Saturday morning Kristina, Jo and Mike had one of the rarest sightings you could have in Africa – a pangolin. Although covered in scales and looking like a reptile, a pangolin is actually a mammal. It is mainly nocturnal and feeds on termites and ants.
Rare too over the last few days are our carnivores. But our box traps are surrounded by hyaena and leopard tracks, so we hope it is just a matter of time – fingers crossed!
Two days after we activated all the box traps and baited them with fresh meat, our juvenile friend, the hyaena, came by for a third visit to box trap 3. It seems he wanted to come for a fourth visit too last night, but unfortunately the box trap was already occupied by a porcupine (that we released early the next morning).
Yesterday evening we had a “mains power party” to celebrate the arrival of power to our research site (see below). Mike is already missing the sound of the generator and was confused by all the bird sounds he could suddenly hear outside his chalet. Malcolm had a “knock-out” experience at the waterhole as was knocked clean off his chair by Helen (by accident, she claims). Apparently the animals liked the shenanigans and came by in big numbers.
Lunch time we now spend sitting in the shade and taking siestas as the midday sun is hot.
After a week’s break, we’re back in full swing again with training sessions and now data collection. With the days getting longer, we have shifted breakfast to 06.30 and start activities soon after. While I am writing this, everyone is out in the bush, searching for our elephants, tracks & scats and activating the box traps. Let’s go get and and collar the adult female leopard who is roaming around in the North-East!
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!
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.
As usual, we spent the last day of the group with a re-org, cleaning cars & equipment and finishing off the data entry, followed by sundowner with a spectacular sunset (see pictures below). Thank you everybody for your great support. We collected important data and had fun whilst doing so….it’s been a great two weeks with you. Safe travels back and hopefully see you again soon. We now have a week’s break before group 6 starts on 21 October.
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.
The sun now rises at 06:15, so on Tuesday we left camp at 06:00 for our vehicle game counts. When group 2 passed box trap 4, there was a young male hyaena in it, this time one we had caught three weeks earlier. This was the sixth hyaena capture within five slots. It seems there are at least four individuals roaming on the farm.
It gets pretty hot during the day now and we observed that even the elephants are now taking a siesta. Our “man power” group 1 volunteered to cut thorny bushes on Monday afternoon and Bob came back looking like he had been in a serious fight. Thanks for the effort!
Yesterday morning we changed the SD cards of most of our camera traps and in the afternoon Anja, Suse and Susanne will have the pleasure of looking through at least 3000 pictures.
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.
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.
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?
The juvenile hyaena we have caught in a box trap twice already seems to like them. Last caught on Tuesday, she was in the box trap again Wednesday morning. We let her go and then decided to remove the trap from Bergposten.
Anja and the two Susannes found an emaciated kudu at one of our waterholes on Wednesday. By Thursday nature had taken its course and the kudu had turned into a carcass, already half eaten by predators. We decided to set up the box trap next to it (see below), but no action so far.
Stephanie, Eva, Michael and Julia were very lucky when surveying the waterhole on Thursday. A honey badger came along, but realised after a few seconds that human eyes were watching and disappeared. On their way back they also witnessed a Southern pale chanting goshawk catching a snake…another great sighting!
Bob had the job of cleaning a box trap yesterday; to make up for it we went out for a night drive after dinner 😉