Maldives: Roundup, pictures, videos

During the 2018 Maldives expedition citizen scientist SCUBA divers used the Reef Check methodology to record coral health, species and life forms from three inner sheltered reefs and three more outer reefs exposed to the open ocean. Results have shown that the outer reef sites are resilient to temperature-induced coral bleaching (from the warming event in April 2016). They also appear to attract the greatest number of recruits (young coral polyps living in the water settling down to start growing) from shallow to deeper waters. Inner reefs, by contrast, have been very badly affected by the bleaching, suffering almost total coral death since the 2016 warming event. Some sites are now dominated completely by macroalgae, others by sponges and turfs. Alarmingly, once reefs have undergone this ‘phase shift’ from coral to algae, sponges or turf, the ‘rainforest of the seas’ with high underwater biodiversity and beauty has gone and is unlikely to return.

Snapper, grouper and other commercial fish species were absent, small, or at low densities on all dives, suggesting that there remains heavy fishing pressure throughout the atolls. Although the prospect for many reefs is poor, particularly around the sheltered house reefs of inner atolls, there remain remarkable wildlife spectacles at some channel reef sites, and well-known dive sites. Sharks (grey reef, black tip and white-tip; manta and whale shark were all seen on the expedition), and some of the diving in more remote areas (away from resorts and inhabited islands) is still excellent. The overall outlook, however, is deeply concerning. The new Maldives government, which has made positive noises in terms of reef conservation, must act now to prevent a collapse of the reef ecosystem, which forms the very bedrock of the Maldivian geography, economy and culture.

Below are some pictures and videos of the expedition. Thank you to Gemma Thompson for sharing many of them.

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Maldives: Last surveys

Update from our Maldives coral reef expedition

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.

Best wishes



Maldives: First surveys

Update from our Maldives coral reef expedition

The team all arrived on time on Saturday, with briefings and talks on the first afternoon and our first dive at Baros. The following morning we went on one of our longest crossings, over to Rasdoo, and a more interesting reef for us to dive on for the next two days. Here the team learnt to identify the fish, invertebrates and substrate that they need to know to carry out the Reef Check surveys, looking at things underwater and in the ‘classroom’ that the main salon on the boat turns into for these few days. The time was filled with talks and tests, interspersed with dives, and our final dive was a practice Reef Check dive, with everyone working across two survey teams. The dive was enlivened by one buddy pair descending down the wrong marker buoy and not finding the survey area :), but all ended well and everyone else completed the survey work successfully.

This morning we have moved to the area where we will start our formal survey work, everyone having passed the necessary tests, congratulations. The first Reef Check dive is upon us!


Maldives: Opener

Update from our Maldives coral reef expedition

Hello everyone

I’m Kathy, the expedition leader for the Biosphere Expeditions coral reef research trip to the Maldives this year. I’m heading off from the UK tomorrow, so just packing up, checking kit and paperwork today.

Kathy Gill
Kathy Gill

We are very lucky to have two great science trainers with us this year, Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, from the Marine Conservation Society, and Dr. Matthias Hammer from Biosphere Expeditions. Both are highly experienced in Reef Check surveys (and surely you recognise their names from having read the Maldives reports anyway! :). Jean-Luc has been going to the Maldives for many, many years.

Drs. Jean-Luc Solandt (right) and Matthias Hammer
Drs. Jean-Luc Solandt (right) and Matthias Hammer

The learning over the first couple of days will feel quite fast-paced, but you are all in good hands as these two haven’t failed to get anyone through the tests yet! And of course you will also have swotted up on the Reef Check methodology, so you’ll be prepared….

Jean-Luc is already in Male’ meeting with local partners as we speak. He’s also set the survey route for us.

I’m just heading off to collect my newly-serviced BCD; please make sure any kit you’re bringing with you has been given any necessary once-overs, and don’t forget important paperwork such as your diving certification cards, PADI medical forms (where necessary), insurance details and Biosphere Expeditions checklist.

Happy packing and I hope you all travel safe. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Male’.

When I get to Male’ myself, I’ll get a local SIM card and let you know the number in case you need to get in touch with me. See you on Saturday!

All the best




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