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

On Wednesday, a beautiful day of surveying, punctuated by two minke whale sightings, the first was at 09:00 on our way to our first survey site. They were far from our boat, so we grabbed masks and snorkels and hopped into the speedboat for a closer look. We followed them at a safe distance for about half an hour watching them blow and dive until they disappeared into the deep.

minke whale, Kriss Brandstrom

The surveys were both at Osprey Point, and by the afternoon the swell was so strong that Jean-Luc was given the nickname of Sultan of Swing in reference to the laying of the transect line. The substrate team, Catherine and Nadege, had an equally difficult time reeling it in, but although the team were bashed and tumbled by the waves, the stories were well recounted later!

The surveys on Thursday clarified our hypothesis that the further into the MPA we go, the less coral cover there was due to the environmental conditions, increased siltation, and restricted water movement. Nasser, Kristoffer and Hari went out on the speedboat and documented illegal fishing practices in the area, whilst the rest of the team entered data. The restricted water movement did, however, have a bonus feature in that huge amounts of phosphorescent phytoplankton congregated in Khor Nadj, our overnight mooring area, and with thousands of fish coming in to feed after the moon had set, we were treated to an amazing phosphorescent fish display. It was so beautiful that some of the team were tempted to join in, so donning masks and fins added to the incredible light show – a once in a lifetime experience!

exploring the MPA

Sailing into the remnants of a storm, the sky was hazy and the sea lumpy as we reached our first survey site of Friday, Paradise Point. The coral, though, was good, and the fish life abundant. The afternoon site, named Son of Gargoyle was even better, with ancient porites mounds and prolific grouper. The survey of the MPA was over (for this year at least) and we steamed round the northern tip of the peninsula accompanied by two Indian ocean humpback dolphins, who bow rode with us for a while.

Indian ocean humpback dolphins

Back in Khumsar, as the Mosques called to prayer, we decided to set foot on dry land and visit the village nestled in the rocks with no road in or out, accessible only by boat. It was a great excursion, and gave a little insight into the lives of the local people here – a community reliant on the sea.

excursion to Khumsar

We were woken today, Saturday, at 04:00 by the waves slapping the side of the boat. Nadege, worried for her diving gear, went up on deck and rescued wetsuits and bikinis from being blown overboard. Dawn yoga was a windy affair, and breakfast was tricky with tea literally being blown out of the cups, but we made it back to Khasab, even managing to stop for a dive at Pipi Beach along the way before leaving our trusty survey vessel, the MS Sindbad, after lunch.

Another expedition over, but thank you for a wonderful week, rich in laughter and learning, new experiences and great memories – no one who saw will ever forget the sight of a terrified Hari trying to escape from an innocent turtle! We look forward to Jean-Luc’s report and are grateful for everyone’s involvement. It will be great to see how our understanding of the MPA has developed by this time next year.

the team

Thank you to everyone who supported this project. Special thanks to the Oman Ministry of Tourism for supporting our efforts to conserve coral reefs through tourism.

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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)

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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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 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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