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Last year, BSc (Hons) Environmental Science student Zach Boakes wrote a blog piece about his placement year co-founding volunteering organisation North Bali Reef Conservation. Now he has been awarded the BU Placement Prize for his achievements, he is back with an update on how it is all going. 

My sandwich placement was spent at North Bali Reef Conservation (NBRC), an NGO in Indonesia which I co-founded in July 2017. NBRC is a volunteering organisation and non-profit NGO which aims to conserve local coral reef ecosystems, whilst providing local people with sustainable livelihoods. The two year old organisation runs multiple large scale projects, including;

  • The construction and deployment of over 6000 artificial reef structures which are deployed and restore habitats in an area of previously destroyed corals.
  • The provision of a village plastic recycling centre and community education program.
  • Enforcement of local marine protected area (MPA), overseen and enforced by local fishermen groups that work with NBRC.

My roles and responsibilities whilst on placement included…

  • Running a three-month monitoring program, which is used for my IRP data. The project involved deploying an underwater camera in four reef sites, every morning for around three months.
  • Organising a team of local fishermen to build artificial reef structures. Whilst on placement I worked with a group of over 20 fishermen to improve the local reef biodiversity. When I first started working with them, the fishermen had little knowledge of conservation. The work we have been doing has genuinely empowered them to protect and restore their reef. Now they even enforce their own local marine protected area.
  • Managing international volunteers. During my time on placement, I was responsible for managing over 200 international volunteers including university groups, families and individual volunteers.
  • Founding a plastic recycling centre which has made a genuine difference to the local plastic pollution problem. NBRC is based within the poorest region of Bali, where there is no waste management support. Before the centre, all plastic would get burnt or dumped in the local river or sea, all causing significant local pollution problems. We wanted to change this, so we started a community plastic recycling centre.

During my placement, I did face some challenges like…

  • My job as a volunteer manager came with a lot of responsibility and at times I was faced with stressful situations that I had to efficiently deal with. A perfect example; in October 2018, a large earthquake hit the North of Bali at night. Luckily no volunteers were injured by the earthquake, however many were very scared and panicked. As a volunteer manager, it was my job to make sure everyone was safe and calm. Situations like this have taught me that to effectively manage groups of people, it’s important to stay calm under stress and this has really improved my future leadership skills.
  • Learning Indonesian. For my placement, it was essential to be able to speak Indonesian, as my job involved managing groups of local fishermen that cannot speak English. The year before my placement I joined the BU Indonesian society and asked for help from various members from this community to learn Indonesian. I found it challenging at times, but after being on placement for 16 months, I am proud to now be a confident Indonesian language speaker.


Looking forward to the future…

My placement at North Bali Reef Conservation went fantastically and I am pleased to be able to return after I graduate. I have recently received confirmation that ‘Earthwatch’ (a citizen scientist organisation), have agreed to support and develop my research program. In addition to this, I plan to continue my reef restoration, turtle conservation and educational work with NBRC. I am thrilled to have had this opportunity and I definitely plan to spend the first years of my career doing this.


Advice for prospective students looking to get into conservation…

Since I co-founded NBRC over three years ago, I have been faced with many challenges. However, I’ve been lucky enough to get support from great, inspiring and knowledgeable people, who have helped me overcome each difficulty. My advice to any prospective students looking to get into the industry, would be to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or try something that may (at the time) seem too challenging. In my experience, for every difficult situation I’ve been faced with, there’s been a solution, or somebody offering to help just around the corner. And when things do work out, a job in conservation can be truly rewarding.


To find out more about North Bali Reef Conservation, you can also listen to Zach’s interview on The Common Ground podcast.

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