An internship is something college students look forward to. We can’t wait to feel what it’s like in a working environment. We can’t wait to meet real life working people with real jobs. We can’t wait to learn more about the things we don’t learn in college. And that is exactly what it’s like for me. Last January, I did my internship (Field Work Experience) at the Marine Megafauna Foundation – SE Asia at Nusa Lembongan, Bali. I was also accompanying my senior, Raka, on her final year project research. We learned about microplastics at the manta ray’s feeding ground.
It was Sunday evening, and Jungutbatu was rather cloudy when we arrived. Elitza, our supervisor, greeted us at the beach and we walked to the MMF office and then to our accommodation. We got ourselves settled, and got ready for the next day.
Once Raka and I start to work, we did a lot of new things. We learned how to process the wet samples and make them into dry samples. Those plankton and microplastics can be quite handy and sticky. We also learned how to identify and measure microplastics under a microscope. It wasn’t that complicated, but it did make my neck a bit stiff looking down the microscope after a while. Of course, we also learned how to take and process samples at sea. And oh boy, the sea can really give you a challenge. And to top it off, we learned how to input the data samples into spreadsheets neatly. We didn’t know how neat a spreadsheet could be until we saw Elitza’s data spreadsheets. We also learned about sharks and the ocean life by watching the documentaries MMF have every Sunday.
Processing microplastic samples
A microplastic sample during processing
Counting microplastics and tabulating data
Our activities in Nusa Lembongan really depend on the weather and the swell. During bad weather, we would go to the lab and process the data from the week before. As more working days went, Raka and I were able to process the samples and input the data confidently. We even learned to track the GPS coordinates and make a pretty good track map. On days where we finished early, Raka and I would stop by the MMF Office and help the coworkers, Lili, Satu and Jen, to match mantas. What I mean by “matching mantas” is we compare photos of the unique belly patterns of manta ray undersides to a catalogue or database of know individuals. We can tehn know if the manatrays we have encountered are already known or new to the animal catalogue. With enough data we can understand the local population of mantas and how they use these habitats. Matching mantas isn’t as easy as we thought it would be. After two hours of going through the database, we ended up with only nine matched mantas.
During better days, we head to sea. Raka and I usually go out to sea at noon, with Pak Edi, our ‘boat driver’, Elitza as the project leader, and a few of the coworkers who can come with. As we arrive at the bay, we immediately put on our mask, snorkels and fins, and jump into the water. Once we put our head underwater, we could see the creature we’ve wanted to see.
Getting up close with the manta rays was a dream come true. It was amazing how such big creatures can eat the tiniest creatures at sea. The manta rays swam elegantly, as if they they’re doing ballet. What saddened Raka and I most is the fact that these beautiful creatures are swimming through a sea of plastic. At that point, Raka and I clearly understood what we’re studying about at MMF is a very important issue.
Plastic pollution litters the manta ray feeding grounds in Nusa Penida
After going to sea a number of times, we gained a pretty good set of skills. I was able to do a hand trawl, where I should swim near the mantas while gathering planktons with plankton net. It might seem a bit off, but we really did process the samples at sea (a bit). The trawl sampling part was actually simple, but it required a a number of set procedures and a good eye. Besides trawling and getting some good amount of planktons, we also did a visual survey of floating marine debris throughout the bay. Afterwards, still at the wavy seas, we transfer the planktons to a small plastic container, and add an amount of preservative to it. That might sound easy, but with the big swells and the seasickness, it really is a challenge.
Swimming with manta rays and collecting plankton and microplastic samples
Counting and recording surface plastic
A preserved plankton and microplastic sample
Getting closer to the end of our internship, we decided to hold a presentation. Our first presentation was about our experience at MMF and the things we learned from it. Both Raka and I were nervous because we had to do the presentation in English, in front of a group of people we don’t know. Luckily, the crowd was kind to us rookies, and our presentation went well! We’re very happy to be able to practice our English with our coworkers and during our presentation!
Presenting to the community of Jungutbatu about our research
For our community service act, we decided to educate a group of kids from the local school about the ocean life and the harm the ocean is facing. Not only did we share our knowledge about microplastics and manta rays, but also showed them videos on how microplastics pollute the ocean, and the beautiful life beneath the water. We also had the kids make arts and craft from the trash Raka and I took at the beach. The community service was ended by taking a group selfie with the whole class.
Inspiring the next generation of ocean guardians
School art inspired by the sea and made from beach plastic debris
Raka and I had so much fun working at MMF. We worked in a very laid back environment, with the kindest coworkers ever. We learned so many new things that opened up our minds, whether it’s a scientific matter or not. We understood how prepared we should be when it comes to doing fieldwork. We created links and network with the people at MMF and at Nusa Lembongan. If I had the chance to work or help out at MMF again and be with the mantas, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
Janis Argeswara and Raka Wulandari