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

Addendum: we thought you might all like to see the new video with pictures from the past few years…

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

We made Rita happy by collecting the same dataset for her again as last year (for comparative analysis). This was all done by yesterday morning, so we had a few lazy dives and enjoyed being just travellers visting Telegraph Island Bay with its towering limestone cliffs plunging straight into the water and fringed by equally impressive coral reefs. We also made a few crabs and fish happy by rescuing them from a ghost net.

Finally, we also made Reef Check happy. Dr. Gregor Hodgson, its Founder and Executive Director, sent through this message in reply to my earlier challenge of over 90% hard coral cover: “Congrats to all who passed their Reef Check training. There are now fewer and fewer places left in the world with such a high percentage of living coral cover. 90% used to be a much more normal condition. Have a wonderful time surveying those lovely reefs. I am jealous. Thanks to Rita for being a great teacher and to Biosphere Expeditions or organizing this expedition.” To this I can only add my thanks to you the crew of MS Sindbad, Rita, Heidi, Jennifer, Tina, Kathy, Alison, Michael, Andreas, Eric, Adam, Kelvin, Daryle and Nasr. You had a million options for your holiday and you chose to spend it helping us with this important research project. Thank you!

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As Rita explained during her results presentation (now also available via http://tinyurl.com/9ullz4e), the news is mixed with coral cover and other substrate indicators pointing towards a steady recovery of the reefs, but with our fish data also suggesting that overfishing is still an issue. Moving forward, for us this means more work with Nasr, Daryle and the Omani goverment on getting the area protected within the framework of an MPA (marine protected area), as well as continuing to collect data within the framework of our expeditions, keeping a guardian eye on the reefs and strengthening our fact-based firepower.

Safe travels home and I hope to see you again somewhere, some day on another expedition.

Best wishes

Matthias

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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)

Everyone passed their Reef Check tests and we have not looked back since. Checking those reefs already seems to be working like Swiss (or German?) clockwork, plus or minus a few air, weighting and underwater overtaking issues. We’ve had lots of HC, some SD, RB, RC and very few SC, OT and SP. Those in the know will know what I mean.

The weather is balmy, the landscape (above and below the waterline) stupendous, the water reminiscent of a bathtub and the company entertaining – especially if and when Kathy and Alison manage to take a breath when talking to each other. Rita seems to be happy, but tired, and making her happy (by feeding her lots of data) is what we are here for after all.

We will spend the next two days doing more of the same. Thank you everybody for contributing your time and money to researching these Musandam reefs in order to get them protected. I think we all agree that they really deserve it.

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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)

Day two of our coral reef research expedition and the team has left Dubai, crossed the border into Oman and installed itself on the liveaboard.

Research team
Research team

Rita, our scientist, is in full teaching swing, has us hanging off her every word and our heads reeling with groupers, snappers, banded-coral shrimp, bleaching averages, black- and white-band disease, and more! When you read this, most of us will be sweating it out in our first exam (on fish). Only those who pass are allowed to collect data. Luckily Rita is a very good teacher.

Rita in full teaching swing...
Rita in full teaching swing…
...with students hanging off her every word ;)
…with students hanging off her every word 😉

The diving has not been bad either. Coral Gardens is as beautiful as ever and with over 90% hard coral cover still more than deserves the name. Anyone here who knows a site anywhere in the world with higher hard coral coverage?

Coral gardens

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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)

Have you ever wondered what an expedition packed up looks like? Probably not. And yet the answer is below.

Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go
Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go

Adam (my sidekick) and I have arrived in Dubai and spent the morning going through the kit list and checking everything is there. It was, so our shopping list for this afternoon is simply a laminator, HP 121 printer cartridge, bungees, Nurofen, zinc oxide tape, nasal spray, antihistamine cream. Exciting – not!

Our scientist Rita has also just arrived at our hotel and as I type this, she is going through the emergency numbers and procedures with Adam, updating things as necessary. It’s all the usual pre-expedition fun and games.

The weather? Have a wild guess. Blue skies and temperatures of around 30 degrees Centigrade. Welcome to the Middle East.

See you tomorrow in the lobby at 09:00 and let’s go check those reefs!

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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)

Good news from Muscat, where I have had some high-level meetings with goverment decision-makers about creating a Musandam Marine Protected Area. It’s early days and I can tell you more about it when we meet, but it was an important step forward. The next step is you collecting more data!

Other than that we are pretty much ready for you. T-shirts and Reef Check materials printed, MS Sindbad is being made ready, supplies are being bought and I have done most of my packing.

