From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Team 2 arrived on Saturday, and already, in only one day, we have completed so much. This is the first ever Biosphere Expeditions Reef Check expedition to take previously trained Reef Check EcoDivers only and dedicate the whole expedition to gathering data. With the training process removed, it has allowed us to plan a new itinerary that will re-visit historic Reef Check sites that have not been surveyed in many years due to their distance from Male’ and also for the fact that in one week, to collect repetitive data sets, there just isn’t the time!

Some of the sites we will be surveying have had no data collected since 1997, prior to the last big bleaching event. Most of this week’s team trained with Biosphere Expeditions in other locations such as Musandam (Oman) or in Malaysia during the last couple of years, although Graham and Janet, from New Zealand, have had a seven year break! Adam from the USA gained his Reef Check qualification in the Phillipines and is new to Biosphere Expeditions.

So after a quick refresher in methodology and an intensive reminder of indicator species, we set off to Bandos to perform our first ‘mock’ Reef Check survey. It went well and everyone was comforted by their ability to ‘slip back into it’. The fish survey was given a great opportunity to tell the difference between snapper and emperor fish when a huge mixed shoal swam through both transects.

Happy with the lessons learnt, we re-surveyed the site ‘for real’ and are looking forward to our first survey tomorrow on Vaavu Atoll – our first uninhabited reef!

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

First off, I’d like to say a big thank you to all the members of group 2: Yryskeldi, Andy, Carol, Brian Martin, Franzesca, Christof, Christina, Christore, Amy (from the UK), Amy (from the US), Maria and Sven. You made the last two weeks very enjoyable and successful by working well as a team!

Our first day of training held perfect weather, but just like in group 1, our first day out in the field had stormy skies in store. But unlike group 1, the weather would continue to be wet for another few days. On Thursday we decided to try and dig the snow off the high mountain pass between the East and West Karakol river valleys and make an attempt to reach Dong Alysh, the first village along the road. An hour of snow digging later (and a few blisters here and there) and we had opened the road! In Dong Alysh we met with some local partners who will be continuing our camera trapping efforts throughout the rest of the year (thank you to the Nando Peretti Foundation for supporting this). We also got the chance to visit the natural history museum in the local school. In the end, the bad weather allowed us a great opportunity to open the pass, meet our local partners and visit the museum.

Now that the pass was open, it was time to get busy on the other side…as long as the weather held out. Fortunately, the rain had passed and we were left with clear beautiful skies. Splitting into three groups each day, we were able to make up for lost time at the beginning and saw more than 30 ibex, an army of marmots, and lots of wonderful birds, butterflies, and petroglyphs. The snow leopard kept away, but we are hopeful that the camera traps we’ve been setting will catch one! More on this during later groups.

On the last day of the expedition, we decided to take a trip to the NABU rehabilitation centre, where injured snow leopards and other wildlife are nursed back to health. Seeing the work NABU is doing to take care of wild animals rescued from poachers was inspiring for all of us and made us realise that we are part of something bigger in snow leopard and wildlife conservation.

Group 2 was full of amazing people, experiences and memories. Thank you again. Looking forward to group 3 starting 31 July!

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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

Welcome to the Sumatra 2017 expedition diary! My name is Ida Vincent and I will be your expedition leader. This will be my second year on this expedition and I look forward to being back at the Subayang field station and working together with WWF Indonesia.

Ida Vincent

The field station is located in the Rimbang Baling nature reserve right on the Subayang River. We will work closely with Febri Anggriawan, the WWF Tiger Scientist who will train us in all field methodologies. Do swot up on them here and watch the videos before you arrive though – it will make your learning curve far less steep and easier!

Febri Anggriawan

We both look forward to meeting group 1 on 30 July. I will already be at Subayang preparing the field station for you arrival, but Febri will be meeting you at 08.00 in the lobby of Red Planet Hotel in Pekanbaru. Make sure to be on time as we will start training on the first day.  Also have another look through your dossier and check your packing list.

See you in a little over a week!

Ida Vincent
Expedition leader

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Our final Reef Check survey at Holiday Thilla was completed on 20 July, and again we were witness to near complete degradation of live coral caused by last year’s bleaching event. Coral recruits are visible throughout the substrate, but they are still very small. The survey itself ran like clockwork, and indeed all the surveys have been executed extremely well – you know it is a great survey team when the only complaint is that the transect tape has twisted so as to not instantly be able to read the cm side!

