Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

If you have ever wondered what an expedition looks like before you get there, below is your answer 😉

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All well in Dubai. Sunny skies, 30 degrees C, all ready for you. I hope you are well rested and prepared. It’s going to be intense.

Some of us are meeting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express at 18:00 to go out for dinner. Join us if you can. If not, I will see you tomorrow at 08:00 in the same place.


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

I am in London now for meetings, one of which was about the Omani government’s plans for Musandam and marine protected areas there, and how we can help in their establishment and designation. Things are moving and we are delighted to be involved.

Meanwhile a good, informative article has appeared in Muscat Daily, summarising the work of our 2015 expedition and the threats the Musandam reefs are facing, and what can be done to safeguard the reefs. Keeping Musandam on the public agenda in Oman is part of our strategy and one of the reasons why we publish press releases about our work.

Tomorrow I will board a flight to Dubai to set up the expedition, a couple of days ahead of you. I have not heard from anyone who cannot make the earlier 08:00 assembly, so I will see you all in the lobby at that time. Those of you meeting us in Khasab, please also be there an hour earlier, so 11:00 instead of 12:00 noon.

I will write again from Dubai with a  quick confirmation of my local phone number.

Safe travels and see you on Sunday.


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Hello and welcome to the first diary entry of the 2016 Musandam expedition. I am Matthias Hammer, the founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, and also your expedition leader this year. I will work alongside our chief scientist Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt.

This year is an exciting year to take part in the expedition. Things are happening in terms of strategic thinking, including protected areas and national parks, in Musandam and Biosphere Expeditions and the data we have collected over the years is very much part of this process. A lot of the information is still confidential, so not for this forum, but suffice it to say that we at Biosphere Expeditions are excited about what is happening and proud to be part of the processes. And so should you as what you have done and are about to do is very relevant. More on this on the ground when we all meet.

But before this, some admin things: First of all, I would like to make the assembly time on 23 October to 08:00 (instead of 09:00 as per the dossier) to give us more time on that day. Please e-mail me on info@biosphere-expeditions.org if you have a problem with this. If I do not hear from you, I will assume an 08:00 start is fine with everyone and I will confirm this in another diary entry closer to the time. Secondly, I will also confirm my local phone number closer to the time, when I have arrived in Dubai to set things up, which should be a couple of days ahead of you.

Other than that, we are getting ready here at Biosphere Expeditions and all flights and transfers are booked, equipment is purchased, etc. I hope your preparations are going well too. Please do not forget to swot up on Reef Check (see your dossier for details)! The more you can do now, the easier the first two days, which are crammed with lectures and tests before we allow you to collect data, will be for you, so time invested beforehand is time well spent.

I’ll be back in touch from Dubai, if not before, with other updates.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Expedition leader


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Divers rediscover Eden for coral reefs in the face of climate change

The waters of the world’s tropical coral reefs are warming and getting more acidic in the face of increased C02 concentration. Reefs in most parts of the world are dying from such stress and it appears that the ability for coral reefs to recover from periodic El Nino events is being diminished – because of increasing frequency of warming, pollution, increased sedimentation and disease. However, the corals of the Musandam in northern Oman are currently an exception. Here reefs are extremely healthy, covering the shallow waters of the mountainous peninsula with extreme variety of growth forms from massive 400 year old 4m high ‘boulder’ coral to the delicate yet important branching and ‘bushy’ corals. Coral cover regularly exceeds 70% in nearshore embayments
Elsewhere in the world, corals have been reduced to rubble, their once great carbonate structures being eroded by boring sponges and worms, whilst successive warming events and overfishing of herbivores has resulted in massive plant growth, suffocating what’s left of corals, and attracting opportunistic algae. The majority of Jamaica’s once spectacular reefs have been turned from ‘coral’ to ‘algal’.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Reef Check Course Director of the region said: ‘The past six years of Biosphere Expeditions surveys confirm the vitality and resilience of this area. At a time when we’re seeing the degradation of the world’s most diverse marine habitats, relied on by 100s of millions of people for food, Musandam is withstanding the current temperature hikes. Our survey findings offer hope that there are some areas of the world that can withstand such environmental change.’

