Summer in the Field: The Impact and Importance of Global Immersive Education for Marine Preservation and Conservation in Central Java, Indonesia

Karimunjawa, Jepara Regency, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Yohanes Dicky Yuniar via Unsplash.

By Sasha Gilmore

In the face of ever-worsening global climate change, the need to protect the ecosystem’s biodiversity is becoming more vital day by day. The biome is being lost to heatwaves, extreme disasters, ocean acidification, wildfires, sea level rise, droughts and melting ice caps that will soon affect the lives of every individual. There are a plethora of scientists and everyday people who are working to make individual changes in an effort to reduce the anthropogenic impact on the Earth.

The impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed, with many in the Global South suffering some of the worst impacts. Indonesia, for example, is home to a wide array of marine and biological variability, and is feeling the brunt of warming waters, bleached corals and dying mangroves.

As the international community grapples with the challenges of climate change and explores possible solutions, the value of global immersive education should not be overlooked.

As part of the 2023 Summer in the Field Fellowship Program sponsored by the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, I spent this summer in Semarang, Indonesia where I took part in the International Tropical Summer Course (ITroSCo) focused on “Coral Reefs: Biodiversity for a Sustainable Future.” This program was sponsored by Diponegoro University and organized by the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science. The main goal is to bring scholars from around the world together to participate in hands-on in environmental education. We were composed of students from undergrad to post-grad, all stemming from five different continents. The consolidation of expertise from multiple spheres and specialties under climate science was instrumental in this successful exchange of knowledge.

During ITroSCo, our studies were focused on Semarang and the Karimunjawa Islands, home to incredible marine biodiversity. The foundation of our work was built on three of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action and Life Below Water. We were guided by a plethora of coral, mangrove and fishery experts who explained and demonstrated how these goals fit into their projects, and how they will base their future findings.

Our journey began in the classroom, obtaining a base understanding of the tropical environment. Following this, we were able to take this material into the field, where we made our travels to Karimunjawa, meeting with the locals who educated us on the interactions between marine life, linked habitats, and ecosystems, while engaging in cultural exchanges with the coastal communities and the home that they graciously shared with us.

Following this, I conducted oceanic-related research as part of Dr.Sc. Anindya Wirasatriya’s lab, where we explored marine heatwaves (MHWs) along the coast of the Savu Sea, a part of the Pacific Ocean bounded by the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Our findings showed that most of the marine heatwaves from 1982-2021 occurred near the coastlines of these islands: Savu and Rai Jua to the south, the islands of Rote and Timor to the east, Flores and the Alor archipelago to the north/northwest and the island of Sumba to the west/northwest. These findings leave behind a concerning note regarding the implications that these heatwaves can have on the fragile aquatic life that resides near the shore, and in a domino fashion, the impact this can have on coastal populations that rely on these waterways to survive and provide subsistence for themselves and their society. I plan to continue this research to include terrestrial heatwaves (THWs), attempting to establish a connection between the two in hopes of concluding whether one influences the other. This can open a wide array of questions and stipulations, most of all, what would this new connection mean for the warming climate?

One new interest I was introduced to during this experimentation is that of marine cold spells (MSCs), naturally occurring phenomena driven by atmospheric fluxes that bring cold air to a region, or cold-water currents such as upwelling. Most have been overly concerned with the earth’s warming, and therefore have taken a primary focus on heatwaves. However, marine cold spells also play a role in the earth’s systems and are heavily impacted by rising carbon dioxide and temperature levels. This will be the next chapter of my investigation, following my findings on THWs. The question I aim to answer is with heatwaves’ increase, what does this mean for MSCs and how will the latter’s disappearance only exacerbate how the planet reacts to anthropogenic climate change?

In my final week, I was connected with SMP Islam Al-Azhar 23 Kalibanteng – Semarang, or Al Azhar Islamic Junior High School 23 Semarang to visit and speak with students on the value of higher education. A bilingual-focused school, the students are taught in English, as well as Indonesian. Throughout my time there, I was able to share my educational experience from high school to my current position in graduate school, touching on how I was awarded many prospects to share my findings with the world, Summer in the Field being one of them. To me, speaking to young people is the most important facet to ensuring that climate action in conjunction with education is interpreted as an opportunity for them to pursue something they love, and in the same breath, have a profound effect on the Earth. They are the future leaders, and it is in everyone’s best interest to guarantee that they are equipped with the knowledge and tools to continue this momentum and overall movement.

Engaging with these communities throughout my travels in Indonesia solidified to me that people are the answer to the climate crisis. As I continue my research, my goal is to expand my findings to organizations and groups that are beginning testing on the ground and whose objective is to involve local citizens in saving the land they call home.


Learn more about the Summer in the Field Fellowship Program.