Devoting her life to marine conservation from a young age, the Indonesian marine scientist Kirana (30) is always busy studying, researching and improving the health of the oceans.
Sailing the Atlantic Ocean with eXXpedition Round the World, an all-female scientific sailing expedition, has made Kirana realise even more that we need to change our behaviour to improve the health of the oceans: “Every time we took a water sample from the ocean, we found many microplastics along with marine life”. Being out on the ocean for two weeks also taught Kirana important life lessons. Today, this passionate marine scientist from Indonesia tells her story.
What is your first memory of the oceans?
When I was a child, my parents took me to Pangandaran Beach in West Java, Indonesia. It wasn’t one of the Indonesia’s most beautiful beaches, but it was special because of the myths and legends: one about its Sea Goddess’ beauty and power to bring misfortune made the place a bit scary to me. I remember that from Pangandaran it was only five minutes by boat to a beautiful nature park with white sand beaches and crystal clear water. I also remember how my mother would freak out if we made this five-minute boat trip, worried about the high waves that only gave me an adrenaline rush. Pangandaran Beach made that my first memories of the ocean are full of mystery, thrill and adventure.
“It was mind-blowing to learn how much the oceans benefit life on Earth.”
The same beach was once hit by a tsunami. When my father, working at the Department of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, advised me to study marine sciences for my undergraduate, I remember being afraid that I would get hit by a tsunami while working out on the sea – many Indonesian people have similar ideas about the oceans. However, I listened to my father and I’m very happy I did: once studying marine sciences, my perspective changed completely. It was mind-blowing to learn how much the oceans benefit life on Earth.
Can you tell us more about what does the oceans mean to you today?
The oceans mean life to me, they’re something I want to protect. I start and end my days working on marine themes and even during my free time I love to volunteer for events related to ocean conservation. I’m following my passion and my life path is based on ocean-related issues. In short, I think the ocean is the future for all of us: they cover 70% of our planet. Yet, not many people are interested to explore them.
What changes are you witnessing in the oceans?
Environmental degradation and climate change are really happening. In early October 2019, I had the opportunity to join eXXpedition Round the World, an all-female crew sailing voyage and scientific research mission studying ocean plastic pollution. Through a two-week sailing trip we crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, United Kingdom to the Azores, Portugal, during which we encountered many storms. This was scary sometimes, but even worse was that every time we took a water sample from the ocean, we found many microplastics along with marine life.
“It’s real: climate change is threatening people at sea and in coastal areas, and the ocean has become a plastic soup.”
Most of all, the expedition was an eye-opening experience that gave me the opportunity to get to know the oceans on a deeper level. I realised that microplastics are already part of our environmental ecosystem and food chain, for example. Also, the frequent weather changes at sea made me even more aware of the effects of global climate change. Other women are continuing the expedition to collect more scientific data on plastics and toxics in our ocean, and I hope that people will believe our stories and act on them. Because it’s real: climate change is threatening people at sea and in coastal areas, and the ocean has become a plastic soup.
How did eXXpedition Round the World change you?
I’m surprised that two weeks of sailing on a boat brought me so many philosophical insights about life. However, first and foremost, seeing the issues hands-on is the best way to understand the problems in a vast ocean that is always changing. Because of this experience, I understand the complexity of the problems of the oceans, but I also realise that I want to be part of the solutions.
As a non-sailor, being in a small space in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with thirteen other women who I didn’t know before the eXXpedition was already a unique experience. Having zero connection with the outside world, we were forced to be truly present and to live in the moment. Moreover, the many storms showed me how resilient humans can be and created experiences that have increased my confidence and made me a stronger woman. The eXXpedition even taught me that oceans can deepen our understanding about life. For example, the weather out on the sea was very unpredictable and we needed to be adaptive at all times – this is how we should approach daily life. I feel lucky being able to apply the life lessons the ocean taught me.
“Because of eXXpedition, I understand the complexity of the problems of the oceans, but I also realise that I want to be part of the solutions.”
Besides the eXXpedition, what else do you do to contribute to healthier oceans?
