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Conserving Nature: Meet Akasha Modesta

Environmentalist and nature photographer, Akasha Modesta, returns to make Bali her home after studying and working abroad.

You are a second generation Bali expat. What was it like growing up here?
Absolutely incredible. I feel so blessed to have been raised on such a beautiful island filled with rich culture and diverse people. The whole expat community here is like one big family. I really feel that we are lucky to have each other as such a close-knit support system.

Tell me about your education while in Southeast Asia.
I did the majority of my schooling at Bali International School, which I loved. When I was in the ninth grade, my mother and I decided that it was time for a change, so I enrolled into Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I completed my last three years of high school. Those years were a really exciting time for me because everything was fresh and unfamiliar. Thailand is amazing. Boarding school showed me a new sense of independence, and the International Baccalaureate course I took really challenged me and taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. I made so many good friends that I’m still close with to this day, and that’s also something I’ll be forever grateful for.

What inspired you to study Environmental Science in the United States?
I’ve always had a love for the outdoors, ever since I was a kid. It’s hard not to when you grow up in a paradise like Bali, especially the old Bali. I would spend my free time either at the beach or wandering around aimlessly in the nearest sawah. Life in Chiang Mai also showed me a different side of nature’s beauty. Our campus was nestled in the Northern Thai mountains, and so everyone made the most of that by hiking and river rafting. After I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles for a year, and then transferred to Hawaii Pacific University on Oahu. Again, another decision I will never regret.

What did you love most about being in the USA?
The variety! There is so much to choose from in the United States. I think it’s a country that has something to offer everyone and I’d like to explore more of it. I will never forget my first trip to the supermarket in LA— I got lost in the aisles for hours; I couldn’t believe how much variety there was to choose from. Even after five years of living in the States, I still get a little overwhelmed at the store.

What environmental projects were you involved in State-side?
I did a lot of volunteer work during my studies in Hawaii. I was involved in coastal wetland restoration projects, beach clean-ups, water quality monitoring in the ocean and in streams, and invasive plant species removal in the forests. Hawaii has a huge problem with invasive species, so pest control organizations are always very appreciative of any help they can get.

When I moved to California after graduating, I did a nine-month internship with a small non-profit called Friends of the Petaluma River. I worked in watershed conservation, which I really enjoyed.

What did you miss most being away from Bali and Indonesia?
My family, friends, and, of course, nasi campur.

What projects do you think need to be addressed here?
Where to begin? We basically need a paradigm shift in our mentality towards nature and its resources. First and foremost, the lack of education needs to be addressed. That’s the root of it all, I think. It would be amazing if even the most basic sustainability lessons were implemented into the Indonesian public school system to bring about awareness in the local people, especially at a young and impressionable age.

And our addiction to plastic is a huge problem! We need to work on reducing the use of plastic bags and plastic water bottles and cups. Small lifestyle changes like bringing a reusable bag to go grocery shopping and packing a water bottle when you head out for the day would already make a great difference. It’s so sad to see our oceans and rivers filled with plastic; the rainy season is especially worrying.

Bali definitely has its own environmental issues, but Indonesia as a whole has a tonne more which requires attention as well.

What got you interested in nature photography?
I think taking photos was just an inevitable result of me spending a lot of time outdoors. Whenever I see a beautiful view, I have an instant desire to document it so that I can relive a part of it through a photo many years later. Nature is perfect as she is, and I think that’s why I prefer to shoot natural elements as opposed to human subjects. I don’t need to direct and correct when I shoot natural scenes, so that always makes it a peaceful experience.

I also love sharing my adventures with others through photography, and I think social media has played a huge part in that. I think the same goes for many my age—we are all dialled into social media one way or another. It’s so prevalent, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.

I especially love your photographs of simple subjects such as water. You show the movement and life within these elements. How do you bring out what most of us overlook?
Thank you. Water is my favourite element to photograph, and I think it’s because water is so effortlessly beautiful. It brings a literal meaning of ‘going with the flow’, one of my primary approaches to life. I think water is so intriguing to photograph because it represents so much of the unknown. We never really know what lies beneath the surface unless we go under and find out for ourselves. Getting my scuba certification really opened my eyes to a colourful world that most of us don’t experience.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I’m very happy to be back home and living in Bali for the time being. I have plans to help my mother out with her spa business, and hopefully I will find my way into some coastal conservation work here in Indonesia. I definitely want to take what I’ve learned in college and use it to give back to my home country.

Thank you, Akasha! To get in touch, e-mail: [email protected]

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