I had a fantastic time on the inaugural ‘discovery’ expedition in March/April this year and wish I could have stayed longer. Out of the 8 of us volunteers, there’s 4 of us who have kept in regular contact and want to reunite next year for more diving.
The project is less than a year old and is constantly evolving. Every week was a bit different when we were there.
Generally, all diving is done pre-midday. This is because it is so remote and in case of any accidents it allows for an evac. To Darwin during daylight hours. We did one or two dives a day, 5-6 days a week. There’s a roster done up each night of who is boat marshal and shore marshal for the next day and who is doing what underwater. All volunteers take turns in doing both non-diving roles so it evens out that everyone gets about the same number of dives during the expedition.
In the afternoon it’s classroom learning taken by Sean and/or Jen, the two marine scientists of the expedition. You’ll learn to ID the benthic (corals etc) and fish and there’s tests both on land and in the water later in the week. This coincides with point-outs under water in the mornings. After the first couple of weeks of learning you’ll progress to survey work include PIT surveys using a tape measure and camera/GoPro and slate to record benthic and fish abundance/species surveys depending on how good you get at fish ID. We also did some snorkeling surveys for sea grass and fish in the afternoons.
When I went I had done about 70 dives and PADI rescue. Others had done between 30 and 200 dives and were various stages between Open Water and Rescue. Two people did their Advanced while there with Greg the co-coordinator, who is an amazing instructor (who has spent a total of 2.5 years of his 40 or so years underwater!). You have to be Advanced level before you can do surveys because there are quite a few sites with fairly strong currents.
The team works very closely with the local community and several of the BV crew are Timorese. The place we stayed ‘Barry’s Place’ is a tiny little eco-resort which is run by an Aussie guy (Barry) and his Timorese wife Lena. It’s very basic but that’s its charm. We stayed in twin share thatched rooms right on the beach front and the sunrises from your bed were worth it alone!
On Sundays there is no diving and we had time to take a tuktuk down to a nearby village where there were a few places to buy locally made souvenirs. We also did a hike over to the other side of Atauro island to a place Mario owns. Mario is an Atauro local who works for Barry and also for World Fish. He is very instrumental in the links between BV and the community, as is Barry himself, who is fluent in Tetum, the local language.
The island of Atauro itself is very beautiful and mostly untouched. We hiked across to the other side through rainforest. Its very un-developed. Only 25km long.
Overall, it is a VERY fun experience and I am looking to go back again next year if possible.