Today, I arrive back in Australia after two weeks volunteering at the Conflict Islands Conservation
Initiative (or CiCi), and as a second time volunteer I can honestly say two weeks is not enough. Leaving the Conflicts is always sad but like my last trip, I'm already planning the next trip back.
CiCi is a relatively new initiative that takes place at the Conflict Islands, a 10ish hour boat ride from Alotau in the Milne Bay region of Papua New Guinea. The Conflicts consist of 21 islands that form a small atoll with the only inhabitants being the friendly staff. It is incredible part of the world with coral reefs for days, some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet and amazing biodiversity (plus two of the cutest pups out there!).
CiCi is a conservation initiative that has current programs that aim to assess both turtle and shark and ray populations in the atoll. These programs also aim to create relationships with
neighboring island groups, as well as provide education about the environment. As the initiative grows, new programs will be added including coral and fish identification programs coming in the near future.
This time round I participated in the new shark and rays initiative, which aims to estimate what species are in the area in order to conserve them. Wherever you come from, you will first fly into Alotau and be picked up
by either Francis (Uma-Uma) or another member of staff and driven to the boat to meet the crew and other volunteers. That night if all goes to plan with everyone making flights (PNG runs on “ish” time also known as island time) you'll overnight to the islands and wake up to a view to die for.
The first couple of days you get introduced to the project, the staff and other volunteers, as well as going through the surveying methods so you are confident before going out in the field. An average field day consists of deploying BRUVs (baited remote underwater video systems) or a form of smart drumlines. These methods allow for both passive and active surveying of the shark and ray populations with white tips, black tips and grey reef sharks being the most common caught or spotted on the BRUVs so far. Field days are always hardwork but also lots of fun getting to handle the sharks and get to know the local staff.
When you're not out in the field there are options for diving on pristine dive sites practically untouched by coral bleaching and other anthropomorphic effects. If you're not a diver there is the chance to learn with the amazing Dave (hi Dave!). But if that's not your thing the snorkeling is world class, and the staff are always up for a laugh or game of volleyball/soccer (this also includes a lot of laughing). Not to mention the turtle nursery on Panasesa (the main island) is always open and the amazing Steve and the rest of the turtle crew are always happy for a chat or help with the baby turts. If fishing is your thing there is opportunity to go out with the guys to catch bait, they'll take any excuse to go out fishing.
Although there were a few losses on the trip including a shoe (Morgane), some chin skin (looking at you Chinny!), and a few bits of equipment, these soon became good stories and provided many laughs.
Highlights from the trip included our first day where we went on a check dive and the vis was 40+ meters, Noreens delicious cooking, the first night dive where we saw the Milne Bay Epaulette Shark (endemic to the region), bioluminescence sparkling in the wake of the dinghies at night, and catching, tagging and releasing the first sharks just to name a few. Oh and did I mention the food?
CiCi is an incredible and hands on learning experience for both budding scientists and those just wanting to learn a bit more about the marine environment. Volunteer positions run in two week blocks, with the option to do longer trips. If you are a uni student there are options for university credit and endless potential for honours potions. Hayley and Johanna do a great job as project managers and are always open to suggestions.
If you're anything like me the diving, biodiversity and location will make you fall in love with the place but the amazing staff and friendships make you want to stay. I could not recommend CiCi more highly.
In the words of Lexi “Elolo!” or “It's good!”.
A teu owa and see you soon!
(17th of May 2019)