11 Nov Underwater Biodiversity and Unique Cultural Experiences

Last month, CTC organized a liveaboard trip for its board members and distinguished guests to the Banda Islands in Maluku, eastern Indonesia. The group spent six days in the archipelago, exploring the islands’ rich marine biodiversity and participating in a “Buka Sasi” (Sasi Opening) ceremony to learn about local customs in Ay Island.

The Banda Islands are a remote archipelago situated in the Banda Sea, Maluku Tengah District, eastern Indonesia. It comprises of 11 small islands and one atoll, which only seven of them are inhabited. Since 2012, CTC has been supporting the government, local partners and Banda communities to design and develop a resilient MPA network across the archipelago. The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of the Republic of Indonesia issued a ministerial decree in 2021 for the declaration of the Ay and Rhun Islands MPA which covers an area of 61,178.53 hectares. The MPA is equipped with zoning plans to conserve and manage some critical ecosystems and fisheries whilst respecting traditional wisdoms.

Serving as the departure point for the trip was Ambon City, the lovely capital of Maluku. Our Executive Director Rili Djohani led the group that included the Chair of the CTC Board of Trustees Yuli Ismartono, Co-Chair of the CTC Board of Trustees Hendrik Sasmito, CTC Marine Science Coordinator Dominic Bryant, and CTC Marine Protected Area (MPA) Learning Site Manager Purwanto. Also joining the group were Dr. Jos S. Pet and Dr. Lida Pet Soeade from People and Nature Consulting International (PNCI), senior author and journalist John McBeth, business expert Dennis Heffernan and his wife Indriena Basarah, as well as communications expert Claire Leow and her husband Pieter Bas Kappel.

The expedition’s first stop was the Lease Islands MPA, where participants were greeted by Wempy Parinussa, the King of Ameth Village in Nusa Laut – one of three main islands in Lease. Mr. Parinussa is our local champion and he received CTC’s Ocean Legacy Awards in 2019. Furthermore, he delivered a brief explanation about the marine conservation efforts in Lease to safeguard local livelihoods and natural resources from potential threats. The group also went diving to explore the underwater beauty in Molana and Ameth before proceeding the journey to the Banda Islands.

The boat arrived in Banda Neira the following day. Our adventurous team first looked at the robust coral reef ecosystems surrounding Gunung Api Island, an active volcano in Banda, before venturing ashore. On October 8, our CTC Executive Director Rili Djohani and board members Yuli Ismartono and Hendrik Sasmito, had a chance to dive and observe the beautiful coral ecosystems in a dive spot near the Gunung Api island, named Lava Flow. The unique coral reef ecosystems in this area are influenced by the lava substrate where the corals grow. The presence of schools of diverse reef fish found near the corals and underwater noise are indicators of a healthy marine ecosystem. 

In Banda Neira, while exploring some historical sites around the island, the team visited a local waste processing facility run by Yayasan Cahaya Samudera Indonesia (YCSI) and CTC to address the issue of plastic pollution. Since 2021, the plant has sorted and refined 4.5 metric tons of plastic waste from Ay and Rhun Islands before shipping it to East Java for recycling. Guests also observed the MPA Training for Sustainable Fisheries as part of the Banda Islands Deep-Sea Snapper Fisheries project implemented by CTC in collaboration with PNCI and Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN). The 23 participants learned about marine ecosystems, fisheries management, and fish identification.

On October 9, CTC had the honor of participating in Ay Island’s “Buka Sasi” (Sasi Opening) ceremony. Led by elders of the Sairun Village, this biannual ritual was marked by the colorful Cakalele traditional dance. Prior to the main agenda, CTC’s Executive Director and Board Members also participated in the “Pengangkatan Anak Adat” ceremony, which symbolizes the local community’s acceptance of CTC as honored family members. During the ceremony, CTC handed over small tokens of appreciation to the people of Ay Island. Together with the Sairun community leader, Ms. Djohani, Mrs. Ismartono, and Mr. Sasmito then lifted the “Tiang Adat” or traditional pole to officially open the Sasi.

Sasi is a traditional, community-led practice of managing marine resources through seasonal closures where certain species cannot be fished. This indigenous knowledge plays a critical role in marine conservation in the Ay and Rhun MPA by allowing certain species to grow and reproduce which results in healthier ocean ecosystems and better economic benefits for locals.

After departing the Banda Islands, the boat made a stop in Suangi (Manukan) Island. Once more, the team had the opportunity to admire Maluku’s breathtaking underwater seascape. While enjoying the diverse vibrant corals, the team also came across some fascinating tube worms and other exotic marine animals.

CTC concluded this incredible trip by arriving at Tulehu Port in Ambon on the last day. Before saying goodbye, our guests met CTC local staff in Ambon. The CTC is really looking forward to organizing another excursion to our amazing learning sites in Bali and Maluku in the future.

Photos: Dwi Surkan Darmawan

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