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

Here’s a summary of first conclusions that our scientist Jean-Luc sent to IUCN, which we thought you might all like to see:

We had a very successful survey covering the reefs of North Male’ atoll. We re-surveyed sites previously visited before the 1998 bleaching event. So in some ways we were looking at resilience since that event.

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 crown-of-thorns outbreak, which was rather 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. This is all apparent when put together in the RC protocols and datasets.

2014 reefcheck sites

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 (< 6m), but not for the deeper transect (most commonly around 10m). 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.

If  you want, I can send you the raw data. However, we also have archived reports that put this into context from 2005 to 2013. The Biosphere reports (2011, 2012 and 2013) are on www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports. Just scroll down the Maldives. The 2012 report details North Ari atoll bleaching recovery assessment of east, north and central Ari sites.

On the capacity-building front, we trained two Maldivians – Rafil Mohammed and Shaha Hashim – to become RC trainers. They are both Male’-based. Our longer term aim is to enable them to start some RC surveys near Male’, and with Shaha and Shameel Ibrahim (the latter from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme who trained to be an eco-diver this year, and next we’ll train him to become a trainer) to start some surveys, capacity-building and education down at Dhigurah. I’d very much like them to use RC methods to survey the reefs in and around the islands – either by snorkel or dive. And then to go on and use the RC method called ‘Discover RC’ to raise awareness of their work, and why the reefs are important to whale sharks, fisheries and the very bedrock of their homes.

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

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