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

Divers rediscover Eden for coral reefs in the face of climate change

The waters of the world’s tropical coral reefs are warming and getting more acidic in the face of increased C02 concentration. Reefs in most parts of the world are dying from such stress and it appears that the ability for coral reefs to recover from periodic El Nino events is being diminished – because of increasing frequency of warming, pollution, increased sedimentation and disease. However, the corals of the Musandam in northern Oman are currently an exception. Here reefs are extremely healthy, covering the shallow waters of the mountainous peninsula with extreme variety of growth forms from massive 400 year old 4m high ‘boulder’ coral to the delicate yet important branching and ‘bushy’ corals. Coral cover regularly exceeds 70% in nearshore embayments
Elsewhere in the world, corals have been reduced to rubble, their once great carbonate structures being eroded by boring sponges and worms, whilst successive warming events and overfishing of herbivores has resulted in massive plant growth, suffocating what’s left of corals, and attracting opportunistic algae. The majority of Jamaica’s once spectacular reefs have been turned from ‘coral’ to ‘algal’.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Reef Check Course Director of the region said: ‘The past six years of Biosphere Expeditions surveys confirm the vitality and resilience of this area. At a time when we’re seeing the degradation of the world’s most diverse marine habitats, relied on by 100s of millions of people for food, Musandam is withstanding the current temperature hikes. Our survey findings offer hope that there are some areas of the world that can withstand such environmental change.’

The temperature of the surrounding waters differs considerably from that of the Gulf of Arabia. Musandam lies at the entrance of the gulf and is enriched by cool deep waters of the Gulf of Oman to the east. The current exchange between the waters of the gulf flowing over the reefs allow for currents to wash the reefs with clear waters, whilst the cooler water from the east prevents catastrophic climate effects. Furthermore, some of the corals have been seen to harbour temperature resistant algae, allowing greater resistance to bleaching.

Whilst Musandams coral reefs are faring well, the fisheries of the area are being exploited at ever increasing effort. The most important commercial fish species of the reefs – grouper (hammour) are only ever recorded at 50 cm in size at very few more isolated sites. We recommend the development of an MPAs and minimum landing sizes for grouper to achieve a sustainable fishery, though none of this will change if it doesn’t have the support of the community. Jenan Alasfoor from the Environment Society of Oman, a scholar on this year’s expedition, knows too well that before any changes in fishing practices occur, full consultations with the local communities need to be undertaken.

Pictures from the 2015 expedition


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

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

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.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.