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!
We’ve spent the last days training our team up to be Reef Checkers and so far they have passed with flying colours as one of the most capable and relaxed teams, sitting in their lecture, hardly even blinking an eyelid as the Carpe Diem had to plough through a storm with the waves crashing against the portholes.
Just an hour ago everyone passed their fish identification exam with flying colours.
Here’s the roll of honour of people who’ve passed:
And here’s the rest of the beach bums who were already qualified and so could laze around on the boat whilst the rest were sweating it out in the “exam room”.
Tomorrow it’s invertebrate and substrate exams, then an in-water test and then we’ll be ready to Check that Reef!
The diving’s been good too with a variety of good sites so far to get everyone to recognise indicator species in situ.
As the sun rises over this Paralympic city of London and my bag looks manageable, I hope your packing is going well too.
I am only slightly ahead of you and wish you safe travels. The weather looks like it’s going to be a mix of rain and sunshine throughout the week (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/1282027).
For those of you who may still be under the impression that you are joining a cushy dive holiday, I attach our draft work plan for the week. It’s a draft and Jean-Luc and I will see whether we can cram any more in when we meet later in Male’ 😉 As you can see it’s 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. Please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with.
Welcome to the Maldives diary. My name is Matthias Hammer and I will be your expedition leader for the Maldives replacing Kathy Gill. More information about me is at www.biosphere-expeditions.org/about > tab “Staff”.
I hope your preparations are going well and I look forward to seeing you in Male’ on 2 September at 09.00 in the lobby of the Nasandhura Palace Hotel. My Maldivian mobile (for emergency purposes only, such as missing assembly) will be +960 7570825. Because we have such great support from our Carpe Diem liveaboard team, I will only arrive a day ahead of you and set things up. I may write again before we all meet, but if not, I look forward to seeing you Sunday after next.
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?
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.
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.
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).
Today marks the last day of the second slot of the Biosphere Expeditions / Reef Check project to Tioman Island in Malaysia. Despite various challenges, including the temporary loss of a team member due to an ear infection and the loss of the compressor for half the slot, we did not miss a single research dive and even got in a couple of leisure dives. The team worked overtime to surmount the difficulties and Ed, with his bad ear, took on the deck divemastering duties and data processing like a pro. Full kudos to this group of excellent expeditioners and thank you for all your help!
The first real day of ocean based Reef Check with the second team begins with a glassed out sea and 20+ meters of visibility. We are heading to Chebe to survey some reef that as yet has escaped the attention of the Reef Check process. The “fish team” timing on the transect is very good which keeps the rest of the procedure in check, making Katie a happy scientist.