After the survey, we de-camped to the dhoni (our dive boat), and took our positions for the whale shark survey transect, and after about an hour scanning the shallow waters the dark shape of a whale shark, was spotted. The team jumped in and snorkelled behind it, it initially dived, but then resurfaced giving half the team a great view of the gill area, important for ID purposes, and Charlotte managed to get some excellent footage.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, a group of divers then jumped directly in front of the shark, (against all protocols), and the shark dived, but we had collected the data! A storm blew through, causing us to abandon our survey, but we took the data to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme HQ on Dhigurah, and analysed it using I3S software – a program initially used by NASA to identify constellations. We discovered that the shark we had spotted was called ‘Adam’, the same shark we identified in 2015. He must have known we were in the area!

So as the expedition draws to a close we have to say goodbye and a massive thank you to Charlotte, Hani, Christina, Ida and the majority of the Maldivian contingent. Fathimath ‘Farah’ Amjad will be staying with us, representing Reef Check Maldives, and assisting with next week’s survey. Michele, Ian and Richard will also be staying on board, and we look forward to welcoming the new team tomorrow.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Hussein Zahir, whose expertise and sharp wit have been immensely valuable and entertaining. Ibrahim Shameel’s dedication to Reef Check data collection and whale shark research was duly noted, and Hassan Ahmed is an inspiration to us all – his positivity and passion for reef conservation amongst the next generation makes him an excellent ambassador for Reef Check here in the Maldives. Thanks also to Nizam Ibrahim and Adam Saaneez – it has been an excellent week. We will miss you all!

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Today is our last day out in the field for the Germany expedition. Together with slot 4  time flies!

As usual, and after training, we headed out in small groups from Monday onwards and finding quite a few more scat samples.

Felix and his dog, trained to recognise wolf scat, accompanied the teams on three days. The overnighter team was successful again in the Luechow-Dannenberg area so that there is now only very little space left in Peter’s freezer for samples. More details on our findings, etc. will be in my next diary entry.

The weather has been good to us. No rain except yesterday night when there was a bit of a thunderstorm. Not much of a problem since we were busy with our two-day review until around ten in the evening.

Very soon after it became very quiet in the house 😉

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

It has been a very interesting couple of days with excellent survey work by the team, coupled with interesting lectures from Hussein Zahir and Ibrahim Shameel, from La Mer, and The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme respectively.  Unfortunately the condition of some of the reefs we have surveyed show significant loss of coral cover due to the 2016 bleaching event, and there has, as yet, been little recovery.  There is some hope though, as the substrate is not yet covered in algae, so coral recruits do have a place to settle and grow.

We learned from Hussein Zahir, that it took almost 12 years for the reefs to recover from the previous massive bleaching event in 1997, but by 2009 there was significant coral cover once again.  As we had just had to witness an almost completely dead reef in Kudafalu, these statistics did give us some comfort.  The problem is that due to climate change, pollution and other human impacts, events threatening/killing reefs/corals now come around so frequently that there is little time for reefs to recover from one impact until they are pummelled by the next. There is no denying it: the reefs of the Maldives, and elsewhere, are in serious trouble.

Before work, on Tuesday, we managed to squeeze in an educational dawn dive, with most of our indicator fish species presenting themselves in all their glory, including the magnificent humphead wrasse.  Apart from that it has been systematic survey work followed by the all important data entry.  Spirits are high, and we look forward to our whale shark survey tomorrow.

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

The team is working hard and the last couple of days have seen us studying from dawn until dusk, taking tests in and out of water, and learning all the methods and identification skills needed to successfully complete a Reef Check survey.

It is important to practice everything, from completing the relevant forms prior to the start of the survey, gathering all the information we can about the local area, to the laying of the transect tape, and of course practicing collecting all the data underwater. As we have such a wealth of experience in our Maldivian partners, each expeditioner from abroad can be teamed with one of them for the first survey. This will help improve everyone’s confidence and hone the skills needed to be a great Reef Checker – after all, that’s why we’re all here!

So, on Monday 17th July we conducted our first mock survey at Rasdhoo Madivar. It is the healthiest reef we have seen so far, as sadly much of the reef at Baros, our inner reef training site did not recover from last year’s extensive bleaching. Rasdhoo, on the other hand, being an outer reef with stronger currents and increased water flow has, from first glance, recovered completely. The survey itself was hampered by a swarm of jellyfish and some strong currents towards the end, but was none the less a great learning experience.

So with all tests completed, and all team members successfully obtaining Reef Check Eco Diver status (congratulations), the data collection begins!

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Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

With three of four groups now over (thank you all groups so far), I thought I would give you an overview of the media coverage so far (see below), as well as some background story on how controversial the topic wolf is in Lower Saxony, and indeed the rest of Germany and the Continent.

