Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Here’s a paragraph from our scientist about the forthcoming expedition:

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) will be joining forces with Biosphere Expeditions to undertake the first Reef Check monitoring trip to the two new Musandam (northern Oman) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from 26 October – 1 November 2014. The two MPAs (encompassing two inlets – Khor Najd and Khor Hablain – see http://goo.gl/maps/XvZnG) were set up last year, and are detailed in our last expedition report (see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports). Biosphere Expeditions has been working with MCS, other regionally-based scientists and government officials over the past five years to undertake systematic surveys of local reefs. Our surveys this year will take in assessments of coral health, fish populations, and fisheries indicator species (such as the regionally important grouper) both inside and outside the new MPAs. The MPAs will restrict all forms of fishing other than handlining.

Musandam surveys 2014

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Last Friday Team 5 set up a new box trap at the south fence. Last year’s volunteers reading this diary might know its location on the ridge on the fence south of JM House where we set the camera trap. I don’t think I’ve shared the attached camera trap picture yet. While it’s not the target species of this project, it is an awfully cute picture.

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With the help of IZW scientists, Team 5 also set up a new box trap in the mountain area of Okambara this past week. We’ve stepped up our trapping efforts as you can tell and have borrowed two traps from the IZW in order to catch as many leopards as possible. There are still several females we are targeting to get collared, and we wouldn’t mind re-capturing the leopards we caught last year in order to refresh their collars.

So Team 5 now is lucky enough to have a total of six traps check. Traps are far enough apart that we’re spending considerable time driving all over Okambara both mornings and evenings, and sometimes we split up the box trap duties and combine them with other activities in order to make sure we’re operating at maximum efficiency.

Team 5 has been super helpful not just on science-related tasks and I have to commend them for their fantastic “dig in and do it” attitudes. For example; three nights ago Emil the male rhino came along and thought the fence surrounding our lapa was a pretty good place to get a good scratch. Unfortunately, the fence toppled inwards and left a lovely hole for every animal coming to the waterhole to crawl through, so Bruce, Ashley, John, Paul and Mark put their heads together, put their backs into it and got it fixed. Bruce, Ashley, John and Paul then went out with Ligeus to gather firewood too.

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From our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity and conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Hello! My name is Catherine Edsell and I will be your expedition leader in Musandam. I’ve also made a video welcome message…

I’m looking forward to meeting you in Dubai on Sunday 26th October at 09:00 in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah, from where we will head out by minibus across the border to Oman. I will arrive a couple of days in advance with Jean-Luc Solandt our scientist to meet our local partners and retrieve our equipment from storage, and as soon as I get my mobile phone connected in Dubai, I will email you with my local number (to be used for emergency purposes only, such as missing assembly).

We will be joined by Dr. Matthias Hammer the executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and his family for the first few days while we are embarking on our Reef Check training. On that note, I hope all your preparations are going well and that you’ve had a chance to study all the Reef Check material info available on the website – www.biosphere-expeditions.org/checklist. Other background information you may want to look at are previous expedition reports via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports and a press release about the protected areas at http://goo.gl/JbTrKY.

We have a packed schedule planned, so please arrive well prepared, rested and ready to go.

Until then!

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Team 5 arrived on Okambara and was treated to three wonderful animal encounters during their first (half) day in the field. It wasn’t too difficult to identify the five rhinos. What made it an interesting encounter was that it was the first time we’d seen so many of them together, including the baby rhino. At dinner the same group of rhinos waltzed right through camp and took a long drink at the water hole. For dessert the elephants came to visit us.

elephan 2012 (2) rhino 2012 (1)

Box trap training went well and on the first day out solo this morning’s box trap team had to release a honey badger. Vibeke and Paul must have nerves of steel – talk about a tough first animal to release from a trap! Now this afternoon’s box trap team will have their work cut out for them re-setting the trap…

honey badger

Wednesday’s elephant team was led on a merry chase trying to locate them and it turns out they’d headed up to the mountains, where they almost never go. Meat was changed in all the box traps Wednesday afternoon by John, Helen, Dianne, Louize and yours truly. Despite our hanging some really juicy meat in them, there were no animals in the traps the next morning. Along the way Dianne and I learned the value of wearing gloves while retrieving abandoned ostrich eggs from the field – we stank all the way home.

Thursday was our vehicle game count day. The weather turned quite cold overnight and everyone was frozen by the time they reached their start points. Mark, Helen, Uli and Ashley reported not seeing many animals in the mountains, although they did solve the mystery of where the elephants have been hiding: they followed the tracks of the entire herd all the way down from the Lodge. Emma, Mark, Bruce and Paul were with Vera on Route 2, and they reported a still morning. Route 3 with me, well, we started the day off with a rare sighting of a pair of normally nocturnal bat-eared foxes. That wonderful sighting led us into counting almost every giraffe on the farm, plus seeing both rhino mommas and their babies. So John, Di, Louize, Vibeke and I felt quite pleased with our morning.

etosha 2004 (16) kudu (2) springbock (1) zebra (2)

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Our second week was business as usual on Okambara. We played hide and seek with the elephants, picked up bagfuls of carnivore scats and changed more flat tyres than we could count. The team had several encounters with the baby rhinos and newborn giraffe, and the last morning Emil the male rhino came and serenaded Jan and Sonja with his rumbling grunts right outside their room.

