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

On Wednesday, a beautiful day of surveying, punctuated by two minke whale sightings, the first was at 09:00 on our way to our first survey site. They were far from our boat, so we grabbed masks and snorkels and hopped into the speedboat for a closer look. We followed them at a safe distance for about half an hour watching them blow and dive until they disappeared into the deep.

minke whale, Kriss Brandstrom

The surveys were both at Osprey Point, and by the afternoon the swell was so strong that Jean-Luc was given the nickname of Sultan of Swing in reference to the laying of the transect line. The substrate team, Catherine and Nadege, had an equally difficult time reeling it in, but although the team were bashed and tumbled by the waves, the stories were well recounted later!

The surveys on Thursday clarified our hypothesis that the further into the MPA we go, the less coral cover there was due to the environmental conditions, increased siltation, and restricted water movement. Nasser, Kristoffer and Hari went out on the speedboat and documented illegal fishing practices in the area, whilst the rest of the team entered data. The restricted water movement did, however, have a bonus feature in that huge amounts of phosphorescent phytoplankton congregated in Khor Nadj, our overnight mooring area, and with thousands of fish coming in to feed after the moon had set, we were treated to an amazing phosphorescent fish display. It was so beautiful that some of the team were tempted to join in, so donning masks and fins added to the incredible light show – a once in a lifetime experience!

exploring the MPA

Sailing into the remnants of a storm, the sky was hazy and the sea lumpy as we reached our first survey site of Friday, Paradise Point. The coral, though, was good, and the fish life abundant. The afternoon site, named Son of Gargoyle was even better, with ancient porites mounds and prolific grouper. The survey of the MPA was over (for this year at least) and we steamed round the northern tip of the peninsula accompanied by two Indian ocean humpback dolphins, who bow rode with us for a while.

Indian ocean humpback dolphins

Back in Khumsar, as the Mosques called to prayer, we decided to set foot on dry land and visit the village nestled in the rocks with no road in or out, accessible only by boat. It was a great excursion, and gave a little insight into the lives of the local people here – a community reliant on the sea.

excursion to Khumsar

We were woken today, Saturday, at 04:00 by the waves slapping the side of the boat. Nadege, worried for her diving gear, went up on deck and rescued wetsuits and bikinis from being blown overboard. Dawn yoga was a windy affair, and breakfast was tricky with tea literally being blown out of the cups, but we made it back to Khasab, even managing to stop for a dive at Pipi Beach along the way before leaving our trusty survey vessel, the MS Sindbad, after lunch.

Another expedition over, but thank you for a wonderful week, rich in laughter and learning, new experiences and great memories – no one who saw will ever forget the sight of a terrified Hari trying to escape from an innocent turtle! We look forward to Jean-Luc’s report and are grateful for everyone’s involvement. It will be great to see how our understanding of the MPA has developed by this time next year.

the team

Thank you to everyone who supported this project. Special thanks to the Oman Ministry of Tourism for supporting our efforts to conserve coral reefs through tourism.

logo_sultanate_of_oman

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

After Saturday night in the desert (at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, our Arabia project partners), we returned to Dubai on Sunday morning, collected the team and set off to the Musandam peninsula.

Surrounded by impressive sandstone mountains, our vessel – the MY Sindabad – took us to our first dive at the glorious Pipi Beach on Sunday afternoon. Dwarfed by massive coral stands, several hundered years old, the team checked out their diving kit and skills and gazed in awe at the underwater scene.

After that great introduction to the Musandam’s underwater world, the team knuckled down to some serious Reef Check training, and with 5 lectures, 2 dives and a test (with 100% pass rate – well done everyone!), the second day (Monday) of the expedition was successfully completed, and the MY Sindabad continued its journey around the peninsula.

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Now firmly in the MPA (marine protected area) that was partly brought about by Biosphere Expeditions survey work here, we have begun to have a look around. Dive sites vary from heavily silted to abundant coral and fish life. For example, our ID test dive on Tuesday at Osprey Point (complete with osprey nest and feeding chick), was rich in diversity.

