From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Team 2 arrived on Saturday, and already, in only one day, we have completed so much. This is the first ever Biosphere Expeditions Reef Check expedition to take previously trained Reef Check EcoDivers only and dedicate the whole expedition to gathering data. With the training process removed, it has allowed us to plan a new itinerary that will re-visit historic Reef Check sites that have not been surveyed in many years due to their distance from Male’ and also for the fact that in one week, to collect repetitive data sets, there just isn’t the time!

Some of the sites we will be surveying have had no data collected since 1997, prior to the last big bleaching event. Most of this week’s team trained with Biosphere Expeditions in other locations such as Musandam (Oman) or in Malaysia during the last couple of years, although Graham and Janet, from New Zealand, have had a seven year break! Adam from the USA gained his Reef Check qualification in the Phillipines and is new to Biosphere Expeditions.

So after a quick refresher in methodology and an intensive reminder of indicator species, we set off to Bandos to perform our first ‘mock’ Reef Check survey. It went well and everyone was comforted by their ability to ‘slip back into it’. The fish survey was given a great opportunity to tell the difference between snapper and emperor fish when a huge mixed shoal swam through both transects.

Happy with the lessons learnt, we re-surveyed the site ‘for real’ and are looking forward to our first survey tomorrow on Vaavu Atoll – our first uninhabited reef!

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Our final Reef Check survey at Holiday Thilla was completed on 20 July, and again we were witness to near complete degradation of live coral caused by last year’s bleaching event. Coral recruits are visible throughout the substrate, but they are still very small. The survey itself ran like clockwork, and indeed all the surveys have been executed extremely well – you know it is a great survey team when the only complaint is that the transect tape has twisted so as to not instantly be able to read the cm side!

After the survey, we de-camped to the dhoni (our dive boat), and took our positions for the whale shark survey transect, and after about an hour scanning the shallow waters the dark shape of a whale shark, was spotted. The team jumped in and snorkelled behind it, it initially dived, but then resurfaced giving half the team a great view of the gill area, important for ID purposes, and Charlotte managed to get some excellent footage.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, a group of divers then jumped directly in front of the shark, (against all protocols), and the shark dived, but we had collected the data! A storm blew through, causing us to abandon our survey, but we took the data to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme HQ on Dhigurah, and analysed it using I3S software – a program initially used by NASA to identify constellations. We discovered that the shark we had spotted was called ‘Adam’, the same shark we identified in 2015. He must have known we were in the area!

So as the expedition draws to a close we have to say goodbye and a massive thank you to Charlotte, Hani, Christina, Ida and the majority of the Maldivian contingent. Fathimath ‘Farah’ Amjad will be staying with us, representing Reef Check Maldives, and assisting with next week’s survey. Michele, Ian and Richard will also be staying on board, and we look forward to welcoming the new team tomorrow.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Hussein Zahir, whose expertise and sharp wit have been immensely valuable and entertaining. Ibrahim Shameel’s dedication to Reef Check data collection and whale shark research was duly noted, and Hassan Ahmed is an inspiration to us all – his positivity and passion for reef conservation amongst the next generation makes him an excellent ambassador for Reef Check here in the Maldives. Thanks also to Nizam Ibrahim and Adam Saaneez – it has been an excellent week. We will miss you all!

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

It has been a very interesting couple of days with excellent survey work by the team, coupled with interesting lectures from Hussein Zahir and Ibrahim Shameel, from La Mer, and The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme respectively.  Unfortunately the condition of some of the reefs we have surveyed show significant loss of coral cover due to the 2016 bleaching event, and there has, as yet, been little recovery.  There is some hope though, as the substrate is not yet covered in algae, so coral recruits do have a place to settle and grow.

We learned from Hussein Zahir, that it took almost 12 years for the reefs to recover from the previous massive bleaching event in 1997, but by 2009 there was significant coral cover once again.  As we had just had to witness an almost completely dead reef in Kudafalu, these statistics did give us some comfort.  The problem is that due to climate change, pollution and other human impacts, events threatening/killing reefs/corals now come around so frequently that there is little time for reefs to recover from one impact until they are pummelled by the next. There is no denying it: the reefs of the Maldives, and elsewhere, are in serious trouble.

