Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores):
Greetings from the Azores! Malika Fettak and I have been busy preparing for everyone’s arrival here in Horta, on the island of Faial. Working from Banana Manor, which will serve as our base camp for all three expeditions, we have been busy unpacking the expedition kit and preparing for your arrival. Today we are working with Lisa Steiner, our scientist, preparing the data sheets for the information we will be collecting in the field.
As you can see in the video (see below) it can be quite cool and wet (Lisa, who lives here, made fun of me today because I am wearing my hat!). While we expect to see some sunshine, be sure to pack your cool and wet weather gear as well as there is still a definite chill in the air!
Looking forward to meeting you
PS: The whales and dolphins are here! Lisa Steiner was out on the water yesterday collecting data, and she spotted one blue whale, one fin whale, and several groups of common dolphins and Risso’s dolphins.
Finally, after a day of challenging currents bravely fought, reef valiantly surveyed and seas almost too big for the RIB, we are under full sail with Maarten at the helm (see picture below). We’re heading to a remote island west of Tioman to survey sites that our expedition scientist Katie herself has not dived. We’ll attempt a night dive here, the first of the expedition thus far. Although the wind has been either nonexistent or too erratic to be of use, it’s been smooth sailing so far.
Hello my Name is Alisa and I will be your expedition leader on this year’s Azores expedition – Fascinating creatures of the deep: Studying whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.
I am writing this from the airport, where I am waiting for my flight to Lisbon and then to Horta. The gear is all packed up and organised, and I am very excited. This will be my first time on this particular expedition and there to show me the ropes for the first group will be “old” hand Malika Fettak.
If you are worried about seasickness, you are not alone, as we both suffer from it too, so I look forward to sharing space on the side of the research vessel with you 😉
I look forward to seeing the first team next week.
Today we surveyed the reef around a spectacular forested rock a few kilometers out to sea off Tioman Island. From there we our yacht Araliya down the wild and convoluted eastern coast of Tioman to the settlement of Juara, the only inhabited point on this coast. The sea turtle project at the far end of Juara beach is a real outpost of conservation run by a team of passionate volunteers. We went on a turtle survey tonight after dinner and learned some sobering statistics in the process.
The team has now completed their three days of Reef Check training and are ready to begin their surveys. The first one is today and tomorrow we board the yacht “Araliya” to begin the real work. The diving skills in the team are all quite good. The identification skills have developed nicely and although there are distinct preferences within the team for the various ID tasks we’ll be set, some are “fish people” while others have their strength in invertebrates or substrate ID, between us we are in good shape to Check this Reef (and the beach – see below 😉
Team 1 has spent the morning in briefings and doing the paperwork that precedes the meat and potatoes of the expedition. They have just geared up and trotted (well, humped their gear at least) down the beach for their first training dive with Katie, who will assess and develop the all-important buoyancy skills, which will play a vital role in their effectiveness as research divers. Frank, who hasn’t dived in some time, did a refresher with one of the instructors yesterday, whom I overheard talking to his colleagues in very positive terms about Frank’s competence as a diver. If that’s the tone of our team, then we’re in good shape for the real work.
My name is Paul o’Dowd and I will be your expedition leader for the inaugural Malaysia Reef Check expedition. I am preparing for the expedition here in Queensland, Australia, quickly pairing down my kit and arriving at what looks like the right stuff to hit the ground with in Malaysia. I’ll be joining Kathy Gill (Biosphere Expeditions’ strategy director who will be with us for the first group) and Katie Yewdall (our scientist on Tioman) on that island on Wednesday and once we’re all on deck we’ll be getting things ready for your arrival and the coming weeks of marine research.
I’ll be writing again once we’ve all met on Tioman (watch the video below of Kathy starting her travels from the other side of the planet to meet near the equator in Malaysia) with details of our preparations.
Anyway, thanks in advance for choosing to leave a positive mark on the world with your travel.
As forecast we’ve had more snow. On Wednesday we had 60 centimetres and heavy snowfall all day, making tracking and surveying impossible. So we collected camera trap memory cards with some great results (bear, otter, deer). But sadly the crafty lynxes keep eluding us.
Today we went out again as usual, hoping for the fresh snow to show recent movements. But no luck as the wildlife is just too smart to move in these conditions. So we spread out to retrieve more camera trap memory cards – well done team for finding the cameras, sometimes hidden under masses of snow. After this hard day, often sinking waist deep into the snow even with snow shoes on, Tomas rewarded us with one of his great movies about the High Tatras.
Our last day of surveying brought us even more of “deep and steep” as it kept snowing. Dan, Erica, Anne and Matt did really well collecting cards from the lynx place high up. No luck though with the cats – no pics. So we have to hope for the future as the cameras will stay there. Christine, Juliane, Tom and myself gave up after few kilometres as we kept getting stuck up to the hips, so we decided to check the main road, but only foxes and an otter have been busy. Tomas and Milos also went out with their teams to check finally the area around the live traps and deer feeding stations.
Summarising the last three weeks, we have great results, i.e. more than 330 kilometres surveyed, as well as samples of lynx, wolf and bear. So we gained a good first impression of the habitat in the Velka Fatra National Park as Tomas explained to us at the end. But the monitoring has to continue next year to verify these data.
Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this expedition a success. We had a great time, and we hope you had too.
Best wishes to you all and thank you again for all your hard work and enthusiasm
After the training days and a first survey with group 3 to exercise the newly acquired skills, today we split into four groups. Led by Daniel, Tom and Anne followed one lynx track spotted yesterday during the training session. They went up and down the hills and found the remains of a carcass. Group 2 with Juliane and birthday girl Christine detected two fresh tracks on the transect in the western part of the valley close to the location where were also lucky last week. We also collected a urine sample for DNA analysis. Tomas went out with Mat and Erica tracking another lynx spotted yesterday. They discovered an incredible four (!) different footprints and climbed up to the camera traps to exchange the SD cards. No luck so far, at least with lynx, but with wild boar (see below).
Unfortunately they weren’t able to following the tracks, too steep and faint and “roaming around as if stung by an adder”, as Tomas says. Crazy cats! Joanne (yesterday’s birthday girl) and Peter did well climbing with Milos to the western ridge to collect two SD cards and checking out the area, as we haven’t been there for two weeks now. They’ve spotted four wild boars, as well as lots of roe and red deer.
So for the last remaining few days there will be many climbs and downhill experiences in the deep snow as the forecast says there will be new snowfall between 30 and 50 centimetres. But it’s warmer now, only minus 10! But we’ve had enough birthday cakes now to burn the calories again 😉