Meet the Indonesian Volunteers Fighting to Save Their Coral Reefs



On this island, scuba diving is a mission to protect the coral reefs.

Encompassing some 17,000 islands, Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is surrounded by the ocean. It’s no secret that our oceans are warming at an alarming rate; this year, marine heatwaves have broken all previous records. An increase in global ocean temperatures causes coral bleaching and a devastating loss of biodiversity. Couple this with the impacts of a booming tourism industry, and Indonesia is experiencing the perfect storm for coral reef degradation.

The island of Lombok is a popular destination for snorkelers and divers, its waters filled with colorful reefs and tropical fish, turtles, and reef sharks. Here, the volunteer-driven, non-governmental Indonesia Biru (biru = blue) Foundation (IBF), established during the Covid lockdown of 2020, is taking steps to save the surrounding coral reefs. IBF’s founder, marine scientist Andrean (aka Andre) Saputra, created the organization to conduct coral research, restore damaged reefs, and promote coastal community development in Lombok and the Gilis (three small islands off Lombok’s northwest coast).

IBF’s headquarters are in Kecinan Bay, a quiet, sheltered stretch of sand along Lombok’s west coast. Its coral lab houses large tanks used to replicate the ocean’s conditions, allowing a team of volunteers to monitor the resistance of various coral species to rising ocean temperatures and acidity.

“It’s a coral reef hub for people who want to come and have discussions or snorkel and dive in the bay,” Andre says. “It’s also a facility for students and educational institutions to conduct research.”

When they’re not in the lab, the team regularly heads out on restoration dives just off the coast, during which they plant large metal “spiders” on the seabed in areas of damaged reef. As new coral can no longer grow on these affected reefs, the spiders act as an underwater trellis to support new coral growth. The team then collects small pieces of coral from the surrounding reefs and ties them to the spiders, encouraging them to grow and spread and, over time, create a new, healthy reef.

The team also carries out mangrove planting along Lombok’s southwest coast. Mangrove forests are essential for coastal protection, acting as a natural barrier against erosion and storms. Indonesia is home to  twenty-three percent of the world’s mangroves — a habitat that acts as a carbon sink, storing up to four times more carbon than other tropical forests.

The growth rate of mangroves depends on a variety of factors, including the particular species planted and the prevailing environmental conditions, but they generally mature within ten to twenty years and live for about 100 years. To date, IBF has planted between 4,000 and 5,000 seedlings, restoring an area measuring nearly 11,000 square feet. 

“People will grasp the idea and fall in love with something when they see, touch, and get involved with it,” Andre says. “That’s exactly what we’re doing with mangrove planting. It’s a hands-on experience to inspire the general public to do their part for conservation.” 

Two students from Belgium, Femke and Lander, recently spent their summer holidays volunteering with IBF in Lombok. 

“This summer we wanted to do diving; the fact that we could come here and do some restoration dives and actually contribute to something was a big plus,” says Lander. “We’re really looking forward to seeing how our work will have paid off.”

“It feels good to do something for a good cause. Our generation is really aware of climate change, so we really want to do our part, and it’s an easy way and a fun way to do it,” adds Femke.

What Can You Do?

IBF Volunteers can: 

  • Go on dives to brush the corals free of algae, scrub the spider structures, collect new coral fragments, and plant the fragments onto the spiders.
  • Help maintain the coral tanks in the lab.
  • Join a mangrove planting session.
  • Participate in a beach cleanup event, collecting trash to be recycled. Beach cleanups are also a good way to get local coastal communities involved and educate kids about the importance of our oceans and coral reefs.

Some tips for diving:

  • Choose reef-safe sunscreen: Avoid oxybenzone or octinoxate, which can damage coral
  • Don’t touch corals or other marine life — observe them from a safe distance to avoid causing them harm or distress
  • Avoid tour operators who lure marine wildlife such as whale sharks to the boat with food. All encounters with marine wildlife should ideally be natural and by chance.

Read more dispatches from around our pale blue dot:

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Leyla Rose
Leyla Rose
Leyla Rose is a freelance writer and trained journalist based between the United Kingdom and Lombok, Indonesia. She has been freelancing since 2019 and specialises in writing about food, travel, and culture. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and online publications such as Wanderlust Magazine, Time Out, The i Paper, Fodor’s, and Culture Trip, among others. She is also an avid and published photographer that goes hand-in-hand with her journalism. Her website is
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