Before work, on Tuesday, we managed to squeeze in an educational dawn dive, with most of our indicator fish species presenting themselves in all their glory, including the magnificent humphead wrasse.  Apart from that it has been systematic survey work followed by the all important data entry.  Spirits are high, and we look forward to our whale shark survey tomorrow.

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

The team is working hard and the last couple of days have seen us studying from dawn until dusk, taking tests in and out of water, and learning all the methods and identification skills needed to successfully complete a Reef Check survey.

It is important to practice everything, from completing the relevant forms prior to the start of the survey, gathering all the information we can about the local area, to the laying of the transect tape, and of course practicing collecting all the data underwater. As we have such a wealth of experience in our Maldivian partners, each expeditioner from abroad can be teamed with one of them for the first survey. This will help improve everyone’s confidence and hone the skills needed to be a great Reef Checker – after all, that’s why we’re all here!

So, on Monday 17th July we conducted our first mock survey at Rasdhoo Madivar. It is the healthiest reef we have seen so far, as sadly much of the reef at Baros, our inner reef training site did not recover from last year’s extensive bleaching. Rasdhoo, on the other hand, being an outer reef with stronger currents and increased water flow has, from first glance, recovered completely. The survey itself was hampered by a swarm of jellyfish and some strong currents towards the end, but was none the less a great learning experience.

So with all tests completed, and all team members successfully obtaining Reef Check Eco Diver status (congratulations), the data collection begins!

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Greetings from Male’! I have arrived to a beautifully sunny day, but sadly Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt is not with me. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he has had to withdraw from this expedition at the 11th hour, and will no longer be on board the MV Carpe Diem with us. He will, however, be working with us remotely and will support and advise throughout. On expedition we are always reminded to, ‘expect the unexpected’, and this is a true example of that maxim!

Dr Jean-Luc has asked me to pass on this message to you:

“Unfortunately – for critical personal reasons – I cannot make the expedition this year. For that, I’m very sorry. However, you are all in excellent hands with an exceptional expedition leader (with excellent coral reef teaching skills), and two Maldivians who are competent in Reef Check methodology, and who are developing the new in-country NGO ReefCheck Maldives. I hope you have a truly successful and brilliant time, and thank you for your endeavours to help save Maldives reefs.”

As Dr Jean-Luc has alluded to, we are fortunate to have a wealth of experience and expertise on board, with a passionate and pioneering Maldivian presence and a number of marine biologists as part of the team, and it is now all of our responsibility to work hard and collect the data as planned.

I now have a local mobile number +960 789 2930 which should only be used for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly).

I hope your travels are going well and I look forward to meeting you tomorrow, Saturday, at 11:00 at the Coffee Club in Male Airport.

Best wishes,

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Hello, my name is Catherine and I’m going to be your expedition leader for this year’s Maldives expedition. I led this expedition in 2014 and 2015, and am looking forward to investigating, with your help, the recovery from last year’s bleaching event (do read the 2016 report in preparation).

Catherine Edsell
Catherine Edsell

I’ll be travelling out in advance with Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, our scientist, to ensure that everything is ready for your arrival, and will be in touch with updates and my local mobile number from Male’.

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt
Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt

On this expedition we will be training and passing knowledge to our new Maldivian partner NGO Reef Check Maldives, which was formed recently as a direct result of our local placement and capacity-building programme.

During the first slot, we will visit our permanent monitoring sites and re-test our theory that those sites in more exposed waters are faring better than the more sheltered sites.  In the second slot, we have the chance to complete an extensive set of surveys in more isolated locations, well away from most tourist islands. This will provide very interesting data comparison, and give us more information on the impact of last year’s bleaching event.  We will also be recording sightings of rare and spectacular species such as whale sharks and mantas, with a brand new survey site for whale sharks, south of Vaavu reef.

