Collaborating to Save Seagrass: Communities in Timor-Leste Embrace Conservation

Meet Monda Costa… She is one of a team of community members working with marine conservation NGO Blue Ventures to save sea grass habitats on Ataúro Island in Timor-Leste.

Monda Costa recording data during a seagrass survey
Monda Costa helps conduct a survey of a sea grass meadow off the coast of her home, Ataúro Island.

Seagrasses are flowering plants that form meadows in shallow waters. These meadows are ecological superstars. Protecting them is a priority in Timor-Leste, but scientists, community members and decision-makers need more information about the location, composition and use of existing seagrass beds. Community members like Monda are embracing the opportunity to work with Blue Ventures to conserve these habitats.

Read my story about their efforts on Blue Ventures’ blog Beyond Conservation.

Sea Change: First Female Scuba Diver on Ataúro in East Timor Advocates for Conservation

Jemima Gomes
Jemima Gomes

It is Sunday in the village of Biqueli on Ataúro, a small island in Timor-Leste. Fishing nets hang above wooden boats in the tropical midday sun as the community enjoys a day set aside for prayer and time with family and friends. Jemima Gomes, who was born in Biqueli, walks along the beach, chatting with visitors who have come to Ataúro for an expedition with Blue Ventures.

As a teenager, Jemima spent her days helping her father pull nets full of fish from the teeming seas around Ataúro. Today, at age 23, she still spends her days in the sea, but in a different way—one that reflects the changing times for the island. Jemima is Ataúro’s first female scuba diver, and she is on the path to becoming Timor-Leste’s first female Dive Master…

This past spring, I was fortunate enough to be one of the “visitors” that Jemima was chatting with on the beach. I wrote about her journey for Blue Ventures, a conservation-focused NGO that is helping local communities drive marine conservation efforts in East Timor. To read the rest of the story and see more photos, please visit Blue Ventures’ Beyond Conservation Blog.

Wanderlust Is Born

When I was a very young girl, my favorite song was “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” as recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. The track was on the folk trio’s “best-of” cassette, which I would insist my mom play in the car on the way to ballet practice. That album was also in the small collection of cassettes that accompanied our family of five on road trips and included other greats like Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and the Muppets. I could sing “Too Much of Nothin’,” “The Gambler” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as well as I could “Rainbow Connection” by the time I hit second grade.

In 1980 my parents loaded us into a light blue station wagon and took us on a grand tour of The West. Continue reading

Her Own Terms

On The Road Journal Excerpt
Date: February 18, 2014
Location: Big Island, Hawaii

Since my last entry, I have hiked into and across the crater of Kileaua Iki (little Kileaua), adventured down the steep path to the windy black sands of Waipio Beach, had a wonderful massage and a fascinating Tibetan bowl treatment, learned how vanilla grows, visited the botanical gardens and snorkeled at Kapoho tide pools. I’m enjoying Hawaii immensely. Tom’s neighbor M., the masseuse, went on a five-week trip alone recently. She said she just needed an opportunity to explore. She needed to be free to go from one place to the next according to her own terms, comfort and budget. I love the way she described her time away.

A long steep walk down led to the black sands of windy Waipi'o Beach on the Big Island
On the black sands of Waipio Beach after a hard steep climb down a hot, narrow road


Lessons in Trekking

“Listen Spider Legs, I know you want to take giant steps because you can, but you’re using much more energy than you need to and it’s going to wear you out.”

Adventure guide and master trekker C. demonstrated by three-stepping to the top of a tall rock that I would have overtaken in one stride.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back or sideways to find the best route forward.”

“Okay, got it.” I said as a silly ‘I’ve-got-a-crush-on-you-grin’ spread across my rain-spattered face.

It was the last trek on a two-week adventure trip across the South Island of New Zealand with a group of 10 accompanied by two guides.
Continue reading

Twilight Walk

On the Road Journal Excerpt
Date: November 6, 2014
Location: San Sebastian Beach, Spain

Dogs and Man

Peaceful walk through twilight along the beach. I’m trying slowly to let go of the stress and self-expectation that was a way of life in NYC. I can hardly believe that I’m here—already five days. But I am so, so glad I decided to go on this journey. I need space and time and new scenery to let go of the things I’ve been holding tight and close—those bits and pieces of expectation or frustration that linger, the ones that we empower by doing nothing more than giving them space in our minds and hearts. I want to live in the present, to be with the beauty of the world, to take the time to see it all around me—from the gorgeous clouds and colors on the beach at twilight to the man walking his dogs… a walk he’s probably done hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before this particular twilight. But for us, in that moment, it is new.  Continue reading

Eat Like a Local: Food Tour in Bangkok

I love eating like a local when I travel. Well, okay. I’m not as dedicated as Andrew Zimmern, whom I adore for his cheerful and ardent pursuit of unique morsels the world over. I haven’t yet found myself in a desert sampling the local insect cuisine, but I did earn a compliment from a Singaporean when I ordered fish ball soup at a hawker center (or open-air food court) during my recent travels.

She smiled broadly and said, “Ah, you are brave! Good job!” Continue reading