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I’ll be on the A380 from London next Friday. My UAE number (on Sat/Sun 6/7 October) will be xxx and my Oman number (from 7 October p.m. onwards) will be xxx. Remember these are for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly) only.

See you next Sunday.

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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 a couple of weeks to go until our Musandam expedition, I thought I would introduce myself and make you familiar with some changes (remember nothing is as constant as the change of plan on expedition ;).

My name is Matthias and I am the founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and also your expedition leader. There’s a short video of me and why I am your leader (and not Rossella Meloni as per the dossier) below.

Change 1: I am your expedition leader.

Change 2: I will be on UAE mobile number xxx and not the expedition leader mobile advertised in the dossier. Since we have a good crew and have done this expedition for several years now, I will only arrive in Dubai 30 hours before we meet at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah. If you are late for assembly or if there is any other urgent matter, please ring me on this phone. Once we get to Oman and onto our liveaboard, I will switch to Oman mobile number xxx for the rest of the expedition.

No change: to the assembly point or time or to the fact that you are joining a research expedition, not a cushy dive holiday 😉 I hope you have all done your swatting up on Reef Check and are ready to help us with our reef research. Here’s an old 2011 survey itinerary. As you can see it’s early mornings and mostly survey dives, but we usually get in a few “lazy dives”, i.e. dives when you don’t have to fill in any datasheets. So please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with (and test you on) before you are allowed to collect data.

But enough of the scaremongering! I hope your preparations and packing is taking shape. Remember there is NO dive hire gear in Musandam, so please bring all your own stuff or arrange hire gear in Dubai in advance (see page 19 of your dossier).

I may write once more from Dubai before we all meet at 09:00 at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah on 7 October. Safe travels and I look forward to meeting you soon.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

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Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia)

The third and final slot of the Biosphere Expeditions Malaysian Reef Check expedition has drawn to an exciting close this morning. We were anchored at Nipah, on the southern end of Tioman. This is the place referred to in a previous entry as the site of the amazing nocturnal racing worms. We pulled in at Nipah to discover the sandy sea floor peppered with large urchins, which each had a population of small black fish living between its spines. The really remarkable thing though, was the speed with which the urchins were chasing each other around. They were in twos and threes and moving at an unbelievable pace with one of the racers emitting a cloud of what I assume to be sperm. Incredible sight! What’s with Nipah and high speed invertebrates?

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At around 03:00 in the night, a powerful squall woke us and intensified until Hylton, the skipper decided that the best course of action was to lift the anchor and head back to Tekek, rather than be slapped around at anchor for the rest of the night. What ensued was an exciting night run to Tekek and a very welcome calm in the duck pond at the marina. A very exciting end to a very interesting expedition!

Thanks to all the team members who made this research possible by donating their time, energy and money to this very worthy alternative to sitting on a beach with a book for their holiday. Thanks as well to Katie Yewdall the scientist whose project we helped to crew and Hylton Hines the skipper of the Araliya.

See you again on expedition some day, somewhere.

Paul O’Dowd
Expedition leader


Tioman reefs courtesy of akroaster

Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia

Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia):

The team from slot three of the Tioman Island Reef Check expedition have, despite some nervous apprehension, passed their full set of identification examinations with flying colours and are now ready to hit the high seas and begin surveys. We board the Araliya tomorrow for the final leg of this, the inaugural Malaysian expedition. The data these teams have gathered, will join a growing body of such data that the Reef Check organisation collects from coral reef locations around the world. The hard work of the team members from this and similar expeditions will be used by scientists, conservation organisations and policy makers to plot their course into the future as they develop their approaches to the management of these precious but poorly understood ecosystems. The people on this expedition could have had an easy holiday under an umbrella with a good book, but they have instead dedicated their time off work to a cause, which desperately needs their boots on the ground (or in this case fins). My hat off to all of you.

Hats off to you and everyone else on the expedition
Hats off to you and everyone else on the expedition

Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia.

Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/malaysia):

The first full day of Reef Check training for slot three of the Tioman Island expedition is going well. The difference between snappers and bream is not causing serious conniptions. The subject of “deep reefs” came up so I sent a quick email to Tom Bridge of James Cook University, an authority on the matter. Before the end of the classroom session, Tom had sent an elaborate and awesomely interesting reply on the nature and role of these off limit ecosystems. The reading of his email at the end of the class provided a brilliant opportunity to get input from a leader in an unusual field of reef research. It also showed how valuable are scientists who care enough to make such an effort to educate the public. Cheers Dr Bridge!

P.S. A video blog of slot 1 is now also available (see below).

Update from our SCUBA volunteer vacation / diving conservation holiday protecting the coral reefs of Tioman, Malaysia.

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