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How to Start a Successful Ocean Conservation Organisation with the Founder of Diver's Clean Action?

Posted by Erik Sumarkho Spiniello on
How to Start a Successful Ocean Conservation Organisation with the Founder of Diver's Clean Action?

The learning curves and obstacles are huge when growing a non-profit and marine conservation movement. Sometimes it’s a simple solution and sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel like Tenia did with her ocean conservation organisation, Divers Clean Action. DCA is one of For Purpose Recycling's Impact Partners in Indonesia. So without further ado, here is our interview with the founder of DCA. 

Hello! Can you please tell us a little bit about your background and how DCA started?

Hi! My name is Swietenia Puspa Lestari, you can call me Tenia. I am a 26 years old environmental engineer and a youth scuba diver that wants to protect our oceans and younger generation's futures for not only being able to preserve the beautiful underwater sceneries but to be able to simply survive the environmental crises.

Due to that purpose of life, I started Divers Clean Action (DCA) in November 2015, as a wild idea that the scuba divers community can also contribute to ocean conservation and combating marine debris while having fun (which is our hobby, scuba diving). I was still a third year student of environmental engineering while I started the movement with a limited pocket money as the main resource to roll things out, and a huge investment out of curiosity, guts and courage to discuss and act with senior (read: older age) stakeholders. 

Started with a beach and underwater clean up routines from February 2016 with the help of 2 co-founders and dozens of volunteers, DCA grew into a community that got supported by hundreds of ocean enthusiasts and not limited to divers only. We started as a community that does clean up, waste mapping, campaigns, workshops, and collaborating with private sectors that eventually became a legitimate foundation to accommodate all of its actions and multi-stakeholder collaboration in a more sustainable way.

What was the process of creating DCA like? Was there a moment where you were like, "Well, you know what? I'm just going to roll up my sleeves and start doing something about protecting the marine environment?”

Throughout the development process of DCA, making a mind map is a huge contributing factor on why we are doing what we do now. As the founder myself, I've tried to map out all of the possibilities of contributing to other organizations. But, there was nothing that can help to address the solution and/or focusing on our concern in terms of the sustainability program in small islands and coastal areas. Therefore, we’ve tried to do lots of interviews and ask for advice from experts, professors, fellow communities before we decide that making a new platform is what needs to be done. This makes all of the administrative needs and flexibility on implementation of appropriate programs.

When did you realise that working with communities was crucial to saving marine environments?

After we did several clean ups and understood the data holistically, we realized that there is a huge gap between the waste reduction effort and available (but appropriate) recycling technologies in specific coastal areas. Especially once we understand the items and amounts of waste we are facing on shores, it needs a lot of contribution from the local community themselves, and of course a greater community everywhere that is connected to waterways that also plays a huge factor in stopping waste such as single-use plastic to leak into the oceans . the ideal condition where no more waste in the ocean will only be achieved if every community collaborates and works together to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and fill the gap out of the government and private sector’s limited efforts. 

How does the state of waste management in Indonesia compare to other places?

Actually, Indonesia has a big commitment for waste management, especially on eliminating marine debris as the President himself published a commitment and policy in regards to combating marine debris issue by 2025. But the implementation of the policy itselves really depends on the local districts and provinces, which sometimes are not equipped with enough resources needed to achieve zero leakage of waste to the ocean like knowledge, networking, capacity, funding, and technology. In terms of eliminating waste coming to the ocean, local governments are committed to handle 70% of waste with transparent, recycling traceability and reduce 30% of potential marine debris with the help of broader community and stakeholders. Therefore many efforts have been done, such as policies to reduce single-use plastics such as bags, straws, and styrofoam. Other than that, investing in waste recycling facilities in areas outside the Java islands are also the highest priority for the government to make sure that the waste recycling chain can be effective and maximized faster. Other than that, a lot of endorsement in terms of waste reduction efforts made by stakeholders are also important to incentivize best practices to grow even more. These efforts vary from no-single-use plastic utensils from restaurants to refillable stations for daily goods in grocery stores. 

The government is also welcoming and cultivating more innovations and collaborations with all stakeholders, by having a national task force to combat marine debris, and also a part of global plastic action partnership’s national secretariat by the world bank. International collaborations not only mean we’ve developed several pilot projects in Indonesia with neighboring or developed countries, but also by making sure there are no more illegal waste dumping that is being imported to our country. So with all of these efforts I've mentioned I know that there are more rooms to develop and more efforts need to be made because it is simply not radical and fast enough. But I confidently said that we are also as serious as other countries' efforts to eliminate waste issues, but we just need more support from various countries that have more technology and power to influence bigger industries to give alternative solutions in terms of daily consumable products that are hard to recycle here in indonesia. 

