Notes from the Field
This month we offer Part 1 of an exciting and personal account of our 2009 West Papua Paradise Expedition from our guest and long-time supporter, Suzanne Cordrey, and an informative article from our Director about the Conservation of the Nominate Race of Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea
Indonesian Dreamin’ Becomes a Reality – Part 1
By Suzanne Cordrey
I was gasping for a breath that would keep me from heaving again. My knees dug into the flat cushion on the bench and I had my head as far out the window of the little boat as I could get it. The waves tossed and pitched the boat in every direction over and over so that I couldn’t get a fix on a horizon in order to lessen the seasickness. I heaved and feared that my next breath would be full of water as the boat dipped me perilously close to the surface of the sea. The water was a deep blue-gray color with lines of white foam blown in every direction from the wind. I wasn’t in fear of my life. Actually, I was welcoming death at that moment. I yearned for peace and for anything that would stop the violent turbulence in my head. And to die in the waters of the South Pacific amongst the dolphins, my brothers and sisters of the water planet; how romantic. I had made my peace in that moment.
But the boat and its Chinese captain, well versed in the behavior of the ocean there, persevered and soon I saw the green thicket of jungle as we approached an island. I pulled my head inside only to have the smell of gasoline fumes and cigarette smoke engulf me in yet another wave of nausea. But with the sight of land, I thought I heard a collective sigh of relieve from all the passengers. Others had been sick as well, and I watched as Neal had tried to right the boat by standing in the aisle, leaning all his weight to maintain a balance. I was not alone.
We approached a long wooden jetty and I made a silent vow that when I felt solid ground, I would not leave until I died. I climbed upon the jetty and straightened up, took a deep breath and began the process of recentering myself. We had arrived at West Papua Dive Center, their famous Sorido Resort. I took a look around and I felt as if I had been asleep, albeit in a nightmare, and was now awakening to find myself in another world, like in the Wizard of Oz when the tornado stopped and Dorothy and Toto stepped out into Oz.. It was quiet and surreal, and the delicate orchids that hung from coconut shells on the trees caught my attention first. Then I heard the birds, smiling to myself as I realized that they wereEclectus parrots singing happily in the jungle trees. I soaked in the magic of this south pacific island, a paradise on earth. The sand was pristinely white, the breeze was embracingly soft and warm and I mentally retracted my death wish so that I could have some time to experience this magical island. I felt that my entire being had been stripped bare and I was being born anew and had to get reacquainted with everything I saw.
Another couple and I begged to stay here if we could while the rest of the group went on to Gam Island to see the red bird of paradise. There was no room at the inn at Sorido, but their sister resort, Kri Ecolodge did have space that night. Since the rest of the group was planning to return to Kri the next day, I felt like I was not imposing to request an extra night there. I just could not endure another minute in the choppy water. I have had a motion sickness condition since I was a child, with memories of my parents driving through the night as I slept in the back seat, and holding up in a motel during the day, catnapping while I played on swings. But I have never let it stop me from traveling to the ends of the earth. The magic that I have found in such places far outweighs my momentary death wishes.
The first thing I wanted to do at Kri Ecolodge was to walk the beach, grounding each footfall in the deliciously soft white sand. Pulling my attention in from the turquoise water, I was blown away to see the quantities of gorgeous shells that littered the beach. They were beautiful, spiraling shapes with twists and colors that told stories of the sea creatures that built them. Sand dollars, sea biscuits, conchs, and scores of species I could not ID, they spoke of the beauty that lived in the area, and of the cosmic connections to the All That Is. “As Above, So Below.” It was all written in the sand right here on Mansuar Island. I was in such awe that I fell to my knees and touched the sand-filled shells to confirm their existence. It was the closest thing to Heaven that I have ever imagined.
How many beaches have I walked over the years, and watched as the clumps of tar rolled up, the flotsam and jetsam of our indulgent material world piling up with the tide lines, and I’ve seen fewer and fewer shells since the 1950s when my family vacationed in Florida. My heartlight has dimmed again and again reading how tropical fish have been “harvested” by dynamiting the coral for the pet trade, reefs have died due to sewage and deforestation, and on and on. But here, in this moment, I was amidst a thriving, self- sustaining, pristine, tropical sea environment. I felt my heart open and I was falling in love with life on earth. It was as if my entire existence was orchestrated in order for this very day to happen. And I acknowledged, then and there, that I was truly Present for that occasion. As if a prayer had been answered, I had been assured that All is well in the Universe. I got it.
So how did I get here?
Our group had flown from Bali to Sorong, West Papua, where we met our guides, Shita and Untu. They are world-renown bird guides and had just finished a 3-month expedition with photographers from Cornell University and National Geographic channel. They have led David Attenborough (from the BBC) through the Arfak Mountains of West Papua and the jungles of Gam and Batanta Islands. There is a great DVD, called Attenborough In Paradise, that details the birds of paradise in this area. Now they came to introduce us to their magical world. The locations of the birds are not your run-of-the-mill tourist attractions and it took a refined skill set to navigate the physical and political waters of Indonesia to get to see the birds of paradise. Of course, on the way, we were able to see hundreds of other species of birds, especially our beloved cockatoos and parrots.
I had been shadowing this expedition for a couple of years, waiting to see when the next trip was a go. It is arranged by the Indonesian Parrot Project and led by their VP, Bonnie Zimmermann. The IPP website is full of interesting stories from the field like Stewart Metz, founder and president of IPP, locating a new subspecies of cockatoo on a small island in the Java Sea, and how the IPP helps rescue cockatoos from the pet trade. They even have a rehab center on the island of Seram and they have successfully released parrots back into the wild – which is a huge undertaking, not unbeknownst to those in the parrot rescue world. It is well worth it to google Indonesian Parrot Project.