Gargoyle Cliffs was the site of our mock survey, and with a strong surge buffeting us, the team collected its first data set. It was more challenging than Nadege and Kristoffer, who were undertaking the fish survey, had imagined it would be, with hundreds of snappers to count whilst avoiding being smashed against the corals!

So, with Reef Check training completed, and a fully qualified EcoDiver team now in action, some decided to celebrate with a night dive.  Nasser and Kristoffer saw (and documented), a cuttlefish spawning – a very rare sight indeed.

This morning, after dawn yoga, and after we said goodbye to Matthias, Kathy, Liesl, Lukas and Sophie, we start our surveys proper, and will endeavour to investigate as many sites in the MPA as we can.

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

Here’s a paragraph from our scientist about the forthcoming expedition:

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) will be joining forces with Biosphere Expeditions to undertake the first Reef Check monitoring trip to the two new Musandam (northern Oman) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from 26 October – 1 November 2014. The two MPAs (encompassing two inlets – Khor Najd and Khor Hablain – see http://goo.gl/maps/XvZnG) were set up last year, and are detailed in our last expedition report (see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports). Biosphere Expeditions has been working with MCS, other regionally-based scientists and government officials over the past five years to undertake systematic surveys of local reefs. Our surveys this year will take in assessments of coral health, fish populations, and fisheries indicator species (such as the regionally important grouper) both inside and outside the new MPAs. The MPAs will restrict all forms of fishing other than handlining.

Musandam surveys 2014

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

Hello! My name is Catherine Edsell and I will be your expedition leader in Musandam. I’ve also made a video welcome message…

I’m looking forward to meeting you in Dubai on Sunday 26th October at 09:00 in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah, from where we will head out by minibus across the border to Oman. I will arrive a couple of days in advance with Jean-Luc Solandt our scientist to meet our local partners and retrieve our equipment from storage, and as soon as I get my mobile phone connected in Dubai, I will email you with my local number (to be used for emergency purposes only, such as missing assembly).

We will be joined by Dr. Matthias Hammer the executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and his family for the first few days while we are embarking on our Reef Check training. On that note, I hope all your preparations are going well and that you’ve had a chance to study all the Reef Check material info available on the website – www.biosphere-expeditions.org/checklist. Other background information you may want to look at are previous expedition reports via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports and a press release about the protected areas at http://goo.gl/JbTrKY.

We have a packed schedule planned, so please arrive well prepared, rested and ready to go.

Until then!

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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

With no internet around the Musandam, below is a short summary of the expedition starting with Catherine’s records from day 3 onwards. Pictures of it all have gone up below. Thank you to everyone who made the expedition such a success. You were a great team and it was a great expedition. Another step towards that ultimate aim of a Musandam marine protected area. You could have lounged on a beach somewhere or gone shopping in Dubai. Instead you did this. Thank you! Safe travels and see you again someday, somewhere.

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Day 3 (8 Oct) – Yoga at dawn followed by breakfast en route to Eagle Bay. There were no eagles, or sooty falcons (our terrestrial flagship species for this expedition), but plenty of ospreys swooping around. Even more excitingly, a 6 metre whale shark swam straight over a team of divers completing their in-water Reef Check ID test!  Jean-Luc, our scientist, confirmed this area to be a perfect place for a marine protected area, and with Amran Al Kamzari from the Oman Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, and Antonia Vegh from the Environment Society of Oman as part of our team, we have a couple of good ambassadors to make this a reality!

Day 4 (9 Oct) – First full day of Reef Check, three surveys, three different locations, all performed with great enthusiasm. Huge bait balls, ripping currents, humpback Indo-Pacific dolphins, turtles and manta rays just adding to the enjoyment of this stunning lunar landscape.