What does a day in the life of Divers Clean Action waste bank and SOISS projects look like?

As we’ve embraced working from home before it was cool… lol just kidding… I meant before the pandemic hits. In the morning, we check our agenda and to-do-lists from our online platforms such as google calendar, slack, and trello… or sometimes whatsapp. Then our lucky field facilitators will collect data, do some education and development work with the community whether it is with the local government, travel providers, waste banks, or youth around the area. The activities vary from calculating the waste that is being recycled, door to door education, monitoring and evaluation meetings, until having coffee by the beach while also collecting further information needed to inspire us for the next steps that need to be taken. The DCA team has become close friends with the local community as we are living in the area for months, to really understand what are the issues and potential solutions for each aspect that contribute to the waste reduction and recycle rate of the community living in each small islands area. The facilitator will conduct and organize bigger workshops with the help of other DCA teams and/or expert trainers once we are implementing supporting technologies or there is a new habit/behaviour that is being introduced. So the facilitator acts as the community’s liaison and a person who is really easy to approach and always be there to grow together. The rest of us also work on the field occasionally depending on the size of the field activities to support the facilitators and to manage the program directly on field. But most of the time we do our desktop work from our own houses or our Jakarta and Depok’s office (slash basecamps) to make sure our budget is being used effectively and for us to be closer to the government’s officials to smoothen the back and forth advocacy needs. Most of the time we also manage to use zoom and google workspace meeting tools to brainstorm and check our goals for each program including several various targets under the SOSIS program, sometimes we are also getting help from experts beyond DCA organization to give clear and wise advice to develop these programs. We also have a routine of beach and underwater clean ups which are usually done between each 1-2 months, but because of the pandemic it has become hard for us to arrange bigger groups of volunteers. So we just do it with our in-house staff to make sure we collect all of the data consistently to show the pattern and projections. But all of these hybrid working style and volunteer activities adjustment, we make sure that all of our program are auditable and effectively impactful. 

What happens when there are no bins and access to waste services in a community?

If we are talking about the coastal and small island communities, unfortunately, they will simply dump their trash directly into the oceans, burn it conventionally, or make it as reclamation materials for new lands. Therefore there is a huge need of adding values to the waste (such as through waste bank and making sure the waste chain also support the sustainability) if there is no waste services being placed so the community can voluntarily take part to do waste separations or simple dump their trash on the proper places. 

What’s your favourite diving location in Indonesia?

Everywhere is my favourite spot as Indonesia's underwater scenery is soo pretty. But if i may pick several places due to the reason behind it i think i choose:

  • kepulauan seribu (thousand islands) have a special place in my heart as that is the place where i dived for the first time (and they have hidden wrecks and whale shark crossing tracks too!)
  • Tulamben, Bali because you will find different animals and scenery for morning, day and night dive just off the shore entry without the need of a boat entry. 
  • As famously put on websites, labuan bajo, komodo, raja ampat, manado, are also pretty places as what have been promised on online articles.

Last question. Freediving or Scuba diving? 

Scuba diving for sure, I've tried freediving and it was fun but I think I am hooked on enjoying being underwater for a longer period of time. 

Ok, second last question. If there were a young person, a young woman specifically, who wanted to make an impact like you have, what would be your advice?

Take the first action step as it may be the hardest one. Once you are already doing it, not only dreaming about it, the universe will support you. But still, manage your expectations as you have to brace yourselves for some challenges (or i may say waves lol) here and there. Always ask questions and support from your surroundings, whether your family, friends, partners, or even experts/older persons who do similar things with you…as some of them are considered impactful simply because they start first/before you..therefore they are sometimes really open to collaborate or give you advice to gain more impact all over the world with your help. Remember if we are trying to change the world or for example changing people’s behaviour towards more sustainable choices…it is never considered easy. Therefore remember that our work is like passing a baton. We do things easier because the older generations already did a lot, but not enough. What we do now may not be finished or achieved the goal in our era, but it will make the next generation easier to achieve the greater goal and impact.  

 If you are interested in learning more about Tenia's work and Divers Clean Action please check them out here.


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