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

After Saturday night in the desert (at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, our Arabia project partners), we returned to Dubai on Sunday morning, collected the team and set off to the Musandam peninsula.

Surrounded by impressive sandstone mountains, our vessel – the MY Sindabad – took us to our first dive at the glorious Pipi Beach on Sunday afternoon. Dwarfed by massive coral stands, several hundered years old, the team checked out their diving kit and skills and gazed in awe at the underwater scene.

After that great introduction to the Musandam’s underwater world, the team knuckled down to some serious Reef Check training, and with 5 lectures, 2 dives and a test (with 100% pass rate – well done everyone!), the second day (Monday) of the expedition was successfully completed, and the MY Sindabad continued its journey around the peninsula.

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Now firmly in the MPA (marine protected area) that was partly brought about by Biosphere Expeditions survey work here, we have begun to have a look around. Dive sites vary from heavily silted to abundant coral and fish life. For example, our ID test dive on Tuesday at Osprey Point (complete with osprey nest and feeding chick), was rich in diversity.

Gargoyle Cliffs was the site of our mock survey, and with a strong surge buffeting us, the team collected its first data set. It was more challenging than Nadege and Kristoffer, who were undertaking the fish survey, had imagined it would be, with hundreds of snappers to count whilst avoiding being smashed against the corals!

So, with Reef Check training completed, and a fully qualified EcoDiver team now in action, some decided to celebrate with a night dive.  Nasser and Kristoffer saw (and documented), a cuttlefish spawning – a very rare sight indeed.

This morning, after dawn yoga, and after we said goodbye to Matthias, Kathy, Liesl, Lukas and Sophie, we start our surveys proper, and will endeavour to investigate as many sites in the MPA as we can.

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

Team 6 brought the rain. Not the average almost-evaporates-before-touching-the-ground-rain, but full-on rain. With thunder, lightning and the whole shebang. With nine of the team members out at the 4WD training, we sought shelter under the roof at the scientists’ compound. They have a metal roof in their lapa and it was spectacular. Back at bush camp, merely 6 kms away, Heidi had been out checking box traps with Ligeus and wondered what all the fuss was about because no rain fell there. Such are the vagaries in the non-rainy season in Namibia.

Team 6 also brought the rhinos, two of them at their first dinner here in camp. The rhino pals were so comfortable near us, they laid down for a while, so we got a really nice front-row encounter in the comfort of our own home.

Monday was our box trap training up at the CS House box trap, and afterwards we split into three groups to check all the traps. Markus, Astrid and Christiane came with me and got the grand tour of the farm on the first day, because we were responsible for checking the Lodge trap (where we found hyaena prints walking just beside the trap) and the Mountain trap (where I forgot there is a camera trap so there will be nice pictures of my lower legs for the next data entry team to see).

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Today, Wednesday, the teams are working independently and enjoying the fruits of their two days of training. First order of business is changing the meat in the box traps, so it will be interesting to hear at tonight’s briefing how they’ve combined all their navigational, equipment, box trap and data sheet training for a successful day in the field. Most volunteers comment on how they cannot believe that after two days of training that we let them loose to work on their own in the field. Yes, we trust them. All the volunteers are so important, because we’re able to do so much more work all over the farm.

This morning the elephants gave Markus, Astrid, Christiane, Karen and I a merry chase. We searched for 4+ hours with no luck. We did telemetry in the north, south, east and west, and not a single beep. Yes, we even had fresh batteries in the telemetry receiver. Christiane and Markus even climbed up the Boma treehouse to have a listen. Well, no data are still data, so we have to record those as well.

On the way back from searching for the elephants, our team came across a large group of giraffe. Take a close look at the horns on the wee one. You’ll notice that they are crooked. That’s because when giraffes are born their nubs aren’t yet connected to their heads. Over time they grow and adhere to the animal’s head, becoming fully fused at 4-4.5 years (~7 years in females). But at birth they are loose and lie flat so they’ll ease through the birth canal.

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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 weekly vehicle game count. What a difference a week can make. Last week we were frozen solid on the backs of the trucks and counting game like crazy, and this week the weather was much warmer and the animal counts much less. The mountain team consisting of Mark, Helen, Uli and Ashley didn’t see much game on the game count, but they did see a lot of tracks. In fact, one track they followed led them straight to out box trap! There the leopard put on paw in the trap, then proving how very clever they are decided it was a bad idea and stepped out again without activating the trap. We can’t wait to see what leopard it was when we view the camera trap pictures!

Elephant observation teams were extremely unlucky after the first encounter. We scoured the farm for four days never finding them, getting random beeps but never seeing them. Finally on day 5 we went out and found followed their signal (and them) to the Sandposten waterhole. We had a lovely encounter for more than an hour, unfortunately never observing any feeding behaviour because they were so absorbed in the water. What was very interesting to all of us was how they chased off the cows: they blow water at them!


Vera’s game count team of Mara, Paul, Emma and Bruce didn’t see much game at all according to Helen and Uli doing data entry to my right, but they reported seeing the rhinos on the way back home. My team of Louize, Di, Vibeke and John on the east side of the farm didn’t see the bat eared foxes this week, but we did see a plentiful amount of the beautiful and delicate Steenbok. (Our data sheets were so full we didn’t want to brag that we also saw the rhino family group plus the big male.) We also counted among our animals a sable antelope.

evening light

The rest of the week’s activities hummed along swimmingly well. The teams worked hard even though it has been quite hot these past two weeks. We’ve changed around the activities a bit so that we’re doing the more sedentary activities in the afternoons, but for some activities like box traps and changing the bait meat in the traps, it’s just a hot, sweaty, smelly business no matter what time of day you do it.

team 5

A hearty thanks goes out to all the Team 5 volunteers. We wish you safe travels home.

Team 6? See you at the Josephine Gate on Sunday!

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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.


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.

_G8Q8260 IMG_6104

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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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