From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

By Monday 11:00 the team had already completed an invertebrate test and a substrate test, and dived to complete the third underwater ID test when Rex said: “This is like that advertisement for the U.S. Army – We do more before breakfast than you do in the entire day!” How true!  By 19:00, we had gone on to complete a full Reef Check survey on a site that was pristine before the big bleaching event in 1997/8. Now, 17 years later, it was entirely colonised by corallimorphs (not corals). We also completed a final test (with 100% pass rate).  As a reward, everyone got a lie-in for Tuesday – until 06:30.

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On Tuesday a beautiful full moon set as the sun rose over the ‘yoga deck’, and a few early risers dutifully saluted it. The calm was not to last, however, as the current on the first dive, coupled with the shallow gradient of the reef caused a few problems, though not insurmountable and the quality of the reef lifted everyone’s spirits. The second Reef Check survey was equally as successful and the day rounded off nicely with a beautifully relaxing night dive. More Reef Check surveys today with the boat slowly waking up as I type this at 05:50….

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Yesterday, on Saturday the expedition team met in Male’, and after a short trip on our dhoni (transit and dive vessel for the week), we arrived at the MV Carpe Diem in all its splendour.

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Following some safety and other briefings, an excellent lunch and passage to Baros, a resort island whose house reef will serve us as a training ground, we completed a successful check dive, spotting octopus, lobster and a myriad of other reef dwellers. Now the work begins…

After identifying the conservation aims of Reef Check and the environmental challenges facing the reef ecosystem, Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, Biosphere Expeditions’s scientist from the Marine Conservation Society and co-ordinator of Reef Check here in the Maldives, embarks on the methodology. All in all a very busy day!

Today, Sunday, the team knuckled down to hard work with lectures, snorkels, dives (and more lectures!), bringing the reality of conservation fieldwork to the forefront. With a blacktip reef shark circling overhead, we learned to identify the complexities of marine flora and fauna, and now with tests looming, everyone is revising hard.

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Good luck everyone!

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

We, your Biosphere Expeditions staff, have arrived safely and have had very successful meetings with both Hussein Zahir from LaMer, and with Shiham Adam from MRC (the government’s Marine Research Centre).

In a nutshell, both are very happy that we are continuing our collection of Reef Check data here in the Maldives. Hussein feels that it is very valuable data and can be added to the National Coral Reef Monitoring Framework protocols. Also, there is a desire that our data collected up until now are included in the National Status Report Assessment, currently being compiled by MRC. Both see our placement programme of local Maldivians coming with us on the boat, as they will be this year too, as an excellent way to increase capacity and raise awareness of conservation issues facing these threatened islands.

We are meeting with Shaha from Gemana, a local reef conservation NGO, in an hour or so, and with Gabriel Grimsditch of IUCN and Rafil Mohammed from the Maldives Diving Association tomorrow.

See you in a couple of days. Safe travels.

Catherine

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From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Welcome to the Maldives diary.

My name is Catherine Edsell and I will be your expedition leader for the Maldives; also coming along from Biosphere Expeditions will be Dr. Matthias Hammer, our executive director.

I will arrive a couple of days in advance with Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, our scientist from the Marine Conservation Society and Reef Check’s Maldives co-ordinator, to set up and meet our local partners. As soon as I get my mobile phone connected in the Maldives, I will email you my Maldivian number (to be used for emergency purposes only, such as missing assembly).

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 the website. We have a packed schedule planned, so please arrive rested and ready to go. And talking about schedules, our expedition route is below.

All subject to change, of course. So anyone thinking they are coming on a cushy dive “holiday” to go deep, please wake up 😉 After our week with us, you’ll never look at a reef the same way again.

My next missive will be from the Maldives. Until there and then!

Catherine Edsell
Expedition Leader

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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)

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 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 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 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.

Continue reading “From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)”

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’

Continue reading “From our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with whale sharks on the coral reefs of the Maldives (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)”