The temperature of the surrounding waters differs considerably from that of the Gulf of Arabia. Musandam lies at the entrance of the gulf and is enriched by cool deep waters of the Gulf of Oman to the east. The current exchange between the waters of the gulf flowing over the reefs allow for currents to wash the reefs with clear waters, whilst the cooler water from the east prevents catastrophic climate effects. Furthermore, some of the corals have been seen to harbour temperature resistant algae, allowing greater resistance to bleaching.

Whilst Musandams coral reefs are faring well, the fisheries of the area are being exploited at ever increasing effort. The most important commercial fish species of the reefs – grouper (hammour) are only ever recorded at 50 cm in size at very few more isolated sites. We recommend the development of an MPAs and minimum landing sizes for grouper to achieve a sustainable fishery, though none of this will change if it doesn’t have the support of the community. Jenan Alasfoor from the Environment Society of Oman, a scholar on this year’s expedition, knows too well that before any changes in fishing practices occur, full consultations with the local communities need to be undertaken.

Pictures from the 2015 expedition


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Our first dive survey went smoothly – reef sharks and an eagle ray spotted off transect – then we sailed to Faq al Asad (the jaw of the lion), a stunning site of crystal clear water, amazing rock formations, even dolphins! We ate our lunch and went for a snorkel to assess the reef, then kitted up as usual. The teams dived in and the invertebrate teams began to lay the transect. As they reached the end of the 10 0m and turned around to swim back to the start of the tape a freak current swept through the bay. The teams struggled back to find that the boat had completely swung on its anchor, one of the SMB’s marking the start of the transect had been swept away and air was running low. All was not lost, though, as we reeled the tapes back in and still had time to sail further round the peninsula with a pod of Arabian humpback dolphins at our bow, to a site aptly named “pray for calm.” It worked, and we managed to complete our survey just before dusk.

Not to be thwarted by the elements, we returned to Faq al Asad the following morning very early and collected the data we had missed the day before, then headed to Khayl Island for a glorious survey dive, complete with shipwreck. The site was so interesting we decided to stay for a night dive and explored the ancient porites mounds with their banded coral shrimp and moray eel inhabitants, with turtles, cuttlefish, giant porcupine fish and squid in the mix.After a scientific wrap-up from Jean-Luc, we moored away from any civilisation and spent our last peaceful night under the stars.

A big thank you to everyone for all your hard work and attentiveness. It’s been a steep learning curve, so much to take in, both in and out of water, and your diligence in collecting the data, even in adverse conditions – swarms of jelly fish and flies – was much appreciated. This expedition has confirmed for us that the reefs here in Musandam really are resilient to the ravages of climate change, and offer an insight into another type of hardier reef that can withstand very significant temperature fluctuations. It may not be as colourful, or as varied as traditional coral reefs, but it has a much healthier future than most!

Thank you also to Patrick for your retrieval skills – masks, fins, SMBs, plastic bags and even a cushion that got knocked overboard during a dawn yoga session! Thank you to the crew, who offered continuous support and demonstrated great expertise in getting us right where we wanted to be. Thank you all for your sense of curiosit, and enthusiasm for getting the work done. It was a pleasure working with you! I hope you continue Reef Checking now you have your certification and look forward to meeting you again on another Biosphere Expeditions project.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

It’s been an eventful beginning to this year’s Musandam expedition – a tire on our trailer blew out as we were en route to Khasab, so we had to wait for another vehicle to transport all the kit. Arriving late at the harbour meant we had no time to spare if we wanted to complete our check dive before dark, though with an attentive team, and a competent skipper and his crew this was not an issue. The dive went well and we relaxed to the light of a huge silvery moon.

moon

The next couple of days were taken up with Reef Check training. From dawn ’til dusk the team studied, dived, and took tests above and under water.  The effort required was considerable but rewarding and by the afternoon of the third day everyone had passed all their tests and were fully qualified reef checkers. Well done! A great achievement for a team with an age range spanning 50 years! As a treat we took the speedboat and visited the local land-locked village of Kumzar, learning about the local customs and traditions from Yusef, our skipper.

kumzar

It is reassuring to see from our preliminary investigation that despite being flagged as a hot spot for coral bleaching, these corals seem to have adapted sufficiently to cope with such high temperatures. Not such good news is the first ever sighting on any Musandam expedition, of the coral-eating Drupella snail at, along with a proliferation of discarded fishing nets and lines. Reef Check veteran Ayesha managed to release two banner fish caught in a fish trap, though bat fish in another trap were not so fortunate.

drupella net

So with another five surveys ahead of us and the full moon tampering with the tide and currents, we still have very few full days ahead of us. But I have no doubt that if the last few days are anything to go by, the next will be filled with enthusiasm, hard work, and good humour.


