Misool Eco Resort Podcast

Raja Ampat’s Misool Eco Resort is surrounded by pristine coral reefs and thriving fish life – thanks in large part to the decade-long conservation efforts of the resort itself. Co-founder Marit Miners explains how a motley crew of divers managed to create an eco sanctuary.

Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat

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Misool Eco Resort – Dive Happy Episode 8 Show Notes

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Misool Eco Resort – Dive Happy Episode 8 Summary

The Pristine Underwater Life of Raja Ampat Makes for Fantastic Diving.

Misool is an amazing place for diving. Raja Ampat as a whole is the most bio diverse marine ecosystem in the world. There are more species of fish and more species of coral in Raja Ampat than anywhere else in the world. So it makes for some pretty fantastic diving. The corals are exceptionally resilient to temperature fluctuations and the reefs are quite pristine, which is mostly due to the low population pressure it experienced up until 2005. After that, it started to become popular with divers, but at the same a lot of different levels of marine protection also took place.

No Take Zone Patrolled and Enforced to Protect Misool.

In 2005 the first no take zone was created around Misool, which was the first one in the whole of Raja Ampat. It was later expanded to include 1,220 square kilometers of reef. This is a massive area, almost twice the size of Singapore, which has now been protected. The protection is established in a contract with the local people who actually own the rights to the reefs. However, without having an effective enforcement strategy the contract is just a piece of paper. Marit Miners and her team at Misool Eco Resort started a totally grass roots operation, patrolling in a little plastic dingy as they were first building the resort. The patrol was formalized and turned into a charitable foundation. Now there is a ranger patrol with a fleet of five boats and three satellite ranger station on the water 24 hours a day.

Preservation Efforts Have Caused Local Fishermen to Prosper.

Scientists have done studies in the Misool area, comparing the bio mass between 2007 and 2012. On average the bio mass increased by about 250%, and on some sites up to 700%. The conservation efforts in the no take zones have caused fish life to become far more prolific within the zone. The fish have no idea where the boundaries of the no take zone are. So there is a spillover effect and it has resulted in an increase of catch for the local people in their traditional fishing areas. Because of the abundance of fish in the ocean now, there is no longer a need for village fishermen to come into the no take zones at all.

Magical Dive Sits of Misool.

The resort is built around a beautiful lagoon that used to be a shark finning camp. Now it has completely been transformed into a nursery for baby black tip sharks. It has become a place where black tips can be seen cruising around in the early morning or on the evening in groups of up to 22 at one time. Another popular site would be Magic Mountain, located well inside of the no take zone. There are two cleaning manta stations on the same dive site, one at 25 meters and one right at the top at seven meters. It is one of the only places in the world where you can see oceanic mantas as well as reef mantas interacting. It is an absolutely amazing dive site with Giant trevally and huge schools of yellow snappers beautiful corals, and then more and more sharks.

The House Reef of Misool Eco Resort.

The resort’s lagoon opens up onto the house reef, which is a mellow dive and quite protected from currents. Divers can jump off of the jetty on a rising tide and cruise north on the wall and then scoot back into the lagoon and come up on the dive center. or you could walk up the steps of your water cottage because they’re built right over the lagoon. The sightings on the house reef are incredible finds, including a wondrous and mandarin fish. For divers who are interested in seeing a particular critter or photographers who would like to document a particular behaviour, the house reef is the ideal location. Guests are often surprised by the diversity of what they can see and also the ease of accessibility to the house reef. It is just a few fin kicks away from the bed that you’re sleeping in.

The Misool Manta Project.

The Misool Manta Project has its own database and the team there has been documenting the populations around the area and sharing that data with other organizations. That information was really critical for two major events that happened. One was in 2010, when Marit and her team petitioned the Raja Ampat government, together with shark savers, which is now a part of wild aid to make all of Raja Ampat into a shark and manta ray sanctuary. In addition to the no take zones, Raja Ampat now has seven marine protected areas which are administered by the government, all of Raja Ampat is now illegal to fish for any sharks and mantas.

Misool Eco Resort – Dive Happy Episode 8 Transcript

[0:00:06.1] CM: Hello and welcome to Dive Happy, the podcast about the best places to go scuba diving in Asia. I’m your host Chris Mitchell and my guest for this episode is Marit Miners, Cofounder of Misool Eco Resort which is located in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Marit, welcome to the show.

[0:00:23.4] MM: Thank you.

