From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Well, we’ve thoroughly checked those reefs! We put two more surveys under our belts on Thursday, arriving in the south of Ari atoll as the sun was setting over Mamigilli. One survey was along the wall of a sea mount (thilla) with dense growths of coral, ascidians, echinoderms, sponges and encrusting algae painting the wall in all colours of the rainbow. Large groupers and sweetlips lurked in the overhangs, jacks traversed the blue and sharks patrolled the sea fan gardens below.

Once at Mamigilli as night fell, most then opted for a last twilight dive to round off the day.

Today brought storms, which blew out our whale shark survey efforts and made for an interesting crossing of the channel back over to North Male’ atoll. The excellent crew of the Carpe Vita steered us through this too with total assurance, as they have done all week. Thank you again for looking after us so well!

As I type this, night has fallen over Male’ and Hulamale’ harbour. The bright lights of the city can be seen not far away, but for one more night we hang onto the relative solitude of our live-aboard home. The week has gone far too quickly and all that remains is to pack up and say our good-byes tomorrow.

Thank you to the whole team for making it pass so quickly. You could have gone to a resort and read a book on the beach for a week; you could have gone anywhere. But you chose to put your time and money into reef conservation. My respect and gratitude for this and I hope to meet you again sometime, somewhere on this blue planet of ours.

Matthias

Thank you Shidha for sharing this beautiful selection of your photos

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From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

We’ve had a very busy day. The hammerheads did not show themselves for our dawn “lazy dive”, but there were schools of fish in the blue and a moment of diving amongst the stars as we passed through tiny and strange bioluminant creatures all around us. Coming back up, we passed a beautiful reef full of life.

Our survey dives weren’t bad either. Two steep slopes with excellent visibility and lots of biodiversity for us to record. As one team returned from laying out the transect, two eagle rays gracefully swam with them for a while before turning left into the blue.

We ran out of sunlight for a third survey towards the end of the day, but made the best of it by scheduling in a twilight lazy dive. A large manta visting the back of the boat at dinner time rounded off a memorable day.

Impressions from the last few days are below.

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From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

It’s done! Lessons in and out of the water, tests in and out and a mock survey dive. Here is the honour roll of newly qualified Reef Checkers (Umair, Valho, Ibrahim, Shaha, Mohamed, Ann, Tim, Mascha, Alex, Michelle, Song, Maddy, Anais).

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Jen & Suze, who had qualified already on a previous expedition, put in a heroic effort and surveyed two full transects just as a buddy pair over our two training days at Banyan Tree house reef. Thank you!

Even during training we saw lots – turtles and sharks, but also the little things that make a reef so fascinating. As Anais said, after the training you’ll never look at a reef in the same way again. Once you can distinguish hard from soft corals, from ascidians, sponges, algae and others, and you know what a Drupella looks like, there is endless fascination in even a small patch of reef.

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Yesterday afternoon we moved on to Rasdhoo, where we ended our day with a mock survey. Now the day is dawning, colouring the sky pink and orange as I type.

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Downstairs our local dive guide Valho is briefing some of the team on a dawn hammerhead dive in the blue.

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The rest are having a lie-in and an unfeasibly late breakfast at 07.30 before we start our survey day.

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From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Almost everyone was on time for assembly and those who weren’t didn’t do press-ups ;( After that disappointment, we made it to our beautiful research liveaboard and almost straight into briefings and Reef Check training as we steamed over to Banyan Tree. Once there, we got wet and settled into our diving at the really nice house reef with a couple of sharks and plenty of fish and coral for company.

No rest for the wicked as the sun set, however. Instead more Reef Check training (see below. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight!

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From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

My bag: Some of you have said that “men can pack like that, but women can’t”. I’m not sure. Some of you have very rightly pointed out that there is a scale missing on the photo, so you were unable to assess whether my bag was small or humongous. That of course is a very valid point, so a picture of the bag (with my dive watch for scale) is below. I would argue it is small.

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And I have an admission to make. I am struggling to fit it all in! The main culprit is Buff (who?). Well, as you may know they help us out on the expeditions and supply us with Buffs (what?). Their latest shipment has arrived this morning and so I have to fit your Buffs in to my bag.

If you are still not sure what this Buff thing is, then have a look below.


See you in a couple of days.

