During the COVID-19 pandemic, societies all over the world were facing not only a health problem but also an economic crisis, and Indonesia was no exception. The Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, tried to implement self-contained regulations to control the spread of the virus while simultaneously closing Indonesian borders to everyone except nationals and foreign workers returning to the country. As tourism came to a halt, scuba diving activities dropped nearly to zero.
In this context, something truly unique happened. For the first time in over 25 years, there were almost no divers, and only a handful of liveaboards were taking trips where they used to bring thousands of guests to the most remote areas in Indonesia. However, this left some Marine Protected Areas unguarded, and locals were trying to survive with no income as their jobs in the tourism industry vanished.
In November 2020 and later in November 2021, during Indonesia's "New Normal," one of those liveaboards - The Seven Seas - partnered with a conservation team from the Coral Triangle Centre (CTC) and Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) to create a community-based program that could protect some of the most vulnerable coral reefs in the Forgotten Islands and the Banda Sea, as well as document the fish life.
Accessible only during the short seasonal gap of calm winds between the Southeast and Northwest monsoon, the Forgotten Islands (also known as the Southeast Moluccas) comprise an arc of islands stretching 1,000 kilometres from Timor to West Papua. Their relative isolation and the often stormy seas throughout the year mean that they are some of the least visited and explored islands in all of Indonesia, making them the ideal place to create new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).