From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

I have arrived in Pekanbaru and been working with Febri and Gia at the WWF office over the last couple of days preparing for the expedition. Tomorrow we will travel to the Subayang Research Station to prepare for your arrival. I will stay at the station finishing up the preparations while Febri will travel back to meet group 1 at the Red Planet on Sunday at 08.00. From here you have a three hour bus journey followed by a 30 min boat trip up the river. The sun has been shining since I arrived in Pekanbaru and it is the dry season, but a heavy downpour can happen at any time in the tropics so you may want to keep your rain poncho handy for the boat journey. I look forward to meeting you in a few days!

Febri working
Gia and Ida at WWF
Organising expedition equipment

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

To continue in the general trend, Vaavu Atoll has, so far, heralded a mixture of good and bad news for the reef. Fotteyo, the first site we surveyed on 24 July was a welcome example of a healthy reef, even though it was an inner reef. Could this be because it was uninhabited, we wondered?

Our second site caused some consternation as the latitude and longitude of the historic data we were using, didn’t match up to the name of the reef we were supposed to be surveying. We stuck with the lat/longs but were disappointed when we found most of the coral dead. The following morning, just to corroborate our findings and to make sure that we had covered all our bases, we also surveyed the actual Maaduvaree reef (across the channel from the lat/longs we had), in the hope that we may find a completely different story, but it was only marginally healthier. The upside was that there was a resident pod of spinner dolphins in the area and a couple of the team, Lori and Farah actually saw them underwater during the dive. For those who missed them, a stunning double rainbow, caused by a sudden downpour lifted the spirits of everyone else.

On the way to our next site, Vattaru, we dropped in to witness a school of reef sharks, some of them visibly pregnant, and then continued on to survey another completely uninhabited island reef. We had high hopes, due to our experience at Fotteyo, but here, the sub-aquatic picture was completely different. This reef was made up of individual coral outcrops, some of which were healthy with some evidence of new recruits, but the majority of the rest of the site was dominated by rock, rubble and sand. There was also some indication of recent bleaching and bleaching in progress, which was unsurprising as the water temperature was 31 degrees Celsius – too hot for coral to tolerate.

Tomorrow, 26 July, we will continue to survey the reefs of Vaavu Atoll, and do our best to document what is going on in this underwater ecosystem. We are trying to remain positive, but what we have seen so far of the Maldivian reefs, reveals a story of very significant degradation.

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

Interim science report (groups 1 and 2) from our expedition scientist Dr. Volodya Tytar.

Dr. Volodya Tytar

To date all sectors (A, B, C, D and E) of the planned study area have been visited. Maps of these areas are available at https://app.box.com/s/aars70mqox56bd6dmzbwa9wn2yhxb2wk).

In total 72 cells have been surveyed by both teams (groups 1 and 2) and in 34 cells (47%) snow leopard prey (Siberian ibex, marmots, Himalayan snowcock) was recorded once or more times. The most frequent records are of marmot, particularly at lower altitudes. Together there have been 12 observations of live ibex on ridges, alongside with numerous records of tracks and droppings in places reached on foot.

Two or perhaps three signs of snow leopard presence were found. One scat sample (cell T17), one doubtful track (AF20) and one fairly distinct pugmark in mud (recorded in cell AF21).

For the first time live observations of ibex in Kyrgyzstan were accomplished (thanks to Sven Pelka from slot 2, Germany) using a drone.

Ground surveys (particularly in slot 2 when snow fields encountered in slot 1 were melting away) revealed ibex presence in areas of predicted good habitat (from surveys in previous years and the models developed from there, see expedition reports in www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports) suitability for the animals. These, in particular, are upper reaches of valleys (together with the adjacent ridges) of Chon-Chikan (cells AC15 and AD16), Kara-Tor (AH14, AI15) and Dunguruma (AL14). These results will significantly help to improve the model used for guiding and planning our research in the area.

In all places where ibex activity was recorded, camera traps were set. To date there are 14 such traps in the field. It will be the task of groups 3 and 4 to check and retrieve them by the end of the expedition.

To date the expedition has also recorded 42 bird species (or two-thirds of the list of 2016). Amongst them are such Red Data Book species as the bearded vulture, golden eagle, black stork, which are protected in Kyrgyzstan.

Team members also continue to interview locals for the purpose of ascertaining attitudes towards snow leopards and snow leopard conservation. Nine such interviews have been accomplished so far. In general, they confirm positive attitudes and understanding of the need to protect snow leopards.

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.