Continue reading “From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)”

From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

I am 45, pushing 46, and I am told – by someone who does – that I will soon need glasses to read small print. Well, some people on the expedition last year were there already and one of them suggested that we should have underwater magnifying glasses to help us old people with data slate filling-in. So, voilà, here they are and in my bag, which I packed today. That bag, incidentally, is the entirety of my luggage. Beat that troopers!

 

Another beautiful addition is a map of our proposed route with some background info:

 

Enjoy and see you in Male’

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From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Hello everyone and welcome to the Maldives 2013 diary. Here is a welcome message with some news –

I look forward to seeing you in Male’ on Sunday (no change to what it says in the dossier).

We have also put more study materials on www.biosphere-expeditions.org/checklist > tab “Diving expeditions” and I attach our itinerary and the dive sites plan. As you can see, it’s a packed schedule, so please come rested and as swatted up on Reef Check and whale sharks as you can.

My local number should be xxx. Remember that this is for emergencies (such as missing assembly) only and that I will only be in Male’ from Saturday 15.00.

Safe passage and see you in a few days.

Matthias

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Update from our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with coral reefs and whale sharks of the Maldives (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

We checked another reef yesterday, but then the whale sharks obstinately refused to be checked! There was one at noon, just as the bell rang for lunch, but it did not feel like being studied and dived away before we could get into the water. But I think everyone enjoyed the lazy day steaming up and down the surf break, the sunshine, as well as a great farewell sunset and dinner.

It was a late 08:00 breakfast today as we steamed back to Male’, having covered North and South Male’ and Ari atolls on our Reef Check quest (see map in slideshow below). Our scientist Jean-Luc then gave us a presentation on our achievements in reef research/conservation (see http://www.slideshare.net/BiosphereExpeditions/reef-check-results-maldives-2012).

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As I write this on the Carpe Diem, our time draws to a close here. I would like to thank the crew of the Carpe Diem for looking after us so well, Jean-Luc for being an excellent alpha male scientist, our partners in the Marine Research Centre, Soneva, LaMer, the Live & Learn Foundation, Reef Check and many others for supporting us in our coral reef conservation endeavours, and last but not least the whole expedition team for being such competent and relaxed divers and Reef Checkers. It was a pleasure to have worked with you and I hope I will see you again some day, somewhere on another expedition.

Best wishes

Matthias

P.S. Rafil asks for your support about a petition to halt the privatisation of surf breaks in the Maldives. Please vote and spread the word about http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Say_NO_to_surf_exclusivity_in_the_Maldives.

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Update from our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with coral reefs and whale sharks of the Maldives (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

We’ve been very good and checked those reefs, so we treated ourselves to a lazy dive yesterday, at night (after the work was done) and at arguably one of the world’s best night dive sites. Night dive fears were overcome heroically and our reward was a great display of sharks and stingrays hunting, turtles trying to find a place to sleep and a very different reef at night. The daytime reefs haven’t been bad either including one with an unheard of 50% hard coral coverage! Pictures of everything and a short movie of the night dive below.

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Our scientist Jean-Luc is happy, the sun has come out, the food’s delicious and we’re winning the Reef Check Distinguished Service Medal. What more could we hope for. Whale sharks perhaps? Ah, that’s tomorrow, we hope.

Stay tuned.

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Update from our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with coral reefs and whale sharks of the Maldives (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

With everyone fully qualified Reef Checkers (well done everybody!), we checked our first reef (Ellaidhoo of Ari atoll) today. This reef was surveyed just before the massive bleaching event of the late 1990s, so it was exciting to go back and see how it had fared after the event.

The great thing about Reef Check is that it gives us tangible results almost as soon as we’re out of the water and have punched our data into the laptops. The results are encouraging. Coral cover is back to half or two-thirds of what it was pre-1998, so that’s a decent recovery in 14 years. There certainly were a lot of butterflyfish, sweetlips, snappers and quite a few groupers (all Reef Check indicator species) and the coral diversity was as beautiful to look at as it was interesting to record.

Tomorrow things get even more interesting as we re-survey a reef for which we have pre- and post-bleaching data. Thanks again to everyone who came on this expedition to spend their time and money on getting us and our Maldivian partners these data. You could have gone to roast on a beach, but you decided to help us. Thank you!

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