I am a map person and I googled Planet Earth to find just where Sorong West Papua was and what it looked like. omg. We are talking the edge of the world, or if it is not the edge, you can for sure see it from there! West Papua is the western half of the Island of New Guinea, which is right above Darwin Australia. New Guinea looks like a big turkey with a head, wattles, fat body and a tail. Sorong is in the bird’s head.
So we flew into Sorong and drove to the edge of town where we began to see the conspicuous white cockatoos against the deep green forest. Then there were the bright red female Eclectus parrots, and their green counterparts, the male Eclectus. One of the most unusual sights for an American, is to see the magnificent black Palm cockatoo, very rarely seen in captivity. This is an unusual bird, being that he is an ancient species and one of the few bird species known to use tools. And here they sat, wild and free; on the branches of the trees along side the road in Sorong. There is a great DVD called Parrots In the Land of Oz about the palm cockatoos and other cockatoos in Australia. Very well done.
It was the next day that we encountered the ratty little harbor in Sorong, and surrendered to the little boat with the 4 outboard motors on the back, and “the way things are” in order to get to the islands of Gam and Batanta. One often has to do this surrender thing when traveling to far away places, or one would never get there. And as you can see, it became the jewel of the trip for me. For this area that we ventured into is called Raja Ampat, and UNESCO is currently considering it as a world heritage site.
Raja Ampat encompasses 15,000 square miles of land and sea. The waters surrounding Raja Ampat archipelago have the world’s greatest concentration of marine life. Just imagine that. There are more than 1300 species of fish, 6 of the world’s 7 species of sea turtles, including most of the leatherback turtle’s nesting sites, and at least 553 species of reef- building coral. In comparison, the Caribbean has 70. And scientists are still cataloging unknown species from the area. From 10-foot manta rays to minute pygmy seahorses that hide on sea fans, Raja Ampat (meaning Four Kings) is a mind-boggling, psychedelic underwater visual spectacle. It is a city beneath the sea. I saw huge giant clams draped in their mantles of green with blue polka dots, and a blue-spotted ribbon tailed ray, and classy Moorish Idols traveling in pairs, delicately plucking at coral polyps. I have been in love with Moorish Idols for a lifetime and had never seen one outside a fish tank before. I was humbled.
After a day of snorkeling at Mansuar Island, I walked out on the jetty to watch the sunset, which was like a prayer from the Universe to the beings of the planet. As I walked back, I looked down on top of the coral reef and saw lights blinking on and off. What? What did I just see? I laid down on my stomach and took in this most unusual sight. I watched as the fluorescing marine creatures began signaling with all their brilliance. The intricate life of a coral reef produces beings that “wake up” at night and go into hiding during the day, so there was another whole survival of the fittest fest going on as the sun went down. I ached to have been able to do a night dive, but, I did not have a current diving card nor was this trip designed to encompass that project. Next time. I promised myself a next time to Raja Ampat.
Join Suzanne in our next “Notes From the Field” where she takes you to one of the most amazing places on earth “Stone Island” roosting site to hundreds of Great-billed parrots.
Conservation of the Nominate Race of Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua sulphurea sulphure
By Stewart Metz, M.D., Director, Indonesian Parrot Project
Our first study of the latter was carried out in 2005 by Dudi Nandika and Dwi Agustina, our colleagues in IPP and in Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia ; some of the result were published in PsittaScene (the journal of the World Parrot Trust) in 2006. They focused their studies in Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park [RAWNP]in the Kendari district of Southeast Sulawesi. They were able to locate only 37 cockatoos in the 7 areas that were surveyed. This contrasts with about 100 cockatoos found by Indonesian investigators in 2000. In addition to such a small population , it is also possible that unequal gender numbers [males vs. females] are present and/or that the population is aging: either would further limit breeding. Some investigators suggested that the breeding population of parrots might be only 1/3 to 1/2 of the total population . Therefore, the situation is very precarious for Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea. In 2005, nest holes were located especially in Alstonia scholaris and Parinarium corimborum trees. Ten species of flora were found to provide foodstuffs for the cockatoos (fruit; young leaves; flowers; and seeds) .
Very recently, Dwi and Dudi returned from a second expedition to the same area carried out in the fall of 2009; they also studied the population in three locations on Buton Island just off the coast, previously identified by Catterall in 1998 as home to a potentially significant subpopulation of wild LSC. This new study was funded largely by the Loro Parque Fundacion. While the data are just now being analyzed, here are some initial findings:
The seeds of a full fledged Conservation-Awareness- and Pride [CAP] program, to be enacted in 2010, were planted : our Program to help to conserve two subspecies of LSC has been generously funded again by the Loro Parque Fundacion for 2010. The program thus far focused on the indigenous Moronene tribe, about 80 families of whom live in the Hukaea- Laea village in the national park-which had the largest observed population of birds ( 15 in our first survey in 2005; 14 this year]. Parenthetically, the members of the tribe have been the subject to human rights abuses in the past and efforts were made to eject them from RAWNP. Schools were visited there, and conservation stickers for school notebooks; pamphlets; posters; coloring books; and t-shirts were distributed to begin the first and requisite step in a conservation program– increasing awareness of the cockatoo and threats to it of of extinction. Likewise, meetings were held with local villagers and officials to make them aware of the problem.
In the upcoming year, we will move further towards implementing active conservation efforts and we will keep you posted on these. We are grateful to you– our Members and donors-not just for your generous contribution to these conservation programs, but to your support and enthusiasm in protecting the welfare of the cockatoos and other parrots in Indonesia.
Details of their recent expedition to study this subspecies of Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo will be presented in our next Notes from the Field.