[0:00:25.3] CM: I talked to Tim Rock back in Episode One of this venerable podcast about Raja Ampat and he was very impressed with Misool Eco Resort singling it out as one of the places that people should consider staying as well as in live aboard when they come to Raja Ampat. Before we get to the resort itself, can you explain what makes Misool in general so special to you?

[0:00:48.8] MM: The list is pretty long, it’s a very special place. Misool is an amazing place for diving but if you kind of zoom out a little bit onto Raja Ampat as a whole, it’s the most bio diverse marine ecosystem in the world, there’s more species of fish and more species of coral there than anywhere else in the world. So it makes for some pretty fantastic diving.

But it’s also really special because the reefs are very, very pristine and that’s mostly due to the low population pressure up until about 2005. Then of course it started to become popular with divers but that’s about the time that a lot of different levels of marine protection also took place, which I can tell you more about later.

Another thing that’s really, really interesting about Raja Ampat is the corals are exceptionally resilient to temperature fluctuations. So that’s even more interesting now after this recent bleaching event when 25% of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral is dead.

[0:01:52.7] CM: Sure.

Raja Ampat Map

[0:01:55.1] MM: We, touch wood, we haven’t seen any of that in our area which we’re pretty happy about. So zooming back in to Misool, which is a part of Raja Ampat. If you’re looking at a map, Sorong is in the middle of Raja Ampat and we’re just to the south. In 2005, we were in that area and we created the first no take zone around Misool. Actually, it was the first one in Raja Ampat and then we later expanded it to include about 300,000 acres, which is 1,220 square kilometers of reef. That’s all been protected, that’s almost twice the size of Singapore, so it’s quite a massive area.

[0:02:39.1] CM: That is huge, there’s no way around it. That is absolutely massive.

[0:02:44.3] MM: Yeah, it’s pretty monumental and of course having — that’s the contract between us and the local people who actually own the rights to the reefs. Of course having a contract that says nobody’s going to fish here is all well and good but it’s pretty useless unless you have an effective enforcement strategy. So we started out totally grass roots, just in a little plastic dingy as we were building the resort, after a day’s work on the construction site, our team would go out and basically throw pebbles at Javanese long liners that were fishing illegally and chasing them off and then confiscating their equipment.

[0:03:28.0] CM: I’m hoping they wouldn’t throw dynamite back at you I suppose.

[0:03:32.4] MM: Yeah, thankfully that only happened once and it all ended well thankfully. But yeah, in the end, they got the point that we were just really a pain in the ass and not worth the hassle. So they kind of stopped coming and we formalized the patrol and turned into our own foundation in 2010. We became a charitable foundation as well as a business and we now have a ranger patrol with a fleet of five boats and three satellite ranger station that’s on the water 24 hours a day, making sure nobody’s fishing.

So the reefs that we came to in 2005, which we’re already spectacular has actually gotten better year on year, which is incredibly rare in the world unfortunately the trajectory seems to be in the opposite direction on most, that they actually get worse every time you visit them.

[0:04:25.5] CM: Yes, absolutely. That is remarkable that it has actually improved. I mean that’s almost unheard of, sadly.

[0:04:33.9] MM: Yeah.

[0:04:36.4] CM: I’m actually jumping ahead of myself a bit here but I have to ask, how, as the zone gets bigger, like you say, twice the size as Singapore, how can you sort of increase the amount of patrolling and surveying that needs to be done to make sure the coral is all still okay? Presumably that’s quite a lot of work in itself that just keeps expanding.

[0:04:57.3] MM: Yeah, it’s a lot of work and it’s also a lot of expense. I think by now we’ve sort of reached the ideal size because the local villages are still well outside of our no take zone, so they still have their area where they can do local fishing. So I don’t think we are interest in the moment in expanding any further but we are interested in sort of increasing the effectiveness of the patrol that we have.

Our budget this year for just doing the surveillance and patrolling is about 200,000 euros and then we also do other programs like you may have heard about Bank sampah, this is the community based recycling program that gives people a financial incentive to recycle and we basically buy people’s rubbish from them and then recycle it.

[0:05:49.0] CM: Oh they must be thrilled.

[0:05:51.3] MM: Yeah, it’s pretty great, it’s something we take kind of for granted especially in western countries that you pay your taxes and then someone comes and they just take care of all your rubbish but of course in remote areas that are totally under served, that’s not an option. So you have to actually develop your own system. The Bank sampah was what we put in place and then the first year we disposed of 200 tons of plastic and rubbish, which is otherwise would probably be on the reef.

