Maldives: A dozen years, done

Update from our Maldives coral reef and whale shark expedition

We have just finished our twelfth (!) year of Reef Check surveying in the Maldives and who better to talk about the results of this coral reef expedition than our scientist Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt:

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt summarising the expedition’s results

Over the last week we surveyed eight sites, collected hundreds of data points, saw good reefs and bad, big things such as sharks and manta rays (but sadly no whale sharks), but more importantly little things such as butterflyfish, snapper, coral banded shrimp, diadema urchins, hard and soft coral, rubble, rock and nutrient indicator algae. Our newly qualified EcoDivers now know and appreciate the significance of these indicators and their dedication and attention to detail is what makes this expedition work.

Dr. Solandt will now write up our findings into a report, to be published within a few months and given to government and decision-makers in the Maldives. Our placements Shuga, Bas & Hampti will continue surveys whilst we are away, keeping the Reef Check fire burning until we return in a year’s time. A twelve year dataset is an impressive achievement in any kind of scientific study and it is the time and money that our citizen scientists put in that makes this possible. So thank you again Paula, Steve, Olivier, Peter, Rick, Mark, Shuga, Bas, Toshia, Ann, Tine and Hampti and all those that came before you, and happy birthday Mark on top. What a great excuse to have a farewell and birthday party put together.

Expedition team 2022

What a great expedition. I hope to see most of you again on expedition some day on this beautiful and fragile planet of ours!

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Expedition leader

Thank you to Jean-Luc Solandt for all the pictures in this year’s Maldives expedition blog

Continue reading “Maldives: A dozen years, done”

Maldives: Giving, not taking

Update from our Maldives coral reef and whale shark expedition

We are half way through our annual coral reef and whale shark expedition here in the Maldives. Training in Reef Check was the usual mad dash. Everyone got there in the end. Congratulations to all new Reef Check EcoDivers!

Today is our first day of surveys only. Like a fairly well-oiled machine we descend onto the reef, lay the line of science, then count fish, invertebrates and impacts as well as substrate along it. The numbers and codes we glean from two depths tell us tales of reefs hanging on, despite multiple stresses: oceans that are getting warmer and more acidic due to climate change, land reclaims through artificial sandbanks whose grains in the current smother the corals, building works on many islands and increased tourist activity as if continued growth on a finite planet and building bridges between islands was the answer. It is not. The former is a mathematical impossibility and the latter a short-sighted pipe dream.

So we do what we can. There are 250 liveaboards in the Maldives taking tourist divers around all year. We are one liveaboard of 14 scientists and citizen scientists doing surveys for a week. We are the only ones. You can do the maths yourself.

We may be one in several thousands and a quiet voice in the chatter of growth and development, but it is a beautiful experience nonetheless. A holiday with a purpose with Reef Check as our zen companion. Reef Check teaches you to look at a reef in a totally new way, to appreciate the little things and not obsess about the megafauna. We enjoy coral banded shrimp, the skill to be able to tell a soft coral from a hard coral from rock or rubble. We delight in watching grouper behaviour, small as they may be, or spotting snapper that have not been overfished. Sure, there are lobsters, humphead wrasse, turtles and sharks too. But this is not what it’s about. Instead it is about doing our bit for the reef, giving up our time and money in the process. It’s about hard work, not pleasure diving to satisfy your very own self-centred needs. It’s about giving, not taking. And this really is what the planet needs now.

Thank you Jean-Luc, Paula, Steve, Olivier, Peter, Rick, Mark, Shuga, Bas, Toshia, Ann, Tine and Hampti for giving.

Continue reading “Maldives: Giving, not taking”

Maldives: A reef bouncing back

Update from our Maldives coral reef and whale shark expedition

The Baros staff passed their EcoDiver tests with flying colours, congratulations. Amongst them is Shuga, a local marine biologist, who will join us on the boat and who will be a great asset to the team.

