A Fisherman’s Journey into Deeper Seas: Scuba Diving and Conservation in Timor Leste

Amos Da Costa teaching volunteers about a sea plantOn a bright quiet morning last May, a boat and its captain rested patiently on the tropical seas around Ataúro Island in Timor-Leste. A reflection of the island’s rugged coastline glimmered on the water’s glasslike surface as three orange buoys glided silently along, marking the presence of scuba divers from conservation NGO Blue Ventures. As the captain monitored the seas, the divers explored Watu Aii, a sloping reef with a dense flourish of colorful corals and lively fish.

It seemed a sleepy morning, until a riot of hoots and hollers erupted near one of the buoys. One voice rose above the others shouting, “Mola mola! Mola mola!”

This is the beginning of a story I wrote for Blue Ventures after spending six weeks as a volunteer in Timor-Leste. Amos’ family has relied on the sea for their food and livelihood for generations, but he believes they must now look to a new future. To continue reading about his journey of becoming a scuba diver and conservation advocate, please visit the Blue Ventures’ blog.

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.

You Know… Like Eat, Pray, Love!

I was having a conversation with a taxi driver on Bali, an island of tropical flowers, lush rice terraces and lovely seascapes. It was April 2015. I was 41, Obama was president, and it was an auspicious time for marriages in the Hindu calendar. One of Bali's many bright flowers

“Where are you from?”

“The U.S.”

“Where?”

“America.”

“Oh, America! Obama!”

“Yes, Obama!”

“Oh, you have good President!”

“Yes, we like him too.”

“Where is your husband?” Continue reading

Storming the Castle: A Romantic Tale

Ah, Valentine’s Day… love it or hate it, one can hardly escape reminders of romance—from paper hearts strung in store windows to bed-time stories about Fluffy the guinea pig’s Valentine’s day adventure with Kiss (a favorite of my niece and nephew).

2 cupido-figurer i båt (12429195823)

I am currently inhabiting a U.S. mountain city rumored to be so well stocked with eligible bachelors that its nickname is “Men-ver.” And yet, am I out meeting beaus? No. It is on my to-do list, but today I am preoccupied sorting travel photos and planning my next big adventure. Thematically, though, I am also thinking back to the first time cupid struck on the road. Continue reading

Conversation with a Cuttlefish: Akumal, Mexico

February 7, 2017
Tuesday Afternoon
Half Moon Bay, Akumal, Mexico

Squid squadron!!!

Oh boy, I love a good squid squadron. What a lucky day!

I am floating in the bay under the late afternoon sun, and the quartet has just spotted me. They form a line; tentacles tightly clamped and pointed forward and fins undulating like silent hovercraft engines. The creatures are expertly cloaked in seaweed brown. They assess me with round opalescent eyes and adjust their formation as my position changes slightly with the moving tide. Continue reading

Rescue Me: Scuba Adventures in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

It is a dreary, wintery day in Colorado. Skeletal stems poke through patchy snow under the pall of grey skies while a chill wind incite drafts in the house. But no mind! I have rediscovered a bottle of “Herbert’s Coconut Oil,” which I bought while traveling last spring. Longing for the tropics, I indulgently spread it through my hair, close my eyes and let the traveling soul in my imagination wander back to Malaysia…

Oh there is so much to recall… the incredible hospitality and delightful company of my friends and hosts; “banana leaf” rice, beef noodle and sublime Japanese cuisine in Kuala Lumpur (KL); coconut-stealing monkey gangs and raucous jungle-birds on Langkawi; and the pretty, history-laden streets of Melaka.

But in this reverie, I am rolling into teal waters bejeweled by the dazzling equatorial sun, waters that held more than a few surprises from cleverly adorned sea slugs to sassy sea cucumbers and scuba divers (literally) on the loose. Continue reading

Critter Party in the Philippines

Divers Log #146
24 April 2016
Dauin, Island of Negros, Philippines

The creature was ablaze. Waves of violet, cream and ebony fired along its armored back as it lumbered across the ocean floor like a miniature triceratops. Three pairs of arms stretched and swayed from its mantle in hypnotic motion. We hovered nearby in practiced stillness, anchored only by the tip of a muck stick and the lip of a fin. The sound of our slow steady exhalations bubbled rhythmically upward. Indifferent to our presence, it extended an extraordinarily long, skinny tongue with the controlled skill of a patient hunter. It paused, and with the quickest twitch, snatched a microscopic snack out of the surrounding water.

I looked at my guide and scuba instructor Tim in delighted surprise. He nodded as if to say, “Look who’s come to your party!”

Flamboyant cuttlefish!!!

As we continued watching, an errant crab startled our little cuttlefish, and in a flash, its brilliant undulations disappeared. For a moment it stood in a cloak of ghostly white…

Continue reading

Chasing Coral in Komodo

Where dragons hunt and currents fly…

I sat, eyes closed, surreptitiously breathing in one nostril and out the other, an exercise resurrected from a long-rusted yoga practice. The pilot of the small motorboat sped toward Batu Bolong, a rocky pinnacle in the Flores Sea that had been described moments before by our dive guide M. as “the most dangerous and the most beautiful dive site in Komodo National Park.” My gut was as uneasy as the sea. Continue reading

B is for Butterfly; C is for Courage

In the rearview mirror I spied her little hand hanging out the half-open back window, the wings of her butterfly finger puppet flapping madly in the wind.

B is for butterfly. B is also for bunny ears, the alphabet item she brought to pre-school earlier in the week. Bunny ears are good. They are cute and they stay on her head, where I can see them bobbing sweetly in the same rearview mirror. They do not feel compelled to fly out the window. Continue reading