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Students run volunteer program to save sea turtles


Brigid Veale, head of Communications and Publications Southern Cross University,
20 March 2017

A new international volunteer program to enhance marine conservation on the island of Bangkaru, home to the largest nesting site for green sea turtles in western Indonesia, has been established by a group of Southern Cross University students.

The students, who all visited the island last year as part of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan initiative, are inviting members of the public to a free information night at the University’s National Marine Science Centre on Thursday, March 23.

Lauren Hasson, who is studying a Bachelor of Business in Tourism and Hospitality Management at the Coffs Harbour campus, is one of the co-founders of VAST — Volunteer for Aceh’s Sea Turtles.

“Our volunteer program is in the Aceh province of Simeulue, off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, and offers an interactive experience as part of a mission to protect endangered species and their habitats while incorporating sustainable livelihoods and ecotourism in local communities,” Lauren said.

The program is on Bangkaru Island, one of the largest islands of primary forest left in Indonesia.

Volunteers participate in a range of activities including collecting data for green, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles. They also undertake biodiversity surveys, camera trapping, night spotlighting and bird surveys.

“Volunteers will be given an introduction into environmental and socio-economic issues on Simeulue before travelling to the tropical paradise of Bangkaru to discover and explore the island alongside the rangers,” Lauren said.

“A group of 11 of us went to the island last year for two weeks. They were looking for students to help them develop their program and we all worked to get it off the ground.”

The students are now offering members of the community and other students the opportunity to participate in the program.

“I have always had a passion for the environment so for me just going on the program was one of the most fantastic things I have done. It was so rewarding. It’s a very special program — the island is unspoilt,” Lauren said.

Paying volunteers assist in the scientific activities, but also have the chance to do other activities such as surf and scuba dive. No experience is necessary as all training is provided, although volunteers are expected to have an intermediate level of physical fitness. Participants must be over 18 years of age.

“For students who have an interest in environmental and marine science it’s a great addition to your degree,” said Lauren.

Guest speakers at the National Marine Science will include Dr Kay Dimmock, a Southern Cross University tourism academic, Kathrina Southwell, general manager at Australian Seabird Rescue and Ballina Sea Turtle Hospital, and VAST volunteers.

The event will be held on Thursday, March 23 from 6.30pm. National Marine Science Centre, Charlesworth Bay Drive.

Information about the program email [email protected]