I was part of the first group of interns that started the Indo Ocean Project in Bunaken (June-July 2019) and this has been one of the best experiences I have ever had! And this is saying a lot, since I’m currently taking a year off to travel around Southeast Asia and all I’ve had is amazing experiences...
I cannot recommend this programme (and any of the other Indo Ocean Project internships, in Penida and Bira) enough: the Project is very serious about the research it conducts and also about the training it provides for interns. All the staff is amazing and will go out of their way to meet your needs and expectations, and the level of teaching is excellent. As other people have mentioned in their reviews, interns have a lot of freedom to apply any particular skill set they may have and to develop different projects and activities other than those already planned (you can read all about these on the IOP website).
I actually have already been a Divemaster for over 10 years and went to Bunaken only to do the research component of the internship. I would totally recommend this programme for people who are already DMs, but want to learn about conservation and research. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into, but it turned out to exceed all my expectations. I learned a lot from Pascal, IOP’s lead marine biologist, and had his support to design and lead a couple of different experiments for the whole team.
I do not have a marine biology background, but had already done some volunteering in this field before coming to Bunaken. At the Indo Ocean Project, I had the opportunity to apply and expand a lot on the knowledge I have recently been developing. I am confident that people who already have a marine biology background would also benefit a lot from this programme, being able to apply their skills on the field and directly contribute to high-quality research.
Because I was already a Divemaster, I had more time to focus on the research projects, which I loved, and enjoy the incredible diving that Bunaken has to offer. It was also great to see the quick evolution that my colleagues had during their Divemaster training. Even though we had people from all different levels of diving skill and experience, our team was able to work very well together, always learning from each other, while also having a lot of fun. The amazing team from IOP (Pascal and Olivia) made it look so easy to make this happen!
If you’re thinking of which IOP location to choose, here go my thoughts:
Life in Bunaken is simple and beautiful: wake up early morning, 5 min walk through beach and mangrove to the great dive shop at Living Colours Resort, go out on the boat to dive and conduct research, home cooked lunch at the homestay (with our entire family of beloved pets and the owner Lorenso, who is a Bunaken institution), workshops and classes in the afternoon, early dinner at the homestay and then bedtime because you will be exhausted! This is a perfect location for people who enjoy nature and quiet places, and who don’t mind basic food and accommodation (cold water showers only, electricity only in the evenings). At the same time, because it is a small island, you will have the chance to get to know the lovely locals of Bunaken. I made some great friends there and loved our nights out at Deco (the one and only bar in Bunaken), always with a live band playing by a bonfire on the beach. Also, you will spend most of the time with your colleagues from IOP, which really makes you turn into a small family by the end of your stay.
I visited Nusa Penida after finishing my internship in Bunaken and could see some obvious differences between the 2 projects: in Penida interns have a more social and busy life outside of the project, as there’s a lot more to do on that island than in Bunaken. While in Bunaken there are no restaurants and we ate all of our meals together at the homestay, in Penida you will be spoiled for choices of both Indonesian and western food, nice coffee shops, bars, etc. In Penida you will also probably end up renting a scooter and having the freedom to explore the island by yourself, on your own time, if you wish to.
Regarding the diving, Penida is also amazing but has more difficult conditions than Bunaken, with lots of currents and cold water during winter. I personally think the coral reefs and walls of Bunaken are more beautiful. However, in Penida you will be spoiled to have a resident population of manta rays throughout the year and mola-molas coming to shallow waters during the winter.
I personally am still biased in favour of quiet, peaceful Bunaken, but people who are very social and need to have a life outside of the internship would prefer Penida, I believe. I haven’t had the chance to check out Bira yet, but I’ve heard some amazing things and it is definitely on my list for my next trip to Indonesia!