Highlights of the 2015 expedition
Highlights of the 2015 expedition
Our first dive survey went smoothly – reef sharks and an eagle ray spotted off transect – then we sailed to Faq al Asad (the jaw of the lion), a stunning site of crystal clear water, amazing rock formations, even dolphins! We ate our lunch and went for a snorkel to assess the reef, then kitted up as usual. The teams dived in and the invertebrate teams began to lay the transect. As they reached the end of the 10 0m and turned around to swim back to the start of the tape a freak current swept through the bay. The teams struggled back to find that the boat had completely swung on its anchor, one of the SMB’s marking the start of the transect had been swept away and air was running low. All was not lost, though, as we reeled the tapes back in and still had time to sail further round the peninsula with a pod of Arabian humpback dolphins at our bow, to a site aptly named “pray for calm.” It worked, and we managed to complete our survey just before dusk.
Not to be thwarted by the elements, we returned to Faq al Asad the following morning very early and collected the data we had missed the day before, then headed to Khayl Island for a glorious survey dive, complete with shipwreck. The site was so interesting we decided to stay for a night dive and explored the ancient porites mounds with their banded coral shrimp and moray eel inhabitants, with turtles, cuttlefish, giant porcupine fish and squid in the mix.After a scientific wrap-up from Jean-Luc, we moored away from any civilisation and spent our last peaceful night under the stars.
A big thank you to everyone for all your hard work and attentiveness. It’s been a steep learning curve, so much to take in, both in and out of water, and your diligence in collecting the data, even in adverse conditions – swarms of jelly fish and flies – was much appreciated. This expedition has confirmed for us that the reefs here in Musandam really are resilient to the ravages of climate change, and offer an insight into another type of hardier reef that can withstand very significant temperature fluctuations. It may not be as colourful, or as varied as traditional coral reefs, but it has a much healthier future than most!
Thank you also to Patrick for your retrieval skills – masks, fins, SMBs, plastic bags and even a cushion that got knocked overboard during a dawn yoga session! Thank you to the crew, who offered continuous support and demonstrated great expertise in getting us right where we wanted to be. Thank you all for your sense of curiosit, and enthusiasm for getting the work done. It was a pleasure working with you! I hope you continue Reef Checking now you have your certification and look forward to meeting you again on another Biosphere Expeditions project.
It’s been an eventful beginning to this year’s Musandam expedition – a tire on our trailer blew out as we were en route to Khasab, so we had to wait for another vehicle to transport all the kit. Arriving late at the harbour meant we had no time to spare if we wanted to complete our check dive before dark, though with an attentive team, and a competent skipper and his crew this was not an issue. The dive went well and we relaxed to the light of a huge silvery moon.
The next couple of days were taken up with Reef Check training. From dawn ’til dusk the team studied, dived, and took tests above and under water. The effort required was considerable but rewarding and by the afternoon of the third day everyone had passed all their tests and were fully qualified reef checkers. Well done! A great achievement for a team with an age range spanning 50 years! As a treat we took the speedboat and visited the local land-locked village of Kumzar, learning about the local customs and traditions from Yusef, our skipper.
It is reassuring to see from our preliminary investigation that despite being flagged as a hot spot for coral bleaching, these corals seem to have adapted sufficiently to cope with such high temperatures. Not such good news is the first ever sighting on any Musandam expedition, of the coral-eating Drupella snail at, along with a proliferation of discarded fishing nets and lines. Reef Check veteran Ayesha managed to release two banner fish caught in a fish trap, though bat fish in another trap were not so fortunate.
So with another five surveys ahead of us and the full moon tampering with the tide and currents, we still have very few full days ahead of us. But I have no doubt that if the last few days are anything to go by, the next will be filled with enthusiasm, hard work, and good humour.
Greetings from Dubai – our preparation day has been very successful, beginning with a trip out to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) to collect our kit boxes that have been in storage there for the past year. The DDCR is our partner for our Arabia expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia) which runs each January, monitoring Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat, and other flagship species, and they also kindly guard all the equipment we need to run the Musandam expedition as well. Once the kit had been checked and the car loaded, we went back to Dubai in search of an essential piece of O2 delivery equipment, without which we could not set sail tomorrow. After a hectic couple of hours, it was sourced, found, and collected! Thank you Nasser for your help!
Our next port of call was the iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel where we met with David Robinson, their head aquarist. He took us behind the scenes, showing us the turtle rehabilitation work they are doing in Dubai, taking injured hawksbill and green turtles that get washed up on the beaches, and nursing them back to health for release back into the open ocean. David told us that there are only 60 breeding adult female hawksbill turtles left in the whole of the Southern Gulf of Arabia. This dangerously low figure is due to loss of habitat, unsustainable fishing practices and other anthropogenic influences.