I hope all your preparations are going well, and that you’ve had a chance to study all the Reef Check material and whale shark info available on  www.biosphere-expeditions.org/methods as this will not only save you revision time on board, but stand you in good stead for a fruitful expedition. For those of you who are already Reef Check qualified, this is also a great resource to refresh your memory!

I look forward to meeting the first team at the assembly point, Coffee Club at Male Airport on 15 July at 11:00.

Best wishes

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Here’s a first report of the season by our expedition scientist Fabian Carrasco:

Fabian Carrasco

The leatherback season started on 26 February with the first nesting female. Unfortunately she was poached. Later we had a nest in situ on 1  March. Her tracks were hidden by the waves in a couple of hours and the eggs remained safe from poachers. Our patrols with local assistants and international research assistants have started and in the past 43 days we have recorded 52 successful nesting activities:

* 1 natural nest (in situ)

* 25 nest relocated in Styrofoam coolers

* 9 nest relocated higher up the beach between markers 95-104

* 19 poached nests

* 1 nest saved by the Coast Guard and Police O.I.J.

Among the nests relocated in styrofoam coolers is one of green turtle (from 2 April). The others nests are from leatherbacks. No hawksbill have been seen yet.

The fist hatchlings are due between 1 and 8 May at marker 79.

Green turtle returning to sea after nesting
Leatherback turtle returning to sea after nesting

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Welcome to the Costa Rica 2017 expedition diary! My name is Ida Vincent and I will be your expedition leader. This will be my second year on this expedition and I look forward to being back at the Pacuare field station and working together with Latin America Sea Turtles (LAST).

Ida

The field station is located just behind the beach where the turtles nest and during our time in Pacuare we will work closely with the onsite biologist from LAST, Fabian Carrasco, who will be training us in sea turtle monitoring. Lucy Marcus, expedition leader in training, will be assisting me throughout the expedition and we all look forward to meeting you on 8 May.

Lucy

Lucy and I will already be in Pacuare helping to prepare the field station for you arrival, however, Nicki Wheeler from LAST will be meeting you at 09.00 in the lobby of Hotel Santo Tomas. Make sure to be on time as our first night of patrols starts that very evening and there is a lot to learn prior.

Have another look through your dossier and check your packing list, remember that your head lamp needs to have a red light mode.

Hopefully you will all have read the 2016 expedition report too, so you already know why we are there and do what we do. As you can read in the report, support from citizen scientists such as you is critical, so thank you for your support and see you in a couple of weeks!

Ida

Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Here’s a selection of images of the expedition:

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

So the expedition is over. Our scientist Greg summarised the results for us this morning.

We found 168 known fox dens and discovered 19 new ones. On our circular observations we counted 104 oryx, 77 Arabian gazelle, 4 sand gazelle, 140 palm trees, 843 ghaf trees, 28 acacia, 12 Sodom’s apples and a whopping 8000 or so broom bushes. The random observations yielded 31 bird, 11 mammal & reptile, 11 insect and 15 plant species. The 18 camera traps took 16247 (!) pictures, 13000 from one camera photographing moving tree branches or something similarly exciting :), but also of course a variety of species.

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Our live trapping was unsuccessful this year, but if you don’t try, you don’t get. Who knows when we will get the next sand fox or Gordon’s wildcat. We’ll keep at it.

So all that remains is for me to thank the team again for all its efforts. Thank you Jörn, Karin, Jörg, Sigi, Kathie, Albert, Jim, Martina, Yvonne, Samar & Laura. You could have gone to the beach for your holiday, but you chose to help Greg here in his beautiful office. I take my hat off to you for this and I hope you will come and join us again. Thank you Amadeus & Tessa for being the kind of staff that makes Biosphere Expeditions what it is. And thank you Al Maha and Platinum Heritage for your support. And thank you Greg for letting us share your office and vision.

Farewell everyone, safe travels home and I hope to see you again someday, somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours.

Matthias

Continue reading “Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)”