J-Term trip to Indonesia has surprise guest

University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley (center) greets Professors Tom Boving and Nancy Karraker (at left) and students in Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park in Southeast Sulawesi during their J-Term trip to Indonesia. (URI photo/Brook Williams Ross)

When 17 students set out for a J-Term trip to Indonesia with Professors Tom Boving and Nancy Karraker to learn about geology, hydrology, biodiversity conservation and the struggle to preserve traditional ways of life in a developing nation, they knew they were in for some surprises. Among some of those surprises: seeing vulnerable and endangered species up close; viewing what may have been one of the oldest cave paintings still in existence; and teaching their university president how to trap and tag turtles in a lowland swamp.

This was the sixth trip led by Boving and Karraker together as a team to Indonesia. They were joined on the 15-day expedition by a University of Rhode Island graduate now studying in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The trip began on the beaches of Bali with students conducting surveys of the landscape to gain a better understanding of marine beach pollution. Even in the most remote areas of beach – generally characterized as “paradise” to the general public – students found trash, floating plastics, glass and debris, not only on the beach but beneath the sand, carried there via ocean currents from as far away as India.

“We have done this every year and it is always an eye opener for students,” Karraker said. “They can’t imagine it is going to be this way.”

Students also met with representatives of a local non-governmental organization who explained the difficulty of balancing economic pressures with the impact of development and tourism on the environment, while trying to preserve a traditional way of life.

“We were able to help give students a better understanding of what is typical for many places in the developing world, where very rapid growth goes hand in hand with environmental degradation,” Boving said.

From Bali, the group headed to Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park in Southeast Sulawesi where they worked with national park biologists and guides to study biodiversity and ecosystems – from mangrove, lowland swamp and savanna to mountain jungles. Part of this included trapping, tracking and studying the Southeast Asian box turtle, one of the most heavily traded turtles in the world.

To their surprise, University President David M. Dooley, who was in Indonesia meeting with U.S. and Indonesian officials, made a special trip to the park to meet the students for their field work and to experience first-hand the challenges of learning in a remote environment…[Read more]