[0:06:22.6] CM: Wow, that is really quite remarkable. So the villages around the no take zone, I’m not sure if this is correct so obviously tell me if not but I’ve heard from different no take zones, like I seem to remember in new Zealand they did a similar experiment that obviously, because the fish life becomes far more prolific within the zone then therefore outside the zone, it becomes much better for villages who legitimately have to fish because there are just generally more fish in the ocean, so there’s no need for them actually to come in to the no take zone anymore. Does that make sense? Would that be correct or?

[0:07:00.3] MM: Yes, absolutely. We’ve done some studies when I say we, actually, other scientists have done studies in our area comparing the bio mass between 2007 and 2012 and on average the bio mass increased by about 250% but on some sites up to 700%.

[0:07:21.3] CM: Holy moly.

[0:07:22.3] MM: And of course the fish had no…

[0:07:24.3] CM: That’s a lot of fish.

[0:07:26.3] MM: Yeah, it’s really a lot of fish, sometimes it’s just an overwhelming amount of fish. Of course the fish have no idea where the boundaries of the no take zone are. So there is a spillover effect and it has resulted in an increase of catch for the local people in their sort of traditional fishing areas, which is kind of a win/win situation. Plus, we are business employees 128 people and our foundation employs another 35. So those are all people who are making a living and usually supporting themselves as well as an extended family and it’s totally decoupled from any sort of marine extraction, it’s a sustainable living, which is another bonus.

[0:08:11.3] CM: Right, those villages then must look benevolently from the resort and the work. Because that’s why the question I was going to get to is that when you guys first got there, did the villagers all just think you’re completely mad or you just have no idea what you are trying to do or even just who are you foreigners to turn up here wanting to park yourself in our land or whatever?

[0:08:40.0] MM: They definitely thought we were completely mad and they might not be wrong if they still think we’re a little bit mad, but to their credit, they were very welcoming actually. I was surprised that, they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do, which is a large part our own fault that it was hard for us actually to explain it since we didn’t have any great master plan.

It was very much a sort of organic progression but they stuck with us and as you may or may not know, when we started building the resort, actually the idea was to build a conservation center, not to build a resort. But we couldn’t figure out how to fund all of the conservation work that we wanted to do so this private enterprise became the funding vehicle for our conservation initiatives.

[0:09:31.3] CM: I didn’t know that, I just thought you were a pair of dive bums.

[0:09:37.1] MM: That’s also true.

[0:09:39.7] CM: Right, okay. Well yes, because that’s the thing isn’t it? Behind all of this is the fact that, like you mentioned earlier, that there is basically a huge amount of money is required to just keep this momentum and the machine going year after year. Because it’s all very well setting up an initiative but it has to keep running for decades after that if it’s going to have any real impact and the money’s always a problem. That’s kind of the impressive part is about how that one, that the resort even exists and two, that is kept going and beyond sustaining itself, it’s managed to fund all this other projects? That would be right, would it? Or is there other things involved in it that help with the funding?

[0:10:23.1] MM: I mean no, in 2010 we became a charitable foundation so that we could start seeking outside funding but for the first five years, we were doing all the conservational work before we even had a foundation and of course as a startup company, it’s not always a rosy outlook and we operated at a loss for many, many years but we never once stopped patrolling our no take zone.

It makes — you say that it’s impressive that it all happened but actually, from my point of view, I think it’s really logical progression that our reefs are the most important asset of our business. So the work that the foundation does and the work the tour business does, they’re inextricably linked and one couldn’t exist without the other.

[0:11:14.9] CM: Sure, I take your point but I think more just from — it’s difficult enough to start any business but it’s even more difficult to start it in frankly the middle of nowhere where It’s six hours the nearest city that can actually bring in provisions and supplies and so on and so forth. The whole story on the resort’s website about how everything is built from drift wood and reclaimed wood rather than chopping down trees.

So it wasn’t just like shipping a load of materials and chucking up a resort. You guys were out there like salvaging all the stuff. A lot of people would have just given up, I think that’s the — I dunno. Maybe were you all just sitting around drinking Piña coladas? Maybe I’ve got the wrong idea.

