When we stepped foot on Barefoot Conservation camp on the island of Arborek – in Raja Ampat West Papua – we were greeted by a sea of smiles. 70 of the 120 island inhabitants are children – all under the age of 12! The older ones all study in Wasai on the mainland.
On the tiny, flat island of Arborek, there is little fresh water, electricity or technology; life is very different to the Western world. Kids are not glued to screens and they have very few toys. The natural environment is their playground: somersaulting off the jetty, paddling along the shores in wooden canoes, free diving with the neon-coloured marine life, or climbing coconut trees is how they play, day after day!
Oh and they go to school on Arborek and the other surrounding islands!
During our 3-week stay at Barefoot Conservation, Message Me was born: a participatory eco-arts project we made with the young girls on Arborek.
With the help of Barefoot’s community officer Maya Puspa Kewi we got our Message Me project off to a flying start!
Our drone Daphne helped to capture all the amazing aerial footage!
Message Me involves the kids writing marine conservation messages to put in the plastic bottles they find polluting the seas or washed up on the beaches. Each child’s message invites other kids around the world to participate and create an eco-activist dialogue.
First these girls started with a beach clean up. The participants also made these photographic portraits of each other with their bottles under the ocean before sending the plastic waste off for recycling.
Raja Ampat is one of the world’s most remote locations and home to the highest concentration and diversity of marine life on Earth. The oceans of Raja Ampat contain 80% of all the world’s coral species, 1350 species of fish, 6 of the world’s marine turtle species and 27 varieties of marine mammal. Manta rays are also abundant here.
Messages such as ‘Don’t stand on the coral!’ and ‘Please do not disturb the mantas..’ have been written by the Papuan girls to help raise awareness to man’s destruction of our eco-systems.
Through photographic and filmed documentation of the messages, the concept of throwing the message in a bottle into the sea is reversed: to spread the message on the internet, posters or publication and other means of communication: then recycle the bottles after displaying them in the local community.
“This staggering concentration of biodiversity is unparalleled anywhere in the world today. The reefs at Raja Ampat show remarkable resistance to global marine threats such as climate change, coral bleaching and disease. Larvae produced here are swept across the oceans to replenish other reefs which support healthy ecosystems globally and sustainable subsistence fishing for poor local villagers. What happens in Raja Ampat will have a direct impact on the world’s marine ecosystem. It is vital we understand and protect it.” – Barefoot Conservation
Inspired by the movement 1 Million Women, the project started out with the aim to empower girls globally through education and arts participation to act on climate change. Arborek is a patriarchal community, where girls are expected to finish their education early, marry, raise children and run the household; whereas, for boys their education is prioritized.
You can see all the marine action here! On ‘Message Me’ the first in a series of short videos of kids participating around the world:
We have since taken the Message Me project to the Philippines – supported by Scandi Divers Resort – so please WATCH THIS SPACE to see what messages Filippino kids are saying to help spread the marine message! Boys wanted to take part too – so even better!
Our 3 weeks spent as volunteers at Barefoot Conservation was one of the highlights of our world trip. Living on a remote island, with few creature comforts, scuba diving with mantas everyday and helping with marine conservation was truly a unique experience: realising Message Me with the local kids really was the icing on the cake!
If you are interested in learning more about what it’s like to volunteer at Barefoot Conservation then fire away with any questions in the comments section below. We will be publishing lots of videos we made during our stay there soon, such as a ‘Day in the Life of a Volunteer’…. ‘Diving with mantas’….. ‘How to get there’ etc. etc.
WATCH THE PLANET HERO SPACE!