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

With no internet around the Musandam, below is a short summary of the expedition starting with Catherine’s records from day 3 onwards. Pictures of it all have gone up below. Thank you to everyone who made the expedition such a success. You were a great team and it was a great expedition. Another step towards that ultimate aim of a Musandam marine protected area. You could have lounged on a beach somewhere or gone shopping in Dubai. Instead you did this. Thank you! Safe travels and see you again someday, somewhere.

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Day 3 (8 Oct) – Yoga at dawn followed by breakfast en route to Eagle Bay. There were no eagles, or sooty falcons (our terrestrial flagship species for this expedition), but plenty of ospreys swooping around. Even more excitingly, a 6 metre whale shark swam straight over a team of divers completing their in-water Reef Check ID test!  Jean-Luc, our scientist, confirmed this area to be a perfect place for a marine protected area, and with Amran Al Kamzari from the Oman Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, and Antonia Vegh from the Environment Society of Oman as part of our team, we have a couple of good ambassadors to make this a reality!

Day 4 (9 Oct) – First full day of Reef Check, three surveys, three different locations, all performed with great enthusiasm. Huge bait balls, ripping currents, humpback Indo-Pacific dolphins, turtles and manta rays just adding to the enjoyment of this stunning lunar landscape.

Day 5 (10 Oct) – With the first survey completed before 8:30, scientist Jean-Luc and expedition leader in training, Catherine, yours truly, decided to perform a snorkelling recce at the backside of the island. With masks and snorkels donned, the team proceeded to swim around the back of Abu Sarr island collecting data as they went. The highlight for some was the amazing night dive at Coral Garden, filled with lobster, shrimp, cow fish, cat fish and a plethora of coral.

Day 6 (11 Oct) – The first dive survey of the day was at Ras Taher, an unusual site, exposed to strong currents, so therefore exhibiting different species. This provided a challenge for the team, which they met and overcome with great skill and teamwork. As our reward, we were treated to the gem of a site, Pipi beach, where thousand year old porites corals dominated, creating an incredible cathedral-like underwater landscape, inhabited by turtles, huge schools of snapper, and an army of barracuda. It also happened to be our expedition leader’s birthday, so we celebrated with an enormous and very elaborate boat shaped cake. Happy birthday Matthias!

Day 7 (12 Oct) – The last day of the expedition, and a leisurely dive or snorkel at Telegraph island. All kit was packed and documented, then we were away, back to the hustle and bustle of Dubai; the tranquility of the Musandam peninsular a beautiful memory.

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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)

We made Rita happy by collecting the same dataset for her again as last year (for comparative analysis). This was all done by yesterday morning, so we had a few lazy dives and enjoyed being just travellers visting Telegraph Island Bay with its towering limestone cliffs plunging straight into the water and fringed by equally impressive coral reefs. We also made a few crabs and fish happy by rescuing them from a ghost net.

Finally, we also made Reef Check happy. Dr. Gregor Hodgson, its Founder and Executive Director, sent through this message in reply to my earlier challenge of over 90% hard coral cover: “Congrats to all who passed their Reef Check training. There are now fewer and fewer places left in the world with such a high percentage of living coral cover. 90% used to be a much more normal condition. Have a wonderful time surveying those lovely reefs. I am jealous. Thanks to Rita for being a great teacher and to Biosphere Expeditions or organizing this expedition.” To this I can only add my thanks to you the crew of MS Sindbad, Rita, Heidi, Jennifer, Tina, Kathy, Alison, Michael, Andreas, Eric, Adam, Kelvin, Daryle and Nasr. You had a million options for your holiday and you chose to spend it helping us with this important research project. Thank you!

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As Rita explained during her results presentation (now also available via http://tinyurl.com/9ullz4e), the news is mixed with coral cover and other substrate indicators pointing towards a steady recovery of the reefs, but with our fish data also suggesting that overfishing is still an issue. Moving forward, for us this means more work with Nasr, Daryle and the Omani goverment on getting the area protected within the framework of an MPA (marine protected area), as well as continuing to collect data within the framework of our expeditions, keeping a guardian eye on the reefs and strengthening our fact-based firepower.

Safe travels home and I hope to see you again somewhere, some day on another expedition.