Some of you will not be able to read the German coverage, so let me give you a trend. The national and international coverage is by and large accurate and positive, including, crucially, from one of the most reputable weekly news-magazines in Europe (Der Spiegel). By contrast, local coverage is often misleading and negative (with the notable exception of the Elbe-Jeetzel-Zeitung article), claiming we are a profit-driven travel company just trying to make quick buck from the wolf, leaving public paths to trespass on private property, questioning our science, etc.

We think the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the local press are struggling and therefore depend on more sensationalist news to sell, so they love a controversy, even if there does not need to be one. Secondly, we believe that the Hunter’s Association of Lower Saxony first and foremost, who are the most outspoken against the expedition, often wield significant influence in their local communities, including editorial staff. Perhaps this is why blatantly fake news and borderline defamatory statements are given print space. For example, that you, our expeditioners, will be bored of walking along public paths after a couple of days and start trespassing on private property in search of wolf signs, or that wolf signs are unlikely to be found on paths, but are mostly hidden in inaccessible undergrowth. This sadly shows little understanding of how we work and indeed of how wolf biology works, which is surprising for hunters who often claim to be the only ones truly aware of animals and their habits.

Still, we have invited all parties, including the hunters, to enter into discussion with us based on mutual respect, courtesy, professionalism and facts (about the expedition and Biosphere Expeditions, as well as wolf biology). So far this offer has not been taken up by the hunters, who are so crucial to wolf survival after all. We hope they will come round eventually. And we hope to show them, through our work and conduct, that we are not a marauding horde of thrill-seeking tourists, contemptuous of the hunter’s efforts to gather wolf information and thrashing through the undergrowth in a desperate search to spot a wolf face-to-face. Instead you citizen scientists are a valuable addition to the official wolf monitoring programme, adding significant chunks of new data in a cooperative, inclusive and professional manner.

I hope the hunters and other people not understanding, or not wanting to understand, what we are about may eventually see this and I thank you for inching ever closer to the day on which we may see pigs fly 😉

Best wishes

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

International coverage (in English) – Geographical Magazine (UK) – coming soon

National coverage (in German) – Der Spiegel, Wanderlust, NDR (radio I), NDR (radio II)

Local coverage (in German) – Cellesche Zeitung, Elbe-Jeetzel-ZeitungHannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, Weser Kurier

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Another great expedition week is over. The scientific facts and figures of last week are: we surveyed 217 km of forestry trails on foot, collected 29 wolf scats, of which 14 will be submitted for DNA analysis. We also recorded seven more signs of wolf in ten different 10 x 10 km cells. These results alone have greatly exceeded our expectations, but we are still hoping for more, group 4!

During next week we will continue to survey specific areas of interest, all of which have been identified as areas where “something is going on”. Our hopes are that by the end of this year’s expedition our preliminary conclusions can be corroborated by more data to be found by group 4.

Group 3 ended with a lovely night around the campfire, a few shots of Heidegeist and Inge’s inspiring performance of how a wolf scat datasheet can be transformed into 10 Euro notes. Have a look at the pictures for more impressions of our week.

Thank you so much team 3 for coping more than well with both bad weather and poor tracking conditions, while never losing your motivation and high spirits. All of you have qualified as true expeditioners and researchers!

For Peter and I it was a great week in many more ways than one.

Team 4, I hope you have been inspired. See you tomorrow morning at Bremen airport!

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Greetings from Male’! I have arrived to a beautifully sunny day, but sadly Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt is not with me. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he has had to withdraw from this expedition at the 11th hour, and will no longer be on board the MV Carpe Diem with us. He will, however, be working with us remotely and will support and advise throughout. On expedition we are always reminded to, ‘expect the unexpected’, and this is a true example of that maxim!

Dr Jean-Luc has asked me to pass on this message to you:

“Unfortunately – for critical personal reasons – I cannot make the expedition this year. For that, I’m very sorry. However, you are all in excellent hands with an exceptional expedition leader (with excellent coral reef teaching skills), and two Maldivians who are competent in Reef Check methodology, and who are developing the new in-country NGO ReefCheck Maldives. I hope you have a truly successful and brilliant time, and thank you for your endeavours to help save Maldives reefs.”

As Dr Jean-Luc has alluded to, we are fortunate to have a wealth of experience and expertise on board, with a passionate and pioneering Maldivian presence and a number of marine biologists as part of the team, and it is now all of our responsibility to work hard and collect the data as planned.

I now have a local mobile number +960 789 2930 which should only be used for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly).

I hope your travels are going well and I look forward to meeting you tomorrow, Saturday, at 11:00 at the Coffee Club in Male Airport.

Best wishes,

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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