[0:11:57.8] MM: That’s the real story, is we were drinking Piña coladas in a hammock. No, I mean, that’s also, that’s the advantage of inexperience and naiveté that we had. If you have no idea what you’re getting in to, you don’t get cold feet as easily. But there was also, what you said earlier about, “Did the local people think that you were totally nuts?” And the answer is, yes, absolutely and part of that was about building everything from reclaimed wood so the area is beautiful with this beautiful iron wood trees which are perfectly straight and would be perfect for chopping down a building and of course that’s not what we wanted to do, it doesn’t make any sense to do a conservation project and then cut down all the trees or buy timber from Sarong where it’s all come out of primary rain forests.

Instead we started searching driftwood and free falling wood that we could put through our saw mill. That’s I think when the first moment that our host thought, “Wow, these people are really bonkers.” The second moment was when we were explaining that actually what we had in mind was that people would come and stay at the resort from all over the world and they were just going to look at stuff. They weren’t actually going to take anything, they were just going to go under water and look at the fish and the coral. There was a sort of like the myth of the golden sea cucumber for a while that people were like, “Maybe there’s something really special underwater that they know about that we don’t know about, the people are actually going to come from all over the world to collect.” Which of course was not the case either.

[0:13:52.9] CM: So given that, just to jump back to what you were saying about 700% increase in fish, which I still just find a fantastic statistic. Obviously you have ben on the island now for, it’s 2005 so now it’s nearly 12 years, right?

[0:14:09.4] MM: Yes.

[0:14:11.6] CM: I’m not even sure how you and Andy and the rest of the team, how you discovered it in the first place, were you all like working on dive boats and stuff beforehand?

[0:14:20.0] MM: Andrew was working on a dive boat. He was managing one of the first liveaboards that was in the area and he had been diving through Raja Ampat and Misool for several years and was getting a little bit tired of life on a small boat. Then in 2005, it was actually on my 28th birthday, I happened to meet Andrew in Bangkok and it was my open water instructor who had been telling me about him since 1999 and trying to get us together and for whatever reason it didn’t work but in 2005 we finally met and then he invited me to come and visit him on this liveaboard and it ended up our third date, was like four weeks sailing around in Raja Ampat.

[0:15:10.2] CM: Sounds awful.

[0:15:12.4] MM: Yeah, here we are almost 12 years later.

[0:15:16.8] CM: He basically just didn’t let you off the boat did he?

[0:15:19.4] MM: Right, I became a prisoner. On that trip, we visited the island where we eventually would build the resort but at the time, it was actually a shark finning camp on that island. Yeah, which is pretty shocking. Shark finning is kind of something that people know about but it has a very different feeling when you actually see what it looks like. I started thinking about all of that time, all of those dives we had done in Misool and I had been so struck by the color of the reefs and all of these different textures of the corals but actually, I realized, I hadn’t seen any sharks.

Andrew told me on that trip that he had this idea that he would like to build a conservation center and stop working on the boat, I thought, “Wow, this is a great idea,” but of course you’re not really thinking about the practicalities of how one would fund such a thing or the fact that there’s no fresh water on the island or that it’s 160 kilometers from the nearest town. He was really determined and we were newly in love so it seemed like a good idea.

We had — later that year in 2005, he quit the job on the boat and then we moved together back to Bangkok and started sort of thinking about the nuts and the bolts. That’s when we brought some other people on our team into the project who all had really different experiences and backgrounds. Yeah, which all sort of came together to end up where we are now.

[0:16:56.9] CM: Awesome. So I’m going to keep going about this 700% fish increase. What is the point I was going to make I digressed from was, given that you’ve been diving there for 11 years, obviously your favorite spots must have changed as things move around you and as your own sort of tastes or whatever change. Right now, as of this year, what are your favorite places around within the zone around Misool?

[0:17:28.9] MM: That’s a really hard one.

[0:17:29.7] CM: Yeah I know but I’m just going to put you on the spot. Is it three — it doesn’t have to be because they’re the best or whatever, just the ones that are important to you that you like for whatever.

[0:17:40.6] MM: Right, I would have to say one of them would be the lagoon that our resort is built around which was the shark finning camp when we arrived. Now, it’s been transformed into this nursery for baby black tip sharks. So you can see them sort of cruising around in the early morning or on the evening in groups of like, we’ve seen up to 22 at one time but we also see the adults coming in and mating, which is so exciting to see this incredible transformation.