Nerys and Keryn did hour upon hour of data entry and went through thousands of photos for us. It was gratifying to see L075, the male leopard we have just collared, on the camera trap acting normally. It was also interesting to see the other collared male (L052) come to the same water hole one hour and three minutes later!

Wednesday Vera took Nerys, Keryn, Jan and Rebekka into the field for a new activity collecting data and leftovers at kill sites. Vera had received satellite data from L074, the female leopard we collared in group 2, and the group spent the entire day in the field tracking down bits to collect. We were told at briefing that the team spent at least half their time hacking new trails for the truck and eventually just went up and down the mountains on foot.

Our last evening was a “briefing in the round” (with all fourteen of us sitting inside the fire pit) with Jan, our intrepid and inspirational 74-year-old Australian-Canadian reading the poem she’d written that afternoon.

Safe travels home team 4. Team 5? See you on 12 October…

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Thursday was our vehicle game count, and while the days are now quite hot, it was still freezing cold when we set out on the backs of the trucks pre-dawn. At briefing Thursday night, Ligeus and I learned of our nicknames: Ligeus= “eagle eye” because of his uncanny ability to spot scats from 300 metres away, and me (Alisa)= “egg eye” because, well, I keep spotting random ostrich eggs in the field. We now have six of them on the shelves at the bush camp waiting to be turned over to Christian.

Friday I honestly don’t remember, because of yesterday’s events. Saturday is usually our “day off”. Yet it was anything but, because the box trap team called in with a “tiny” leopard in the Bergposten “1” box trap (this is the first box trap that was set up at Bergposten this year, on the north side of the water hole). Imagine Nerys, Jeff and Volker’s surprise when they walked up to the trap expecting one of the usual by-catch species and they got growled at! Smart team, because they verified with binoculars that it was a leopard and then left the animal alone. They then called us. Being Saturday, Walter, the veterinarian had to finish a couple of appointments in Windhoek before driving out to Okambara.

We all arrived at Bergposten as the sun set, and the team helped the scientists set up the field hospital. Work was done in the dim glow of the truck lights, with every volunteer huddled around the scientists holding their torch/flashlight/headlamp on the animal and equipment so they could see to do their jobs. I only wish I could have had an aerial photo of that! Thanks Team 4 for being so helpful and flexible and being willing to stay out in the field until the immobilisation/collaring was complete, and for patiently waiting to eat your dinner at 22:00!

By the way, our “tiny” leopard was male, and he weighed in at 63 kg. Teams 1, 2 and 3, you may remember the leopard we kept seeing on the camera traps at Bergposten with the strange “poof” on the end of his tail…we caught him! It will be very interesting to see what this fellow is doing roaming around in the middle of another male leopard’s territory (that would be L052 from last year). Thanks to all of the teams so far now we are one step closer to finding out.

L075, welcome to the project!

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

And here is another summary of our expedition from our scientists Dr. Jean Luc-Solandt:

Biosphere Expeditions, in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, Maldives Marine Research Centre and Carpe Diem had a very successful survey covering the reefs of North Male’ atoll, Maldives from 6-12 September. We trained three people (one UK, two Maldivian) to become EcoDiver trainers, and seven others to be EcoDivers. We re-surveyed sites previously visited before the ‘98 bleaching event. So in some ways we were looking at resilience since that event.

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We did patch reef, channel, and outer reef surveys near Summer Island (see map). Patch reefs were most significantly affected (e.g. Deh Giri) that was covered by corallimorphs (Discosoma) carpeting >60% of the seabed. Another (Reethi Rah), where there was a significant COT outbreak, which was concerning, particularly when coupled with the recent disease outbreaks we’ve seen in previous surveys. There also appear to be more coral-eating cushion starfish, and Drupella.

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Outer forereef slope reefs appeared to show the greatest uniformity of good health (particularly Madi Gaa). Other more sheltered channel and patch reefs showed good coral cover (and recovery) from the 1998 bleaching event in shallow transects (< 6 m), but not for the deeper transect (most commonly at 10 m). This to me is caused by the provenance of rubble fields from the breakdown over the past 15 years of dead coral from the bleaching event, gravity pulling it down to the slightly deeper, more sheltered waters of the reef slopes. We’ve seen this pattern for years in our data now. I believe it is surprising that there aren’t more reefs that have then moved onto a different stable state (such as Deh Giri) that are dominated by opportunistic colonising lifeforms such as Discosoma. The rubble-strewn areas appear to be poor potential recruitment surfaces in the deeper waters for new corals.

Commercial fish species are worryingly absent over these North Male’ reefs. Herbivorous parrotfish were also not that common.

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