As the culmination of our two days of diving, we conducted a first survey of the Baros house reef. And what better place to record the data and celebrate certification than the beaches and the bar of this beautiful little island. The data confirmed my initial impression of a reef in recovery mode: good hard coral cover (38%), decent fish populations (with parrotfish and butterlyfish dominating, and groupers, sweetlips and snappers present), and very little coral damage such as bleaching or evidence of anchoring or pollution.I hope this is a good omen for the rest of our surveys. See you later today to find out.

Newly qualified (from right): Shuga, Ali and Ambra
Data entry
Baros house reef from above
Data entry

Continue reading “Maldives: A reef bouncing back”

Maldives: Flying and reefs

Update from our Maldives coral reef and whale shark expedition

It feels strange and somehow wrong to be sitting on a long-haul flight again. Strange because it’s been a good while, thanks to the pandemic, and wrong because so much has happened since then in terms of the planet sending very clear signals that we are doing a great job in cutting off the branch that human civilisation sits on. So we at Biosphere Expeditions have decided we will only fly if absolutely necessary. If we can’t avoid flying (such as to the Maldives), we now try to pack as many jobs as possible into a flight. So I am here on the non-too-shabby resort of Baros, not far from Male’, to train their dive centre staff and the resident marine biologist in Reef Check so that they can conduct surveys themselves and eventually also train other Maldivians (and on the way back, I will stop off in Dubai to work on our forthcoming Arabia expedition).

Baros

Shuga, the Maldivian marine biologist I am training here, will also join us on the expedition, alongside two other Maldivians, as part of our placement programme.

Anyway, I am Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and I will be your expedition leader for this Maldives coral reef and whale shark expedition, next to our esteemed expedition scientist Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt. We’re both old and frustrated codger-biologists, so you have been warned! 😉

I arrived to grey, stormy weather and rain. Jean-Luc’s codger message to me on take-off was “enjoy the rain, old man”. I wasn’t surprised.

But underwater made up for it. The Baros house reef was in a bad state three years ago, but it has bounced back somewhat. There is quite a bit of coral regrowth and within two 40-minute dives, I saw all fish indicator species (grouper, sweetlips, butterflyfish, snapper and more), three shark species, a turtle and all substrate types (hard coral, soft coral, rock, sand, rubble etc.). Not expecting much, it was a pleasant surprise to see the reef not dead, but fighting back. I wonder whether this is a good omen for the forthcoming expedition? It will certainly be interesting to see what state the reefs are in. Don’t get your hopes up high, though. We may just be documenting humankind’s cancerous effect on this part of our planet too. We will see. Jean-Luc will be telling us, without mincing his words, what it all means and I can guarantee you that he will open your eyes to reefs and help you see them like you’ve never seen them before, no matter what state they will be in.

The itinerary he has set for the expedition is below and a visualisation of the places we will survey and visit is here.

Survey schedule

I will write again in the next couple of days. In the meantime, happy packing and travels. I hope you have swotted up on Reef Check. The more you can do now, the easier the whirlwind of the first two training days will be, trust me.

Continue reading “Maldives: Flying and reefs”

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.

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

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.

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

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!

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

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

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:

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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”.

Left to right: Loz, Jan, Ushan, Rosella, Nicola, Jean-Luc
Left to right: Loz, Jan, Ushan, Rossella, Nicola, Jean-Luc

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.

Check that Reef!
Check that Reef! (Picture courtesy of Nicola Bush)

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

We’ve arrived, the boat’s set up, Jean-Luc and I have finished the itinerary and the first thunderstorm has just moved through.

JL (right) and MH (left) putting the finishing touches to the itinerary
JL (right) and MH (left) putting the finishing touches to the itinerary

The Carpe Diem is as beautiful as ever.

My mobile number (for emergencies only) is xxxx and I look forward to meeting you all tomorrow morning.

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

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

As the sun rises over this Paralympic city of London and my bag looks manageable, I hope your packing is going well too.

What's that pink thing on the left? You'll find out...
What’s that pink thing on the left? You’ll find out…

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.

See you in Male’ soon.

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

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