Maldives: Really seeing reefs – and some nurse sharks

Tomorrow morning we complete our last Reef Check transects and do an afternoon whale shark survey before slowly making our way back to Male’.

The last few days have been very productive with interesting data collection that start to reveal some positive and hopeful insights into how the reefs of the Maldives are faring. It is great to see how our citizen scientists have really made the routine of reef monitoring their own, recording everything they observe, keen to understand how the reef has changed, what tomorrow may bring and excited with every new observation that is then meticulously identified in the books.

In recreational diving you often cover quite a distance during a dive remembering only the turtle, shark, trevally and large fish schools afterwards. With Reef Check, your diving range is restricted to a transect of 100 m by 5 m, but it truly is an up close encounter and totally different exploration of the reef. Trainees marvel about the actual beauty and diversity of coral, notice the tiny coral recruits popping up, interpret predation and bleaching, discover the hidden groupers and moray eels. We even have a new ascidian fan on board, otherwise known as sea squirts 😉. Reef Check opens one’s eyes to the dynamics of the reef, the relationship between organisms, the role of each species within the habitat and to understand the health status of reefs in a broader environmental context.

The days are long, intense, but satisfying, with a yoga start on the upper deck and evening marine observations on the lower deck. Today we were treated to a devil ray off transect cruising over both transect lines. There was even time for a lazy non-data recording night dive. Little did we realise entering the water that about 20 nurse sharks would be cruising around us at arm’s length and still be with us when back on board, swimming at the surface close to the back deck. Funny to realise that we started with algae and zooplankton, became excited about squid and are now in the excellent company of these gentle giants….

Read more about the results of our Reef Check efforts in our next diary!

The reflections of one of our citizen scientists, Elfie’s, give a good insight on what it is like on board of this expedition:

It’s almost impossible to describe how incredible this expedition is – but I’ll give it a go! Each morning I pinch myself to check it is still real . . am I really in the Maldives, surveying coral reefs, and learning about their complex ecology from expert (yet funny) scientists? Yes, I really am here!

Then begins another day of choosing a coral reef to survey for research, and breaking into survey teams, choosing a task (my favourite is fish ID) and then the best part – diving on the reef to gather the data. The amount to learn is substantial, and the days of studying and diving are long, but the sense of reward is indescribable – as are the vegetarian meals prepared by our amazing local chefs.

Being here is a million miles away from my day job as part-time swimming teacher and part-time finance manager for the Manta Trust. The expedition has given me a real insight into the reef ecology of the Maldives, a chance to meet a wide range of interesting people and above all to put my diving skills towards something worthwhile. Plus I learnt to count to ten in Dhivehi today, so what more can I ask for!

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