I remember conversations where Andrew and I were saying, “Could you imagine one day we could actually see sharks here?” We had in our mind, we’re not scientists or in any way trained in marine biology but we sort of thought, “Wow, this could take generations to come back,” and actually it was just — it was a matter of a few years before we started seeing sharks coming back if you just sort of get out of nature’s way she recovers quickly. So that would be one.

Another site of course would be Magic Mountain. That’s about 20 minutes away and it’s a sea mound. It’s well inside of our no take zone but there’s actually two cleaning manta stations on the same dive site. So there’s one at about 25 meters and then there’s one right at the top at seven meters and I think it’s one of the only places in the world where you can see oceanic mantas as well as reef mantas interacting. It’s also, I mean that’s kind of this wild card dive site where you’d never know what’s going to turn up.

If you don’t see mantas, there’s actually a pretty good chance you’re going to see mantas. If you come on a bad day and you don’t see them, it’s still an absolutely amazing dive site with Giant trevally and huge schools of yellow snappers and really, really beautiful coral and then more and more sharks. I’m seeing more grey sharks there and white tips of course there are wobbegongs and epaulette sharks as well. So it’s just a super neat site.

[0:19:52.2] CM: Yes, I was there in February and bizarrely, even though I’ve been to Raja a couple of times, I don’t think I had dived Magic Mountain before. I don’t know what was going on but anyway. So this is the first time I dived here in February and yeah, that kind of…

[0:20:05.2] MM: What did you think?

[0:20:06.8] CM: I didn’t know where to look first. Over here, over there, I don’t know. Go over there. And also, yeah the mantas turned up and like you say, we weren’t particularly lucky. We had a couple of nice encounters but it’s just quite a frenetic sight, isn’t it? I was just — the only thing was I was a little bit, my sense of like being like a fearless pioneer of the remote seas was a bit dented because there was a queue of boats waiting to get on the dive site.

It was quite nice. If I remember correctly, the boat captain was saying that, all the boat’s check in with you at the Misool Eco Resort to basically schedule when they can go on the site to make sure they’re not going to impact on someone else’s dive, is that right? You guys are the guardians of it.

[0:20:52.9] MM: That’s right, yeah. We ask the liveaboards that are using our area to sort of check in with us and that way we can align our schedules the best so that everybody has a great experience. It’s actually not fun to be on a dive site with other people.

[0:21:12.6] CM: No, because I mean Magic Mountain, it’s a fairly large site isn’t it? You wouldn’t really want more than 10 people on it at any one time before it does get a bit crazy.

[0:21:21.9] MM: That’s right. There are so many amazing dive sites in that area that there’s absolutely no reason to have more than 10 people on that site at one time.

[0:21:31.9] CM: Yes. Just skipping back to what you were saying about the lagoon. Given it’s a nursery, are divers actually allowed to go in there or do you sort of keep people out of it so that the sharks can remain undisturbed and stuff or is it possible to go and have a splash around?

[0:21:47.1] MM: Yeah, it’s absolutely possible. When the sharks — we’ve never actually seen when they’re pupping and there’s quite a few lagoons on that same island on the same area. They’re kind of all over the island so people often spend their surface interval snorkeling around the lagoon with the baby sharks.

[0:22:06.7] CM: Wow. Which is pretty special.

[0:22:10.7] MM: Yeah it’s not bad.

[0:22:13.4] CM: Is the lagoon then, is that effectively the house reef for the resort or is it a sort of only a small part of it? Or would you consider the house reef as being something completely different?

[0:22:23.8] MM: The lagoon sort of fronts onto the house reef. So the lagoon is really, really shallow, it goes to about maximum two meters and then it drops off in a wall and that wraps around our island and onto our jetty. So the house reef dive I would say, to answer your question, that would be favorite place number three.

[0:22:46.5] CM: Right.

[0:22:48.2] MM: Yeah. It’s a pretty mellow dive because it’s quite protected for the most part from currents but you can jump off of the jetty on a rising tide and just sort of cruise north on the wall and then scoot back into the lagoon and come up on the dive center or you could walk up the steps of your water cottage because they’re built right over the lagoon. In terms of what you can see, I mean it’s really interesting. We keep finding new things there, like this year we saw a wonderpus in that area, which was pretty wild.

