Remote Expedition to West Papua, Indonesia

23 – 29 July 2009

Um Island
Batu Rumah

We have been planning this part of our expedition since before we left Australia for Asia four months ago. When we found out that WWF Indonesia had a project site for leatherback turtles, we zeroed in on what we needed to do and plan. Malaria was something we were over -prepared for – we had Doxycline, two types of Cloroquin, Chinese malaria medicine, the works! Yogi had malaria once from PNG and we didn’t need another attack. Our permits too had to be organized ahead of time, and Lely from the head office of WWF Jakarta was on top of all our permit requirements, from our multiple entry visas to our travel permits down to national park permits. We thought there wouldn’t be electricity in base camp so we ordered a solar panel to charge our camera batteries and a small 12 volt PC. We needn’t have worried, as the guys from WWF Sorong had it all sorted. There was a brand new generator on site! Hallelujah.

Our WWF companions for the trip were Bas Wurlianty, Project Leader of WWF Sorong, and Franki Waroby, his Turtle Monitoring Coordinator. We were also accompanied by the head of Fisheries Mr. Linder Rouw. We always joked that Mr. Linder was our personal permit.

WWF Sorong "speed boat" laanding in Batu Rumah

WWF Sorong “speed boat” landing in Batu Rumah

We reached Jamursbamedi, located at the top head of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua, Indonesia after eight hours’ boat ride from Sorong in the local speed boat of WWF Sorong. We were very fortunate to have had calm waters, and the ride along the coast was not as harrowing as we had earlier imagined. It was quite pleasant, actually, as we travelled right beside the coastline – surrounded by flat seas and the thick Papuan forest.

Um Island's eroding beach

Um Island’s eroding beach

Two hours into the trip, we stopped at Um Island for a quick photo opportunity.

Fruit bats in Um Island

Fruit bats on Um Island

The beautiful deserted island full of fruit bats revealed a sight we realized was a strong evidence of climate change. It was strangely photogenic to see so many trees lying along the beach, like it was naturally landscaped with driftwood scattered along the island.

Once a magnificent forest tree, now looking very decorative along the beach

Once a magnificent forest tree

But if one looks closer and thinks deeper, these massive trees were once alive and part of this little island’s forest. Now they’re very dead, and have fallen into the water, with the beach washing away little by little everyday.

Erosion felled this massive tree

Erosion felled this massive tree!

The white sandy beach is heavily eroding. This island, like many others like it, may one day disappear.

Landing in Batu Rumah. This expedition comes with a lot of bags and boxes

Landing in Batu Rumah. This expedition comes with a lot of bags and boxes

Once we reached Batu Rumah, where the WWF staff house is located, we saw about a dozen tents. There were a group of students from the State Universiti of Papua or Unipa studying leatherback turtles, and we were quite happy to know we were in good company. One student, Heri, played his self made ukulele and was singing and playing all throughout our visit there. Very nice.

About the Author:

Stella was born in Manila, Philippines in 1965. She studied anthropology but ended up in advertising, producing radio and TV commercials for 7 years. After quitting advertising, she ventured into the freelance world in Manila producing video documentaries for a publishing house, government agencies, non govenmental organisations, and the academe. She moved on to producing books and had a stint at working with foreign production companies visiting Manila. Stella, now based in Cairns, produces photo stories with her husband Jürgen Freund.