We have now undertaken five Reef Check surveys on five different reefs, and all has gone well. The whole team have managed to work on all the different aspects of the survey and nobody got lost after the first practice dive. We saw manta rays while laying the first transect tapes, an abundance of fish, some fascinating hermit crabs, turtles, sharks and sting rays. The reefs themselves, however, are not very healthy and indeed some of them are largely dead wastelands now. The bleaching event in 2016 severely damaged the reefs, and even the ones on the outside reefs (that weren’t so badly damaged) are not looking good.
We had a magical night dive on a 5 m mound, around 50 m across, with sides that fell away to around 30 m. There were a multitude of small sharks, tuna and sting rays, plus turtles cruising through at intervals. We also did one afternoon looking for whale sharks to support a local NGO that surveys them regularly in the area. After more than two hours of searching, we came across one small male, around 3.5m in length, and managed to get in the water to experience swimming with it (and take photos of its gill area). It was a very beautiful animal and although there were many people from other boats in the area, the fish did not seem bothered, and gently cruised past all the curious on-lookers.
We celebrated our last survey dive on Thursday with a sunset snorkel. Dinner was rounded off by viewing old Jacques Cousteau DVDs – amazing footage but it’s nice to note how conservation diving has improved its methods – at one point Jacques remarks that dynamiting the fish is the only was to get an accurate count of the ones in the area, a technique that we are glad to say has been replaced by Reef Check!
Jean-Luc, our scientist, sums up the expedition like this:
“Findings are pretty startling – inner reefs are still faring badly, with little sign of any recovery other than the very shallowest top 2-3 m with recruits on coralline-stabilised and heavily grazed reef flats. All other depths (that are in our permanent transects) are showing algae and turf covering dead branching, table and plate Acropora corals, which used to dominate these inner reefs. Outer reefs are actually faring much better with 14-40% live coral, with many recruits on the most exposed slopes down to 12+ m. And these recruits are the more resiliant Pocillopora eydouxi species and Acropora. And of course the more resistant encrusting and massive growth forms. So there is hope there.
But for the inner reefs – very little cause for optimism for a recovery as rapid as I witnessed between 1998 and 2005.
Other than that, the predator fish / megafauna population seems to be OK. Grey reef, black-tip, white-tip sharks on most sites, one whale shark sighted at the Mamigili Marine Protected Area (an MPA for whale sharks), snapper populations seem to be OK at some sites. Grouper numbers pretty good, but sizes small as usual.”
All these insights would not be possible without you, our brave citizen scientists. You could have gone on an ordinary dive holiday, but instead you chose to put your time, money and skills to better use. Thanks you so much for this.
I leave you with best wishes and the hope to meet you again some day, some place on this beautiful blue planet of ours. I also leave you with some pictures and videos below. Do share yours too please.