On our tour we saw the aquarium’s leopard shark, now 7 years old, born parthenogenetically, i.e. without external fertilisation. David was very excited, as yesterday, she too exhibited the first signs of laying her own clutch of eggs. Leopard sharks are only the 3rd species to show parthenogenesis in captivity. David is not only working in Dubai, but is conducting research on whale shark ecology. As part of his PhD, David formed Sharkwatch Arabia, a database to collect whale shark sightings throughout the region. He recently discovered a massive aggregation of over 150 whale sharks in Qatar. Protected by the presence of oil rigs, the waters are not fished, and tourism is prohibited – a strange but effective MPA. He asked us to keep a lookout for whale shark and other shark species during our time in Musandam, as they are likely to be present in the areas we are surveying. We did indeed have a whale shark encounter two years ago, in the same location, so keep your eyes peeled – and remember, it may be above you!
So, after this very informative and enjoyable meeting we bid our farewells and rushed back to the Holiday Inn to collect another consignment of equipment – all in a day’s work!
It may be a few days before I can send another diary entry as internet connection out on the Musandam peninsula is sporadic to say the least, but I look forward to meeting you tomorrow at 09:00 – let the expedition begin!
Here is a photo from the camera trap taken at the cage the night after it was deactivated! The associated video shows the leopard spooking at the entrance, and not going through… but trust our luck….
For those of you still under the impression you are coming on a cushy diving “cruise”, we thought you might like to see the itinerary and dive sites ;)
We ended as we started, with a small transportation hiccup. The minibus driver managed to get himself lost on the way to Blue Hill. So we loaded everyone and their kit into two of the four wheel drives, and headed out to intercept the bus on a dirt road, and ensure that flights weren’t missed.
I can hardly believe our first expedition in South Africa is already over. Let me start by thanking our team. First off, our volunteers, for being pioneers, willing to take the expedition leap of faith and believe in a new project – you’ve all made a great contribution (see below). But firstly, we owe a big thank you to the Lee family, particularly Anja, Eli and Charlie, and Chris and Elaine (our collective hosts) for your endless hospitality. Grateful thanks also go to Melda and Stefan, for the continual provision of culinary delights, and their botanical and camera trap ID wisdom! And finally, our enormous collective thanks go to Alan, our leader in all things scientific. It has been a fantastic privilege to share in your world.
So what about that contribution I mentioned? We achieved the following:
– 15 new camera traps have been deployed both across the Blue Hill area and in the Baviaanskloof, to monitor leopard, caracal and other mammal activity and movement patterns.
– Over 3500 camera images from Blue Hill have be analysed, identified and catalogued, revealing activity of leopards, caracals and African wildcats across a number of locations.
– 20 km of flush transects surveys have been completed across the Blue Hill area, and the first-ever flush survey was completed in the Welbedacht section of Baviaanskloof.
– We completed the first series of small mammal trapping surveys in the Blue Hill area of the fynbos, and demonstrated the presence of Namaqua rock mice, which was previously unknown in this location.
– We identified the location of more Cape rockjumper nests (a bird endemic to the fynbos), and installed camera traps to monitor chick development and feeding behaviour.
– We completed more radio-telemetry surveys on tagged rockjumpers, to assess activity and distribution patterns.
– We located an active nest of the endemic jackal buzzard, with two chicks and again installed a camera trap to assess prey species brought to the nest.
– Four species of bat have been identified in a small survey area around Blue Hill, and a cave roost of the Cape horseshoe bat has been identified.
– New locations and examples of rock art have been discovered.
That broadly covers the headlines, but our work is still not complete. Data still needs to be crunched from the various field surveys and just think of all those new camera traps still clicking and collecting data….long beyond our departure.
The keen-eyed amongst you will have realised that this is nine different, and in several cases, new achievements, in nine full days, by the collective efforts of nine people. Full marks and many thanks for this great contribution.
Don’t forget to share your pictures and you’ll hear from us again when the full technical expedition report comes out in a few months. Safe travels home and we hope to see you on another expedition again at some stage, somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours.
Thank you for sharing your pictures – here are some highlights:
Thanks to everyone for sharing your pictures. Here are a few highlights…
Hello and welcome to the first instalment of the Musandam diary. I am Catherine Edsell your leader for this year’s expedition to the Musandam Peninsula. I have led this expedition for the past three years and feel privileged to be able to take you to such a stunning environment – we have a great expedition ahead of us. I trust all your preparations are going well, and I look forward to meeting you in Dubai at 09:00 on 25 October in the foyer of the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah, our departure point to the northernmost tip of Oman.
It is our aim to replicate the surveys we performed in 2013 and 2011 as only by obtaining comparative data can we gain an insight into the true state of reef health. This year is an El Niño year. Sea surface temperatures are rising and as I write this, corals around the world are dying due to the intensity of this phenomenon. The temperature of the waters surrounding the Musandam Peninsula are always higher than the global average, making it a unique study site, as the corals here are already adapted to warmer temperatures. It will be interesting to document how much resilience they have and whether they are being affected. This is our quest.
To be able to collect accurate data, Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt our expedition scientist, and I will first need to train you in Reef Check methodology, so please have a look at all the training materials available on our website (see your dossier for details), as the more familiar you are with the indicator species of fish and invertebrates and types of substrate we will be studying, the better!