Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

Here is an album of pictures of the recent expedition. Thank you to all of you who have contributed. If you have not shared yours yet, remember you can do so via our Pictureshare site.


Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia.

Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

Tuesday (23 August)

Sunday and Monday followed with three survey dives on each. Some of the team swapped jobs, but a lot of us preferred to stay in what we felt were our areas of expertise. A lot of data were gathered and entered into the Reef Check spreadsheets, and we even had time for a night dive and one lazy dive at the end, which stretched our navigation skills with some pretty low visibility. We arrived back at Singapore and waited off-shore for the customs boat to come and check us back in to our final destination. We enjoyed the final crusie into harbour during breakfast, with Indonesia on one side and Malaysia on the other. Farewells were said as this year’s expedition came to an end. Thanks to all the team for all of their hard work and a lot of fun – hope to see you all again!

Sorry that the pictures did not come through. Here’s an album now to make up. And also the draft of a press release to summarise the expedition, which could not happen without your time and money, so thank you again!

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Strong Recovery for Malaysian Coral

The El Niño effect this year has devastated coral reefs around the world, but the reefs of one island in Malaysia are fighting back.

A team from Biosphere Expeditions have teamed up with Reef Check Malaysia to survey the coral reefs around the island of Tioman, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. The group was assessing the health of the reefs following the devastating rise in the sea temperatures that happened in May this year. A temporary rise of 2 or 3 degrees Celcius, caused by this year’s El Niño event, has been causing corals all around the tropics to do something called ‘bleaching’, which can lead to the death of corals and then entire reefs. A coral bleaches when it expels the symbiotic algae that usually live within it. These algae give the coral its colour, without these algae the transparent coral appears white (or bleached) as we see through the animal to its white calcium carbonate structure. Without the algae the animal also loses around 80% of its energy which is usually supplied by the algae photosynthesising sugars. This eventually leads to the death of the coral through starvation.

But the reefs around Tioman island have been taking algae back, and in the months since the reefs were 30 to 40% bleached, they have largely recovered, as the Biosphere Expeditions team has found. The team, comprising citizen scientists from all over the world, also found reefs that were almost back to pre-bleaching states and which were generally healthy. So for these reefs the danger of bleaching has passed for now, but the threats of overfishing and pollution are still there. Very few larger predator fish were found during the surveys, indicating that fishing is still happening, despite Tioman being a Marine Protected Area. The amounts of nutrient indicator algae growing on some of the reefs led the team’s scientist, Alvin Chelliah of Reef Check Malaysia, to speculate on the amount of sewage that may be ending up on the reefs from some of the island resorts. It is through working with the communities on the island, as Reef Check Malaysia does, that the threats to these reefs will be tackled sustainability can be secured.

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Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

NOTE that this is a text-only diary for now as we are struggling to get pictures through whilst at sea. As soon as we manage to send some pictures, we will add them to the WordPress, Facebook, etc. versions of the diary too.

Thursday (18 Aug)

I’m pleased to say that to everyone’s relief all passed enough tests so that we can start our Reef Check survey dives tomorrow. After a long day we go to bed happy and looking forward to doing some surveys in the morning.

Friday (19 August)

We have started running two surveys at the same time, at two different depths, so everyone needs to be slick getting their gear on and getting into the water. We ran through how each member of the team will operate in the water and in what order and at what speed everyone needs to move. There’s quite a lot to remember, which is why the first survey is a practice survey, with everyone getting used to how the theory operates underwater. We had quite a lot of fun and a lot of people come with an ‘oh, I didn’t think…… would be like that’ comment – but all went well. After a debrief and lunch we headed to a new dive site to undertake our first full survey. which goes well. The evening is full of good food (again), reef life books and stories, with a thunderstorm flashing and rumbling in distant clouds.

Saturday (20 August)

We managed to do three different sites with two Reef Check surveys at all of them. The sites had lots of coral and almost no bleaching, despite the El Nino event that came through in May and bleached about 30% of the corals at the time. The reefs that we are seeing are almost fully recovered, with only a small amount of bleaching in the shallower (5 m) survey sites. All the sites have a great variety of hard corals and some lovely fish and other marine life such as nudibrancs and cuttlefish. Two of the sites have a lot of large mounds and gulleys, which make the survey dives both interesting and challenging. The last survey is done at a site with lots of current wiping us along down our transect, so just when we were getting comfortable, we had a little bit extra to think about. Good to have a challenge at the end of the day! The day ends with drinks as the sun goes down – and some retesting for those who want it, after all, it’s not a holiday 😉

Continue reading “Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)”

Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

NOTE that this is a text-only diary for now as we are struggling to get pictures through whilst at sea. As soon as we manage to send some pictures, we will add them to the WordPress, Facebook, etc. versions of the diary too.

Tuesday (16 Aug)

We left our dock in Singapore at 17:00 with all dive gear checked and stored and everyone moved into their cabins. Wan (our dive leader on board the boat) gave us an introduction to life on board and then we ran through the risk assessment for the trip, talking through any risks associated with life on board and our survey diving regime. Dehydration is the main worry day to day while diving in a hot country, so we have plenty of cold water and juices available, plus isotonic sachets, to top up with on a regular basis.

