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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.