Best wishes

Matthias

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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)

Everyone passed their Reef Check tests and we have not looked back since. Checking those reefs already seems to be working like Swiss (or German?) clockwork, plus or minus a few air, weighting and underwater overtaking issues. We’ve had lots of HC, some SD, RB, RC and very few SC, OT and SP. Those in the know will know what I mean.

The weather is balmy, the landscape (above and below the waterline) stupendous, the water reminiscent of a bathtub and the company entertaining – especially if and when Kathy and Alison manage to take a breath when talking to each other. Rita seems to be happy, but tired, and making her happy (by feeding her lots of data) is what we are here for after all.

We will spend the next two days doing more of the same. Thank you everybody for contributing your time and money to researching these Musandam reefs in order to get them protected. I think we all agree that they really deserve it.

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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)

Day two of our coral reef research expedition and the team has left Dubai, crossed the border into Oman and installed itself on the liveaboard.

Research team
Research team

Rita, our scientist, is in full teaching swing, has us hanging off her every word and our heads reeling with groupers, snappers, banded-coral shrimp, bleaching averages, black- and white-band disease, and more! When you read this, most of us will be sweating it out in our first exam (on fish). Only those who pass are allowed to collect data. Luckily Rita is a very good teacher.

Rita in full teaching swing...
Rita in full teaching swing…
...with students hanging off her every word ;)
…with students hanging off her every word 😉

The diving has not been bad either. Coral Gardens is as beautiful as ever and with over 90% hard coral cover still more than deserves the name. Anyone here who knows a site anywhere in the world with higher hard coral coverage?

Coral gardens

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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)

Have you ever wondered what an expedition packed up looks like? Probably not. And yet the answer is below.

Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go
Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go

Adam (my sidekick) and I have arrived in Dubai and spent the morning going through the kit list and checking everything is there. It was, so our shopping list for this afternoon is simply a laminator, HP 121 printer cartridge, bungees, Nurofen, zinc oxide tape, nasal spray, antihistamine cream. Exciting – not!

Our scientist Rita has also just arrived at our hotel and as I type this, she is going through the emergency numbers and procedures with Adam, updating things as necessary. It’s all the usual pre-expedition fun and games.

The weather? Have a wild guess. Blue skies and temperatures of around 30 degrees Centigrade. Welcome to the Middle East.

See you tomorrow in the lobby at 09:00 and let’s go check those reefs!

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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)

Good news from Muscat, where I have had some high-level meetings with goverment decision-makers about creating a Musandam Marine Protected Area. It’s early days and I can tell you more about it when we meet, but it was an important step forward. The next step is you collecting more data!

Other than that we are pretty much ready for you. T-shirts and Reef Check materials printed, MS Sindbad is being made ready, supplies are being bought and I have done most of my packing.

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I’ll be on the A380 from London next Friday. My UAE number (on Sat/Sun 6/7 October) will be xxx and my Oman number (from 7 October p.m. onwards) will be xxx. Remember these are for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly) only.

See you next 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)

With a couple of weeks to go until our Musandam expedition, I thought I would introduce myself and make you familiar with some changes (remember nothing is as constant as the change of plan on expedition ;).

My name is Matthias and I am the founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and also your expedition leader. There’s a short video of me and why I am your leader (and not Rossella Meloni as per the dossier) below.

Change 1: I am your expedition leader.

Change 2: I will be on UAE mobile number xxx and not the expedition leader mobile advertised in the dossier. Since we have a good crew and have done this expedition for several years now, I will only arrive in Dubai 30 hours before we meet at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah. If you are late for assembly or if there is any other urgent matter, please ring me on this phone. Once we get to Oman and onto our liveaboard, I will switch to Oman mobile number xxx for the rest of the expedition.

No change: to the assembly point or time or to the fact that you are joining a research expedition, not a cushy dive holiday 😉 I hope you have all done your swatting up on Reef Check and are ready to help us with our reef research. Here’s an old 2011 survey itinerary. As you can see it’s early mornings and mostly survey dives, but we usually get in a few “lazy dives”, i.e. dives when you don’t have to fill in any datasheets. So please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with (and test you on) before you are allowed to collect data.

But enough of the scaremongering! I hope your preparations and packing is taking shape. Remember there is NO dive hire gear in Musandam, so please bring all your own stuff or arrange hire gear in Dubai in advance (see page 19 of your dossier).

I may write once more from Dubai before we all meet at 09:00 at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah on 7 October. Safe travels and I look forward to meeting you soon.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

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