Explore our planet’s largest, and most biodiverse archipelago with Jesse Lewis, Rainforest Trust’s Education Coordinator, as he leads a study abroad trip across Indonesia and blogs about the journey in this eight part series.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/image-2.jpg” credits=”School Kids in eastern Indonesia. Photo by Jesse Lewis” title=”” text=””]
We protect what we love, and we love what touches us. As an educator it is my firm belief that studying abroad touches young people in profoundly positive ways.
This summer I took a sabbatical from my role as Rainforest Trust’s Education Coordinator, to lead a study abroad course through Indonesia examining community, culture and conservation on our planet’s largest, and most biodiverse archipelago. Working with Where There be Dragons, a leader in the field of experiential education, our group of eleven students and three instructors took in parts of Java, the Wakatobi Islands off Southeastern Sulawesi and the mysterious eastern islands of Flores.
Taking young people out of their comfort zones and into the field – into the forests, onto the reefs, through the villages and bustling markets of Indonesia – is to learn about the issues affecting people there in visceral ways. It is a learning experience that imprints deeply on the mind and the heart. To do this is a country of such diversity, adversity and beauty as Indonesia, is life changing.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Students-slide-option.jpg” credits=”The Dragons Indonesia Team! Photo by Jesse Lewis” title=”” text=””]
Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago. This sultry kaleidoscope of over 17,000 islands spans over 3000 miles – roughly the distance between New York City and San Francisco. Some of Indonesia’s islands are vast, like Borneo, the third largest on Earth. Many others are small specks of sand and coral speckling turquoise blue seas.
Straddling the equator between Asia and Australia, Indonesia encompasses an enormous variety of ecosystems: lowland rainforest, cool highland cloud forest, sandy beaches and colorful coral reefs. These diverse ecosystems harbor an astounding number of species ranging from Tigers to Tree Kangaroos. Such myriad habitats make the archipelago a living laboratory for evolution and amongst the hottest of hotspots for biodiversity on our planet.
Indonesia’s biodiversity is nearly matched by its rich cultural diversity. Radically different cultures have evolved here. From the spiritual Balinese to the non-Western beliefs of Papua, hundreds of languages and ethnic groups are all represented in this one improbably large nation. And, with over 240 million people Indonesia is set to become the third largest nation on Earth later this century. As one of the world’s largest emerging economies, Indonesia has sometimes been called the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Blog-1-Village-girls-for-header.jpg” credits=”Javanese Girls. Photo by Jesse Lewis” title=”” text=””]
However, Indonesia’s growth is increasingly coming at the expense of its natural resources. The country is ground zero for conservation as rainforests are cleared for oil-palm plantations, animals are smuggled for the illegal wildlife trade and the seas poached of fish. Nowhere else is so much biodiversity threatened by such rapid development pressure. This situation presents a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges local communities face in charting a sustainable future and their innovations to live in balance with a rapidly changing world.
In my next post, our group will learn how Indonesia is “the other Galapagos”, and delve into the fascinating story of one of the world’s greatest naturalist explorers: Alfred Russel Wallace.
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