For the last 10 years Geoff has worked in marine conservation. Starting off in North Sulawesi, where he led a team of 16 local scientists carry out a social survey on eco-tourism (for USAID), he continued on to West Papua, Indonesia's "last frontier". For a marine biologist, West Papua is the holy grail. It is not only World's epicenter of marine biodiversity but also has the oldest, most mature rainforests. Geoff was asked to lead Indonesia's first satellite tracking project of hard-shelled sea turtles (i.e. all sea turtles except leatherbacks have hard shells). The trip, which took the tracking team all over the Raja Ampat archipelago, had a more meaningful role than just tracking turtles: it marked the beginning of the Piai Island sea turtle conservation program. You can read more about this in the NatureBlog. In subsequent years, when working on his PhD at Scripps, Geoff continued advising the Papuan non-profit that manages the Raja Ampat turtle program.
In 2009, Geoff went to Papua's Bird's Head Peninsula where, with the help of colleagues from the State University of Papua, he carried out his PhD research (see: Portfolio). Leatherbacks, the largest of all extant species of sea turtles, are critically endangered. Even in the wild recesses of New Guinea, the threats are never far away. Off-shore fishing vessels cast driftnets that entangle anything from tunas to dolphins and turtles, while on the beaches nests are plundered by feral dogs and pigs and, unfortunately, humans. Geoff couldn't focus solely on the science without getting his nose in conservation issues, as after all, what sense does it make to know everything about these magnificent animals if by the time we have figured out their biology they have disappeared?
In developing countries, the key to successful conservation is to educate the young generation on the importance of protecting their natural environment. Young Papuans have a cultural advantage as they are still very close to nature. Building on their naturocentric traditions, such as their "sasi" land tenure system, it is not hard to inspire Papuan kids to maintain and cultivate their sustainable lifestyles. Therefore, Geoff together with Elizabeth Johnstone, another Scripps scientist, founded Ocean Positive, a California-based non-profit. Ocean Positive's mission is to support education of young Papuans who live in priority conservation areas, so they can become better stewards of their own reefs and forests. Geoff will be adding stories of West Papua to the Indonesia blog section.
Ocean Positive - Marine conservation in the Coral triangle