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 marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

What an epic day! 63 miles and 11.5 hours of surveying. Sightings of 12 harbour porpoise (two very young babies), 3 minke whales, 3 grey seals and 1 possible common dolphin.

There was lots of activity up on deck during the day including taking turns to climb up into the crow’s nest in the calm waters between the mainland and the Isle of Skye (as modelled by Lena in the photo), Steve counting over 900 Manx shearwaters, who just wouldn’t stay still off Ardnamurchan Point, using the Swarovskis and Alex preparing dinner.

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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 marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

Back in picturesque Plockton! (see photo)

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Sheltering from rough weather again after a bumpy ride this morning from Portree on Skye, despite which we saw common dolphins again! Yesterday was a very mixed day of showers, wind, sun, calm sea, rough sea, harbour porpoises, seals, minke whales (two sightings) and common dolphins – 7 or 8 came to bow ride with us as we came into Portree harbour, a perfect end to the day.

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As you can see Elke briefly stepped into the skipper’s shoes this morning and gave us a little impromptu chart chat!

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

Currently holed up at Plockton (mainland Scotland) for the day while some wild and windy weather passes through – the wind is moaning loudly, but the team are quite happy! We are also waiting to collect a new hydrophone as the one on board has stopped working. It’s a morning in the classroom learning seal identification, brushing up on cetacean identification and learning about the wider implications of our work.

We left the wild beauty of Harris yesterday (see photo – our yacht on far right) to head east for shelter from what was forecast, covering 62 miles and some bumpy seas on the way, with Brian and Steve enjoying a go at the helm (Brian in photo).

We had one sighting of a nuclear submarine that surfaced a mile away from us, two seals, four harbour porpoises and possibly a minke whale spotted by Celine – the sea was pretty choppy at that point, so the chance of clear sightings was quite low.

Will be heading to Skye tomorrow with a new hydrophone and a fully rested team.

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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 marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

Group 2 arrived safely, were fully briefed and kitted up with new T-shirts and Buffs, and then we set sail around midday on Wednesday towards Rum and Canna where we quickly lost contact with the outside world. We’ve now  headed north west to the Outer Hebrides where there is finally a little bit of contact!

The first day went really well, everyone learnt their duties extremely quickly and we spotted five harbour porpoises, three seals and three common dolphins! One dolphin even came to “bow ride” at the front of the boat. It played in our bow wave for a good few minutes swimming from one side to the other and leaping clear of the water giving everyone a really good view – even Brian who had been preoccupied below deck! Smiles all round – see photos.

Weather and sea state have been variable, we lay in our bunks last night at “Wizard’s Pool” in Loch Skipport, South Uist, listening to the moaning of the wind before the crew took the boat on a midnight journey to another part of the loch because the anchor was slipping. We’re now using that wind to sail silently northwards and see what’s lurking in the mist..

And just as I was wrote this, a 7 – 8 metre basking shark rudely interrupted – spotted by Lena at the front of the boat!

 

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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.

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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)

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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