From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

It has been a very interesting couple of days with excellent survey work by the team, coupled with interesting lectures from Hussein Zahir and Ibrahim Shameel, from La Mer, and The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme respectively.  Unfortunately the condition of some of the reefs we have surveyed show significant loss of coral cover due to the 2016 bleaching event, and there has, as yet, been little recovery.  There is some hope though, as the substrate is not yet covered in algae, so coral recruits do have a place to settle and grow.

We learned from Hussein Zahir, that it took almost 12 years for the reefs to recover from the previous massive bleaching event in 1997, but by 2009 there was significant coral cover once again.  As we had just had to witness an almost completely dead reef in Kudafalu, these statistics did give us some comfort.  The problem is that due to climate change, pollution and other human impacts, events threatening/killing reefs/corals now come around so frequently that there is little time for reefs to recover from one impact until they are pummelled by the next. There is no denying it: the reefs of the Maldives, and elsewhere, are in serious trouble.

Before work, on Tuesday, we managed to squeeze in an educational dawn dive, with most of our indicator fish species presenting themselves in all their glory, including the magnificent humphead wrasse.  Apart from that it has been systematic survey work followed by the all important data entry.  Spirits are high, and we look forward to our whale shark survey tomorrow.

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

The team is working hard and the last couple of days have seen us studying from dawn until dusk, taking tests in and out of water, and learning all the methods and identification skills needed to successfully complete a Reef Check survey.

It is important to practice everything, from completing the relevant forms prior to the start of the survey, gathering all the information we can about the local area, to the laying of the transect tape, and of course practicing collecting all the data underwater. As we have such a wealth of experience in our Maldivian partners, each expeditioner from abroad can be teamed with one of them for the first survey. This will help improve everyone’s confidence and hone the skills needed to be a great Reef Checker – after all, that’s why we’re all here!

So, on Monday 17th July we conducted our first mock survey at Rasdhoo Madivar. It is the healthiest reef we have seen so far, as sadly much of the reef at Baros, our inner reef training site did not recover from last year’s extensive bleaching. Rasdhoo, on the other hand, being an outer reef with stronger currents and increased water flow has, from first glance, recovered completely. The survey itself was hampered by a swarm of jellyfish and some strong currents towards the end, but was none the less a great learning experience.

So with all tests completed, and all team members successfully obtaining Reef Check Eco Diver status (congratulations), the data collection begins!

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Greetings from Male’! I have arrived to a beautifully sunny day, but sadly Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt is not with me. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he has had to withdraw from this expedition at the 11th hour, and will no longer be on board the MV Carpe Diem with us. He will, however, be working with us remotely and will support and advise throughout. On expedition we are always reminded to, ‘expect the unexpected’, and this is a true example of that maxim!

Dr Jean-Luc has asked me to pass on this message to you:

“Unfortunately – for critical personal reasons – I cannot make the expedition this year. For that, I’m very sorry. However, you are all in excellent hands with an exceptional expedition leader (with excellent coral reef teaching skills), and two Maldivians who are competent in Reef Check methodology, and who are developing the new in-country NGO ReefCheck Maldives. I hope you have a truly successful and brilliant time, and thank you for your endeavours to help save Maldives reefs.”

As Dr Jean-Luc has alluded to, we are fortunate to have a wealth of experience and expertise on board, with a passionate and pioneering Maldivian presence and a number of marine biologists as part of the team, and it is now all of our responsibility to work hard and collect the data as planned.

I now have a local mobile number +960 789 2930 which should only be used for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly).

I hope your travels are going well and I look forward to meeting you tomorrow, Saturday, at 11:00 at the Coffee Club in Male Airport.

Best wishes,

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Can one have too much of pretty wildflowers, awesome mountain vistas and amazing sunshine? Perhaps, but who cares. Get your fill from group 1 here!

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives

Hello, my name is Catherine and I’m going to be your expedition leader for this year’s Maldives expedition. I led this expedition in 2014 and 2015, and am looking forward to investigating, with your help, the recovery from last year’s bleaching event (do read the 2016 report in preparation).

Catherine Edsell
Catherine Edsell

I’ll be travelling out in advance with Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, our scientist, to ensure that everything is ready for your arrival, and will be in touch with updates and my local mobile number from Male’.

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt
Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt

On this expedition we will be training and passing knowledge to our new Maldivian partner NGO Reef Check Maldives, which was formed recently as a direct result of our local placement and capacity-building programme.

During the first slot, we will visit our permanent monitoring sites and re-test our theory that those sites in more exposed waters are faring better than the more sheltered sites.  In the second slot, we have the chance to complete an extensive set of surveys in more isolated locations, well away from most tourist islands. This will provide very interesting data comparison, and give us more information on the impact of last year’s bleaching event.  We will also be recording sightings of rare and spectacular species such as whale sharks and mantas, with a brand new survey site for whale sharks, south of Vaavu reef.

I hope all your preparations are going well, and that you’ve had a chance to study all the Reef Check material and whale shark info available on  www.biosphere-expeditions.org/methods as this will not only save you revision time on board, but stand you in good stead for a fruitful expedition. For those of you who are already Reef Check qualified, this is also a great resource to refresh your memory!

I look forward to meeting the first team at the assembly point, Coffee Club at Male Airport on 15 July at 11:00.

Best wishes

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Group 1 is safely back in Bishkek, after an excellent fortnight in the mountains with a great group. Thank you all!

We found 1.5 snow leopard signs, saw plenty of ibex and other wildlife, amazing wildflowers and landscapes, and were so lucky with the weather too.

But I will let the videos below speak for themselves. These were done by Matthias, so from now on it will be text and pictures only every fortnight when we change over in Bishkek, but I think the videos will last all of us for the expedition’s duration.

Thank you again to group 1 of Adnan, Cate, Gina, Jannis, Lisa, Matthias, Nadia, Neil, Nitin, Shruti, Uli, Urmas, the Grupa Bars members Aman and Shailo, our scientist Volodya and our amazing cook Gulia, as well as Biosphere Expeditions staff Tessa, Amadeus & Matthias.

See you on Monday, group 2! You have big boots to fill 😉

…and here is an updated version of…

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

This by special courier from the mountains (from group 2 onwards, there will only be an update/summary every two weeks as groups change over in Bishkek).

Group 1 has arrived, gone to the mountains, put up the yurt, had its training sessions and conducted its first week of field surveys. Many ibex, marmots, birds and other wildlife have been spotted, but there is no sign of our quarry yet. But then snow leopard research & conservation is a long game. All is well with the team in the mountains.

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Our pre-expedition shopping spree and preparations are done. Tomorrow we will drive everything into the mountains and set up base camp. It was over 30 C in Bishkek again today,  but the forecast is for the mountains for tomorrow is rain, and snow higher up. It would be our first time setting up in snow. On Sunday, some of us will come back for some last-minute shopping and tying up lose ends, and of course to collect Group 1 on Monday.

So now it’s time to introduce you to Volodya (scientist), Amadeus (expedition leader), Aman & Shiloo (from the NABU anti-poaching ‘Grupa Bars’ = group snow leopard). Sadly missing is the most important person of the expedition, our cook Gulia (Aman’s wife).

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Here’s our first diary entry from Bishkek. It’s in the 30s C here, so hot and sunny. The mountains will be a relief. As you can see, we’re getting ready for you and we hope your preparations are going as well as ours 😉 Safe travels, group 1. We’ll see you at the Futuro 08:00 on Monday.