In 2011, I represented Padjadjaran University at the World Student Environmental Summit in Sweden. After the summit, I initiated the campaign European Trees and Coral for Indonesia in six countries across Europe to campaign for Indonesia’s role in leading environmental issues and in particular the protection of ocean resources in Indonesia. Furthermore, the initiative aimed to raise more awareness about environmental issues and encourage Indonesians, especially youth, to act as agents of change in protecting their natural heritage.
Many other projects followed, among which leading the community initiative Trees and Coral for Living, volunteering for WWF’s Earth Hour and other environmental projects and being part of a scientific documentary team filming on Marore Island. These initiatives and projects led to the honour of being selected as Indonesia’s representative in an UNESCO World Heritage project on marine biodiversity and climate change in the Asian Pacific region.
More recently, I co-founded Zero Waste Indonesia, the first online platform in Indonesia to educate communities about a reducing plastic consumption and a more sustainable and mindful way of living. We started from nothing in 2018 and within one year the community grew to more than 70K followers on Instagram. Besides increasing awareness, Zero Waste Indonesia also organises events, such as clothing swaps. Although I’m no longer involved in Zero Waste Indonesia due to work, studies and other commitments, like the eXXpedition, I still think it’s a great initiative.
Nowadays, I’m frequently invited as a speaker to share my experiences and knowledge on marine issues and I’m creating a podcast to celebrate women’s connections with the oceans and their work to improve the marine situation. In my daily job, I’m working on strengthening the partnership of the Global Plastic Action Partnership with governments, private sectors, industries and civil society movements in Indonesia. As I mentioned earlier, my life path is based on protecting the oceans.
“Marine Protected Areas can be flagships in marine conservation.”
Let’s look forward to the year 2030: what would the oceans look like according to you?
I think ocean momentum has been growing significantly, but there is still a lot of work to do. This means that high-level policy makers have to put the oceans on their political agendas until local movements have more impact on increasing people’s awareness. On the other hand, many countries are struggling to grow their economies, which often is business as usual and thus a threat to the environment. This means governments need ‘a push’.
From my perspective, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) help governments to focus on designated areas to protect marine wildlife and habitats – which can benefit the people, the environment and even economies. MPAs can be flagships in marine conservation. Yet, issues like plastics in the oceans are transboundary and can be a stressor for MPAs by obstructing the conservation goals. Therefore, people need to be part of the solution and change their behaviour, which requires more initiatives and projects to increase awareness.
I imagine that by 2030, people have transformed their relationship with the environment for the better. This would mean that people will be living in harmony with the oceans and the Ocean Health Index will have reached optimal levels.
Thanks for sharing your story, you’re an Ocean Witness now! What do you want to say to other Ocean Witnesses?
Your story matters. Keep sharing what you’re doing as well as the state of the oceans, many people need more inspiration. Some people don’t realise that their story is meaningful and they can inspire other people to make a difference. The oceans cover the majority of our planet, and we need more people to take care of the them. We are all connected: what we do is what we get.
“Your story matters. Some people don’t realise that their story is meaningful and they can inspire other people to make a difference.”
And what would you like to say to the reader at home about how they can contribute to healthier oceans?
Believe that each person has a role and that every single action matters. Be mindful of your daily life decisions, because we are all connected and what happens on land has tremendous effects on our oceans. My experiences with the frequently changing weather while sailing the Atlantic Ocean made me realize how dangerous climate change can be, and it will only get worse if our behaviour remains the same. For us humans who can think in a logic way it was a huge challenge to manage this extreme weather; I cannot imagine how marine life struggles with these changing weather conditions.
Do what you love and find a way to contribute in your own way, whether you’re a designer, teacher, musician, entrepreneur or scientist. We need everybody on board to raise awareness about our planet and its mysterious oceans.
Kirana (30) is a marine scientist from Indonesia who devoted her young life to marine conservation, following in her father’s footsteps. She recently started her new job in Jakarta as a policy specialist for the Global Plastic Action Partnership at the World Resources Institute. In her daily work she helps the Indonesian government in achieving their their target to reduce ocean plastic pollution with 70% by 2025, and also her free time she contributes to healthier oceans. This year has been an eventful year for Kirana: she graduated from her postgraduate studies on Environment, Politics and Society at the University College London and participated in the eXXpedition Round the World in October 2019.