There’s also mandarin fish at about quarter past six every evening doing their thing and the flasher wrasse are doing a little dance. So for people who are really interested in seeing a particular critter or photographers who would like to document a particular behavior, the house reef is the ideal location because you can kind of, you know, all of our dive guides obviously know that place like the back of their hand. So if you say, “I need to photograph jaw fish.” Okay, that’s great, we can tell you exactly where they are and you can keep going back until you actually capture the image that you’re looking for, which is handy.

[0:24:06.7] CM: Would you say then that, one of my questions was going to be, is there a thing when guests have been to the resort, is there something that lots of them comment about saying, “Yeah, so and so thing was amazing, I had no idea it would be like that.” Is there like one particular aspect of it that’s like that? Because the house reef sounds like maybe — because everywhere has got a house reef but that one sounds like it’s a particularly awesome, yet it’s not just the house reef because it’s next door to the resort. It’s a house reef because it’s a beautiful area to dive in in its own right.

[0:24:40.6] MM: I think, in terms of the diving, I think a lot of guests are very surprised by the diversity of what they can see and also the accessibility that the house reef is right there, that it’s just like a few fin kicks away from the bed that you’re sleeping in. I mean that’s fantastic and that you can, once you know the dive site, you can go with your dive buddy anytime and then most of our dive sites are so close, probably on a regular basis, maybe 15 minutes away is the furthest that we travel to visit a totally incredible site.

So normally we do a one tank dive and then we come back and we have some really yummy food in the restaurant and then you go out for another dive. So it’s quite a nice feeling, it’s pretty relaxed that everything is so close by and that you can come back and…

[0:25:38.1] CM: Sure.

[0:25:38.6] MM: …change the batteries in your camera.

[0:25:40.4] CM: Yeah, very sort of relaxed and sort of everything running really to the customer’s schedule rather than the other way around.

[0:25:47.9] MM: Yeah, that’s right. We have a number of boats and dive guides as well. So we can kind of tailor things according to people’s interests and the experience that they’re looking for as well as their experience levels. So it’s really flexible.

[0:26:05.2] CM: One of the other projects that you guys have launched is the, I think it’s the manta ray identification or? Presumably you’re taking photos of the mantas around Misool Eco Resort and then feeding them into the manta database and that sort of stuff?

[0:26:25.6] MM: Yeah, the Misool manta project has its own database and we’ve been documenting the populations around our area and then of course sharing that data with other organizations. That information actually was really critical for two major events that happened. One was in 2010, we petitioned the Raja Ampat government together with shark savers, which is now a part of wild aid to make all of Raja Ampat into a shark and manta ray sanctuary.

In addition to our no take zones and in addition to I think Raja Ampat now has seven marine protected areas which are administered by the government, all of Raja Ampat is now illegal to fish for any sharks and mantas, which is huge.

[0:27:14.0] CM: Absolutely yeah.

[0:27:16.9] MM: Then further to the — a few years later, there’s been a national ban on manta fishing in Indonesia, which is pretty exciting.

[0:27:26.6] CM: Yes, so my second part of that question was, is that has Dr. Andrea Marshall been to visit you? I know she’s done some work in Indonesia but…

[0:27:36.1] MM: No, not yet We’ve actually got a trip organized. I believe it’s going to be in December this year. It’s a manta trust expedition. So that will be one over first collaboration with an outside manta organization, which we’re pretty excited about.

[0:27:51.7] CM: Yeah, that’s great. Because she was — I interviewed her a couple of episodes ago and she was really excited about how, effectively how rapidly things had changed Indonesia and she was just saying, it is the direct result of work by people like yourself. That this grass roots movement does actually affect change on the political level, which is really where it has to happen in the end doesn’t it? It can’t just be little isolated pockets of protection.

[0:28:20.9] MM: That’s right, yeah. I mean I think individuals need to start taking responsibility and taking action but if you sort of stop there, it’s not really effective on a global scale. So if you start small and then all of these small pieces can fit together to actually make some real change, that’s the best news ever.

[0:28:43.3] CM: Yeah, for sure. So given that the resort is obviously doing well and all the project’s doing well, you said earlier that you’ve got no plans to extend the no take zone even further. But are there other projects on the horizon of other things you’d like to try to deal with in the area?

[0:29:02.2] MM: Oh god, yes there’s always more. There’s always more things in the pipeline. One thing that is never on there is the idea of like you said earlier, drinking Piña coladas in a hammock. That never gets to the top of the list. Yeah, there’s quite a few other ideas that we have. I mean one of the main sort of founding principles that we had, as I said, was to make a conservation area.

