pool at Oceans 5. Both were cute, clean, and nice. I had no real complaints and though communal living can have its challenges it was honestly a very rewarding experience. I made friends that I'm confident I'll have for the rest of my life. It was fun!
Oh, and the diving! The diving is incredible. I actually came to Gili Air expecting the reefs to be considerably damaged from all the dynamite fishing that used to take place here. However, I was pleasantly surprised! There is some dead coral, rubble, and overall damage, but really not that much. There's also very limited bleaching here which is amazing. So many of the reefs are teeming with life - fish everywhere and vibrant, healthy corals. It's truly incredible. The more I learned about fish and coral the more I was able to appreciate the variety of life and life itself.
All in all, my experience with the Gili Shark Conservation was really positive. I learned a ton, made so many friends, loved living the Gili Air island life, increased my diving skills tenfold, and also feel like I made a real impact as a volunteer. I absolutely recommend doing this program. I will forever remember it as one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you Gili Shark Conservation!