Day 5 (10 Oct) – With the first survey completed before 8:30, scientist Jean-Luc and expedition leader in training, Catherine, yours truly, decided to perform a snorkelling recce at the backside of the island. With masks and snorkels donned, the team proceeded to swim around the back of Abu Sarr island collecting data as they went. The highlight for some was the amazing night dive at Coral Garden, filled with lobster, shrimp, cow fish, cat fish and a plethora of coral.

Day 6 (11 Oct) – The first dive survey of the day was at Ras Taher, an unusual site, exposed to strong currents, so therefore exhibiting different species. This provided a challenge for the team, which they met and overcome with great skill and teamwork. As our reward, we were treated to the gem of a site, Pipi beach, where thousand year old porites corals dominated, creating an incredible cathedral-like underwater landscape, inhabited by turtles, huge schools of snapper, and an army of barracuda. It also happened to be our expedition leader’s birthday, so we celebrated with an enormous and very elaborate boat shaped cake. Happy birthday Matthias!

Day 7 (12 Oct) – The last day of the expedition, and a leisurely dive or snorkel at Telegraph island. All kit was packed and documented, then we were away, back to the hustle and bustle of Dubai; the tranquility of the Musandam peninsular a beautiful memory.

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

All the staff are now here (from left to right): Rita Bento (outgoing scientist), Matthias Hammer (expedition leader), Jean-Luc Solandt (incoming scientist), Catherine Edsell (expedition leader in training).

staff

Did you hear Jean-Luc mention the words “field ID test”? How are your Reef Check studies going?

We’ll see most of you tomorrow morning in Dubai, and Antonia, Amran, Sondy and the crew of the Sindbad, our research vessel, in Khasab.

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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 now all packed to go with (from left to right)

packed

Paperwork, of course. I hope you have yours ready. You will need to bring your checklist and PADI statement (and if you don’t know what I am talking about, then you had better read the dossier again, because you won’t be diving without a PADI statement or a valid diving licence, for example).

Buffs. If you don’t know what this is, then watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewVEK-AElDY. People find them very useful for diving, for example to keep hair out of your face. As you will see, I do not suffer from this problem 😉

divebuff

Underwater magnifying glasses?! All will be revealed in due course.

Snazzy Swarovski Optik binoculars. For our sooty falcon work.

swo

Of course there’s lots more gear, but this is all safely stored in Dubai. Remember that you need to have your diving gear serviced if you have not used it for a while. Otherwise I hope your packing is going well.

I’ll be in Muscat for a few days before getting to Dubai. The mobile number I will have in Dubai for about 36 hours before assembly is xxx. This is for emergency purposes only (such as being late for assembly).

See you there.

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

Hello everyone and welcome to the first entry for our Musandam expedition diary. I am Matthias, your expedition leader, and founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions.

Not long now until the expedition. I will be a few days ahead of you, first in Dubai and then in Muscat, progressing our plans for a marine protected area with decision-makers and officials in Oman’s capital.

I hope your preparations are going well and you are SWOTTING UP ON REEF CHECK as you should – see your dossier as to why.

I look forward to meeting you all at the Dubai assembly point as per the dossier. Some of you will meet us in Khasab instead of Dubai and if you are PLEASE TELL ME NOW so that I can make a note. Otherwise we’ll be looking for you in Dubai, which will hold everyone up. If you are coming to Dubai as per the dossier, you do not need to tell me. I’ll just assume you’ll be there.

A map of proposed survey sites is below.

Now for the changes: Rita Bento has found love and is moving to Brazil. Congratulations for your wedding and all the best for the future. We have parachuted in Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, our old friend from the Maldives expedition and coral reef expert from the Marine Conservation Society, to pick up the baton as expedition scientist. He certainly knows his fish and invertebrates and will put you through your paces.

Apart from looking at corals, we’ll also help out with birds, sooty falcons to be precise, this year.

I’ll be in touch again from the ground in Muscat, if not earlier, and with my mobile phone number in case of emergencies.

Until then, enjoy your packing and safe travels.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

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