But we really kind of set out to prove that private enterprise can actually be an effective route for conservation and it would be great to sort of apply everything that we’ve learned in this model to another area. So if we could sort of make this into a blue print and share it with other people and just inspire other people to take responsibility for their little corner of the world, I think that would be amazing. That’s high on my laundry list.

The other one is we’re moving towards energy efficient, or self-sufficiency. So we installed a 10 kilowatt photovoltaic system this year on our dive shop, which is pretty cool. It’s very small but I think we produced basically enough solar power to equal the reduction of 1,800 kilograms of CO2. It’s not nothing but we’re sort of moving forward on that idea this year and trying to expand the project hopefully at some point to become totally off the grid. Of course when I say off the grid, I mean off the grid that we built ourselves in Sorong Island, and being able to actually turn off our generators and still have our air conditioners on and our compressors running in all of our refrigeration running without actually using any fossil fuels.

[0:31:03.2] CM: Yeah, that would be fantastic. Do you think that’s actually doable then within say the next five years? Do you think you’ll actually manage to hit that target by then?

[0:31:12.6] MM: Yes, I do.

[0:31:13.6] CM: Awesome. Given it is remote, it’s a five hour boat ride from Sarong is that correct, to get to the resort?

[0:31:22.6] MM: It’s actually a bit less, we normally tell people about five, so that when we get there in four hours, they’re super excited.

[0:31:30.3] CM: Clever. Classic psychological marketing. Do people, say for example, say people have heard this, now terribly excited to come and visit you. Is there anything you would sort of, not warn is too strong a word but just to sort of prepare people and manage their expectations and stuff. How would you describe staying on the island?

Obviously it’s comfortable, you’ve got aircons and nice cabins is probably a bit more posher now isn’t it? Nice bungalow size, I mean, obviously you’re in the middle of nowhere, is there anything they should be particularly prepared for?

[0:32:06.1] MM: Yeah, I think we’re in the middle of nowhere and we really like to offer our guest a sort of transformative experience of being in a totally pristine natural environment and still being really, really comfortable. So our particular interpretation of luxury is maybe not the same as everyone else’s. You will not have a choice of Perrier or Pellegrino or whatever. For us, luxury is more like, you get to be on this island and there’s no mobile phone signal.

We do have some Internet, but it’s very bad and it’s only in the dive center. So it’s this incredible opportunity to actually switch off and enjoy the experiences that you’re having right now and that’s one of the main attractions I think of diving. When else in your life do you just sort of immerse yourself in appreciating the beauty of what’s happening around you right now? You’re not hash tagging, “Oh I just saw a giant trevally.”

Or you’re not talking to someone else about what happened to you now or what happened to you five minutes ago, what’s going to happen to you 20 minutes from now. You’re actually totally present in the moment enjoying nature and this experience. So we try to maintain that sort of idea of being present as an aspect of luxury throughout the whole resort. The other thing that guests are really surprised about is that it’s super comfortable. It’s not the Four Seasons but it is really excellent food and amazing service and fantastic spa treatments.

[0:33:52.6] CM: Absolutely. Yeah I think I said that you raise a really important point there. It’s nice the idea of the resort being sort of an extension of your time diving. That sort of peace and quiet and time to think and reflect and just be in the moment. I think the time where mobile phones start working under water, we’re all doomed basically.

[0:34:13.7] MM: Oh gosh, that sounds horrible.

[0:34:17.3] CM: But I do, I have one very important question to ask you now though just to check. You do have cold beer in your resort, right?

[0:34:24.1] MM: Of course we do.

[0:34:26.4] CM: I was just checking. I don’t know how far you’re going to take this luxury thing or lack of it.

[0:34:32.8] MM: Yeah we do have cold beer and on occasion, we also have cold champagne. There are certain compromises that you need to make and we live there pretty much full time and we also have to survive. So we have cold Champagne.

[0:34:51.2] CM: Fantastic.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[0:34:53.2] CM: Thanks for listening to the Dive Happy Podcast. For show notes about this episode including maps of where we’re talking about, travel tips, links to the liveaboards, resorts, books, et cetera that we mentioned and other good stuff, please visit Divehappy.com/podcast. If you want to get in touch, send me an email. Chris@divehappy.com. If you want to know when the next podcast comes out, you can sign up to the Dive Happy mailing list in the website or follow on Twitter, @divehappy.

Until next time, dive safe and dive happy. Cheers.

[END]



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