The immigration boat came to us and stamped our passports as we left Singaporean waters, and then we headed off on our overnight 14 hour journey to Tioman Island. Pom and Deng, our two cooks, produced a really good meal as we got underway and we ended the evening introducing ourselves and getting know each other. The seas turned a bit choppy as the evening wore on and we got further out to sea, and everyone settled down for their night at sea.

Wednesday (17 Aug)

As dawn broke we arrived at Tioman Island, an hour ahead of schedule to pick up our expedition scientist for the week, Alvin. We were able to go through an introduction to Reef Check, the methodology that we are using for our survey dives, while the immigration checks were being undertaken. After this we headed out for our first dive, a check dive to get comfortable in the water and practice a few diving skills that would be useful to us during the surveys. Renggis, a dive site used regularly as a good training spot by many dive boats, proved to be a little tricky! As we whisked along sideways in low visibility during our descent, it soon became apparent that the site was not its usual benign self. Alvin tucked us around a corner on a patch of sand that he knows and we were out of the worst of the current, magically able to go through the skills that we planned. All was well and the team returned to the boat with tales of turtles, cuttlefish and coral, as much as current, weight and air consumption. We were greeted back on board with an inspiring ginger tea and settled down to learn more about Reef Check.

The rest of the day was spent learning about the fish and invertebrates that we need to know for our surveys, and we went on a second dive around the corner with Alvin and I pointing out the species that we all need to know. The second dive was in better conditions, although visibility was still poor. More classroom work followed and after the dinner the team went to bed with their heads buzzing with different fish to learn.

Thursday (18 Aug)

The first dive today was at 07:00 to have another look underwater at the fish and invertebrate species that we have learnt. Revisiting Renggis made for a great dive with lots of fish to look at and the team came out of the water feeling more confident than before. Breakfast and last minute revision, then came the first two tests…

More soon.

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Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

I’ve been checking through our research gear and shopping for a few additional bits of kit that we will need for our research dives. Alvin, our scientist, and I have talked through the plans for the week and we’re both really looking forward to everyone getting here now. So, final instructions: When you arrive at the marina just head for Pier 1 and there will be someone to get you through the gate and on to the boat.

Punggol Marina and Country Club
Punggol Marina and Country Club

If you have any problems, please call me on the UK number provided. It is really important that you arrive on time at 16:00 as we will be setting off for our 14 hour passage to Tioman Island shortly after everyone is on board. Please note that it can take around 30 to 40 minutes to get to the marina from central Singpore in a taxi, so please allow enough time to get here. I’d rather you arrived a little early (15.30 is the stated earliest, but a little bit before is fine), rather than a little late. And if you suffer from sea sickness, please ensure that you take any tablets at the correct time to allow them to work effectively (some of them need to be taken a while before you go on the sea) as it is this first passage that is most likely to cause you problems due to the exposed nature of the sea during the passage.

All best for your travels and see you tomorrow.

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Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

Hello – I am Kathy Gill and I will be your expedition leader for Malaysia this year. It’s just over a week until I head out to Singapore and start preparations on board the boat that will be our home for this year’s coral reef surveys around the island of Tioman.

Kathy Gill
Kathy Gill
Alvin Chelliah
Alvin Chelliah

Having recently returned from the Maldives coral reef expedition, I am keen to find out how Malaysia’s corals have been doing in comparison, given the major bleaching event that has been occurring around the world following this year’s El Niño. Our scientist Alvin Alvin Chelliah tells me that “we have started to see recovery from bleaching, very few sites are still bleached” and further that “the purpose of the expedition is to continue our long-term reef health monitoring. The data are used by Reef Check Malaysia and the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia to monitor the health and change to reefs around Tioman. The sites selected are sites we have been monitoring since the first expedition in 2013. The information collected will also feed into the long-term five year programme we are currently running on Tioman.”

Dive sites and survey plan:

Setting out my dive gear reminds me to mention getting your gear serviced before you come and also don’t forget to bring a torch if you have one, as we hope to do a night dive during the week.

And of course, don’t forget to swot up on your Reef Check methodology (look in your dossier for hints on how to). Trust me, the more swotting you can do now, the easier you will find it once you are on the boat.

The weather over there looks to be a steady 33 degrees centigrade and the sea temperatures are in the high twenties to low thirties, so a 3 mm wetsuit should be good, but don’t discount 5 mm if you’d like the added warmth. Our dives tend to be a maximum of 18 m with a dive time of no more than 90 minutes, but we dive slow during a lot of our survey work, so you don’t necessarily generate your own warmth. Having said that, it’s an aweful lot warmer than the sea here in the UK at the moment!

I am really looking forward to meeting everyone.  I’ll get a SIM card when I arrive in Singapore and will let me know my local number after that so that you can contact me in case of emergencies, such as being late for assembly.

Best wishes

Kathy

Continue reading “Update from our Malaysia coral reef expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)”