My Bali-Sabbatical: Volunteering underwater

Have you ever dreamed about taking some time off? I did, too. But I also dreamed about volunteering. In the following text I will take you on my mission to rescue the clear blue water and the coral reef on the island of Bali.

I am working as a F1 technician in Brixworth UK. But I always had the idea of volunteering, so I decided to take a sabbatical. It is great that our company offers this opportunity. I wanted to make good use of the time, so instead of holidays at the beach, I worked at the beach. And I would not regret it.

The idea

I thought, time had come, to give something back. So the winter came and with it some time to figure things out. I tried to find out where to go. I was inspired by my hobby. Scuba diving fascinates me since 30 years, that’s why I went off to the marine conservation on the island of Bali. I helped building an artificial reef off the coast of Tianyar, which is at the northern end of Bali. As I wanted to get fully involved, I decided to go there for eight weeks, from April till the end of May.

Take off

My bags were packed with a lot of anticipation, enthusiasm, adventurousness and a snorkel mask. I knew taking this flight would change my life. To be honest – I was nervous. But happiness prevailed. I knew that this project will change my life in a positive way.

The start

My new home for the next eight weeks was a simple little house, without hot water, but it was near the beach at least. In the morning, while eating pancakes and fresh fruits, we discussed what we were doing that day. I shared the house with many other volunteers. I met people from Malaya, Chile, Portugal and Germany. The others were mostly younger than me. Most of them went to Bali for their gap year. It was great to see that so many people from all over the world worked together to keep the reefs safe.

The work

All of us helped rebuilding the reefs at the coast of Tianyar. The reef is currently in a very poor condition due to unsustainable and abusive actions from the past. Until the 1950s the beach was a port for traders, who used to anchor their ships on the reef. The reef has a lot of potential to be a healthy diverse coral reef, but recently there are more problems from plastic pollutions coming in.

Mixing sand, cement and calcium to build the reef structures were part of my daily work. These are living areas to keep the fishes safe. After they were fully hardened, the local fishermen’s put them on their boats and carried them out on the sea. It was my job then, to position them underwater together with some other divers.

To me, it was really important showing the young man different alternatives to fishing. I taught them how to dive, so they had the chance to get jobs as diving instructors instead of fishermen’s, in the future too.

Discovery tour

I worked at the conservation center four days out of seven, which gave me the opportunity and time to visit other beautiful areas of Bali. I spend a lot of time under water, to get to know more species of fishes. I dived quite a few times on a World War 2 sunken shipwreck. There were lots of fishes like barracudas, mantas and big groupers. My love for the ocean is big, that’s why I spent my free and spare time mostly underwater, removing plastic waste and old fishing lines. I also did daily beach clean ups with the local school kids. It was absolutely necessary to do this daily, as so much waste keeps coming with the tide.

I visited Ubud, for instance. The city of Ubud in the highlands of Bali is known as a center for traditional crafts and dance, especially yoga. I also walked to the top of a volcano. The mix out of the smoke and the sunrise in the morning was stunning. A moment I will never forget, such a breathtaking view.

Back home

When I came back to work in UK, everybody was really excited to hear about my time abroad. They were proud of what I did and so was I. It was a very rewarding volunteering experience to work on Bali and I would do it again anytime.


Lee Cobley is an assembly technician at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth, Northamptonshire