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Greetings from Dubai – our preparation day has been very successful, beginning with a trip out to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) to collect our kit boxes that have been in storage there for the past year. The DDCR is our partner for our Arabia expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia) which runs each January, monitoring Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat, and other flagship species, and they also kindly guard all the equipment we need to run the Musandam expedition as well. Once the kit had been checked and the car loaded, we went back to Dubai in search of an essential piece of O2 delivery equipment, without which we could not set sail tomorrow. After a hectic couple of hours, it was sourced, found, and collected! Thank you Nasser for your help!

Our next port of call was the iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel where we met with David Robinson, their head aquarist. He took us behind the scenes, showing us the turtle rehabilitation work they are doing in Dubai, taking injured hawksbill and green turtles that get washed up on the beaches, and nursing them back to health for release back into the open ocean. David told us that there are only 60 breeding adult female hawksbill turtles left in the whole of the Southern Gulf of Arabia. This dangerously low figure is due to loss of habitat, unsustainable fishing practices and other anthropogenic influences.

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On our tour we saw the aquarium’s leopard shark, now 7 years old, born parthenogenetically, i.e. without external fertilisation. David was very excited, as yesterday, she too exhibited the first signs of laying her own clutch of eggs. Leopard sharks are only the 3rd species to show parthenogenesis in captivity.  David is not only working in Dubai, but is conducting research on whale shark ecology. As part of his PhD, David formed Sharkwatch Arabia, a database to collect whale shark sightings throughout the region. He recently discovered a massive aggregation of over 150 whale sharks in Qatar. Protected by the presence of oil rigs, the waters are not fished, and tourism is prohibited – a strange but effective MPA. He asked us to keep a lookout for whale shark and other shark species during our time in Musandam, as they are likely to be present in the areas we are surveying. We did indeed have a whale shark encounter two years ago, in the same location, so keep your eyes peeled – and remember, it may be above you!

So, after this very informative and enjoyable meeting we bid our farewells and rushed back to the Holiday Inn to collect another consignment of equipment – all in a day’s work!

It may be a few days before I can send another diary entry as internet connection out on the Musandam peninsula is sporadic to say the least, but I look forward to meeting you tomorrow at 09:00 – let the expedition begin!


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

For those of you still under the impression you are coming on a cushy diving “cruise”, we thought you might like to see the itinerary and dive sites 😉

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

 

Hello and welcome to the first instalment of the Musandam diary.  I am Catherine Edsell your leader for this year’s expedition to the Musandam Peninsula. I have led this expedition for the past three years and feel privileged to be able to take you to such a stunning environment – we have a great expedition ahead of us. I trust all your preparations are going well, and I look forward to meeting you in Dubai at 09:00 on 25 October in the foyer of the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah, our departure point to the northernmost tip of Oman.

It is our aim to replicate the surveys we performed in 2013 and 2011 as only by obtaining comparative data can we gain an insight into the true state of reef health. This year is an El Niño year. Sea surface temperatures are rising and as I write this, corals around the world are dying due to the intensity of this phenomenon. The temperature of the waters surrounding the Musandam Peninsula are always higher than the global average, making it a unique study site, as the corals here are already adapted to warmer temperatures. It will be interesting to document how much resilience they have and whether they are being affected. This is our quest.

To be able to collect accurate data, Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt our expedition scientist, and I will first need to train you in Reef Check methodology, so please have a look at all the training materials available on our website (see your dossier for details), as the more familiar you are with the indicator species of fish and invertebrates and types of substrate we will be studying, the better!


Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman.

From our citizen science project protecting leatherback turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/costarica)

I have just returned from the final reconnaissance visit to Costa Rica and I am pleased to say that everything went very well. I have added some pictures and videos from the trip below. Hopefully they will give you a good impression of what it is like at Pacuare and of the work on the ground. The expedition should be ready to join via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/costarica very soon and I hope you will join us. If you decide to do so, I look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica next year.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

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From our citizen science project protecting leatherback turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica