With laughs and pipefish, scientists and students share reef knowledge

For a few hours on March 11, the dining area of Coral Eye — a marine research outpost and resort — became a mini-aquarium, the big wooden table dotted with tanks and buckets of colorful sea slugs, starfish and one bewildered pipefish.

Taking advantage of the quiet period before guests fill up the resort, marine biologists Dr. Miriam Weber and Christian Lott invited local students to Coral Eye to learn about the treasure lying just a few meters offshore: Bangka Island’s thriving coral reef.

The day began with Christian drawing a reef piece-by-piece on a big chalkboard, explaining the complex relationships between the reef’s inhabitants, and how humans can help or hurt.

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The students debated a question that Christian posed: Are corals plants or animals (turns out, they’re both), and helped Christian brush up on the Indonesian names for creatures like cuttlefish and crabs. Afterwards, Miriam asked the students to study the animals in the tanks, and figure out how they might eat, move and perceive their environments. The day wrapped up with a snorkel on Coral Eye house reef, before the students loaded into boats to head home.


For Miriam, the highlight was sharing “astonishing things about creatures in the ocean,” like free-living corals that can use their tentacles to walk around. “You see in their faces that they think: Wow, that’s really interesting and amazing, and it’s right in front of our door,” she said. 

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Miriam and Christian were joined by young ocean activists from Sea Soldiers, an organization founded by the 2005 Miss Indonesia and dedicated to protecting the country’s ocean habitats through activities like educational field trips, beach clean-ups and reef restoration. The Soldiers translated for the biologists — with plenty of jokes along the way — and helped the students study the animals in the tanks and under microscopes. 

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This was not a one-off event: The Sea Soldiers, Christian, Miriam and other members of the No-Trash Triangle team were so happy with how the day went that they agreed to future collaborations. The group is now creating a marine education curriculum for local students, which Sea Soldiers will help teach. These lesson plans will fill some big gaps: most Indonesian kids get little to no schooling in marine science or plastic pollution, despite living in a global hotspot for both ocean biodiversity and plastic waste. 

“This collaboration, for us, is why this day was really important,” said Anna Clerici, the coordinator of the No-Trash Triangle Initiative and manager of Coral Eye. 

As for the pipefish, the tiny striped ambassador was released back where it was captured on the reef, along with the other creatures collected for the tanks. The pipefish zipped off into the depths, no doubt relieved that class was over for the day. 

Written by Allison Guy

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