We were excited to chat with Serena Stean, programme director at Indo Ocean Project, about her work and conservation project in Indonesia.

Read on to discover her story and how you can get involved.

Meet Serena from Indo Ocean Project in Indonesia
Meet Serena from Indo Ocean Project in Indonesia

Briefly describe your organisation and your role

Indo Ocean Project is a marine research and conservation program in the heart of the coral triangle, training the next generation of dive professionals through our conservation divemaster internship program. Our field expeditions in Indonesia host international and local research projects on marine megafauna conservation efforts including sharks, rays, turtles, and sunfish.

I am the Program Director and am responsible for making sure each intern receives the same high-standard of training and experience in both locations. This involves hands-on teaching both in and out of the water, as well as a lot of organising! I also write the majority of the content used in our workshops alongside lead scientist Pascal Sebastian.

When did your organisation launch and what inspired the concept and conservation strategy?

Indo Ocean Project was founded in 2018 by our founder Lauren Sparks. It began on Nusa Lembongan and moved to Nusa Penida in 2019 when I joined the team as Program Director. After a short pandemic break which seemed like a lifetime we finally found our “forever home” at Reeflex Divers in the iconic Crystal Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s amazing to be back.

Both myself and Lauren had previously worked for large “volun-tourism” industry and we decided that this could be done better, so we took what we loved and left behind the things that we believed didn’t necessarily benefit the ocean. The key idea was to combine the divemaster training with research and take longer term interns, that extra time allowing us to properly train our interns to collect robust data that can be used to write scientific papers for publication.

All staff at Indo Ocean Project have a shared love for the ocean and a desire to protect it – we share our combined passion teaching our interns in each of our areas of expertise, from corals to sharks, rays, turtles, fish, mangroves and more. Everything we do is recorded and logged to enable evaluation and improvements in both methodology and application for the future – our strategy adapts and evolves depending on the discoveries made and areas that need attention.

What is the most significant change from when your organisation first opened to what it is today?

The sheer size of the program – since we began we have developed our strategy to include coral restoration under the supervision of our superstar Indonesian marine biologist and self-confessed coral nerd Pascal Sebastian.  This started as a one hour lecture, and has now evolved into a 3 day practical course with 3 workshops and 5 coral dives, covering everything from ecology and identification to practical restoration in the amazing Crystal Bay.

Lead marine biologist, Pascal Sebastian, checking on the coral nursery (Photo by Serena Stean)
Lead marine biologist, Pascal Sebastian, checking on the coral nursery (Photo by Serena Stean)

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Watching the lightbulb moments of our interns; going from competent divers, to professional divers that share our love for educating and sharing the conservation message. Equally incredible is the amazing responses we have had from local people who started as curious, and are now hands-on involved as part of the CorAlliance program run by Pascal.

Serena alongside intern Putri at the Bira Project in Sulawesi
Serena alongside intern Putri at the Bira Project in Sulawesi

Share with us one of the most exciting moments at your organisation.

The day we achieved the hard task of gaining our MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Universitas Dhyana Pura in Bali. A momentous day that meant we could from that moment forward look to publish our research findings, stay tuned for the upcoming papers.

What are 3 things that make your project unique?

  1. The combination of the divemaster with research was something we had never seen as a dedicated program before and many of our interns comment that this was what drew them to join us.
  2. The diving around Nusa Penida and Bira is some of the best diving in the world – with iconic species such as reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) and the sunfish (Mola alexandrini) and plentiful sightings of a variety of species that are threatened with extinction including sharks, rays and turtles.
  3. Our team – we have a multi-national multi-cultural team from around the world, from Canada, UK, Slovakia and of course Indonesian staff that make the project the success that it is. Without every person in our team the project would not be what it is – it is our passion combined that allows us to stand out.
Serena and interns deploying the BRUV (Photo by intern Lily)
Serena and interns deploying the BRUV (Photo by intern Lily)

Why is it so important for interns/volunteers to join your project?

Our interns provide most of the funding and manpower we need to conduct our research. In exchange they walk away with a huge knowledge bank, exceptional dive skills and the first step on their professional dive journey. Without our interns we cannot survive.

What is the most important thing for your interns/volunteers to know before they start your programme?

This isn’t a small course. The internship requires quite a lot of studying and commitment to the science in order to contribute effectively and get the most out of the internship, you don’t have to already be a scientist, but you need to come with an open mind, ready to absorb all the information. We use the saying “There is always more”, interns get out what they put in, so be prepared to get stuck in!

Tell us about your favorite underwater experience!

Possibly my favourite moment happened these past few months. We were dropping a Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) at the iconic Manta Point in Nusa Penida. As we were busy setting the equipment three mantas decided to check out what we were up to and circled us the entire time we were there fixing the camera. Utterly magical!

Serena and her interns placing a BRUV circled by manta rays (photo by Serena Stean)
Serena and her interns placing a BRUV circled by manta rays (photo by Serena Stean)

Ready to get involved and make your next holiday count?

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