Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Everyone passed their Reef Check tests and we have not looked back since. Checking those reefs already seems to be working like Swiss (or German?) clockwork, plus or minus a few air, weighting and underwater overtaking issues. We’ve had lots of HC, some SD, RB, RC and very few SC, OT and SP. Those in the know will know what I mean.

The weather is balmy, the landscape (above and below the waterline) stupendous, the water reminiscent of a bathtub and the company entertaining – especially if and when Kathy and Alison manage to take a breath when talking to each other. Rita seems to be happy, but tired, and making her happy (by feeding her lots of data) is what we are here for after all.

We will spend the next two days doing more of the same. Thank you everybody for contributing your time and money to researching these Musandam reefs in order to get them protected. I think we all agree that they really deserve it.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Day two of our coral reef research expedition and the team has left Dubai, crossed the border into Oman and installed itself on the liveaboard.

Research team
Research team

Rita, our scientist, is in full teaching swing, has us hanging off her every word and our heads reeling with groupers, snappers, banded-coral shrimp, bleaching averages, black- and white-band disease, and more! When you read this, most of us will be sweating it out in our first exam (on fish). Only those who pass are allowed to collect data. Luckily Rita is a very good teacher.

Rita in full teaching swing...
Rita in full teaching swing…
...with students hanging off her every word ;)
…with students hanging off her every word 😉

The diving has not been bad either. Coral Gardens is as beautiful as ever and with over 90% hard coral cover still more than deserves the name. Anyone here who knows a site anywhere in the world with higher hard coral coverage?

Coral gardens

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Have you ever wondered what an expedition packed up looks like? Probably not. And yet the answer is below.

Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go
Musandam expedition boxed up and ready to go

Adam (my sidekick) and I have arrived in Dubai and spent the morning going through the kit list and checking everything is there. It was, so our shopping list for this afternoon is simply a laminator, HP 121 printer cartridge, bungees, Nurofen, zinc oxide tape, nasal spray, antihistamine cream. Exciting – not!

Our scientist Rita has also just arrived at our hotel and as I type this, she is going through the emergency numbers and procedures with Adam, updating things as necessary. It’s all the usual pre-expedition fun and games.

The weather? Have a wild guess. Blue skies and temperatures of around 30 degrees Centigrade. Welcome to the Middle East.

See you tomorrow in the lobby at 09:00 and let’s go check those reefs!

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Good news from Muscat, where I have had some high-level meetings with goverment decision-makers about creating a Musandam Marine Protected Area. It’s early days and I can tell you more about it when we meet, but it was an important step forward. The next step is you collecting more data!

Other than that we are pretty much ready for you. T-shirts and Reef Check materials printed, MS Sindbad is being made ready, supplies are being bought and I have done most of my packing.

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I’ll be on the A380 from London next Friday. My UAE number (on Sat/Sun 6/7 October) will be xxx and my Oman number (from 7 October p.m. onwards) will be xxx. Remember these are for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly) only.

See you next Sunday.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

With a couple of weeks to go until our Musandam expedition, I thought I would introduce myself and make you familiar with some changes (remember nothing is as constant as the change of plan on expedition ;).

My name is Matthias and I am the founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and also your expedition leader. There’s a short video of me and why I am your leader (and not Rossella Meloni as per the dossier) below.

Change 1: I am your expedition leader.

Change 2: I will be on UAE mobile number xxx and not the expedition leader mobile advertised in the dossier. Since we have a good crew and have done this expedition for several years now, I will only arrive in Dubai 30 hours before we meet at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah. If you are late for assembly or if there is any other urgent matter, please ring me on this phone. Once we get to Oman and onto our liveaboard, I will switch to Oman mobile number xxx for the rest of the expedition.

No change: to the assembly point or time or to the fact that you are joining a research expedition, not a cushy dive holiday 😉 I hope you have all done your swatting up on Reef Check and are ready to help us with our reef research. Here’s an old 2011 survey itinerary. As you can see it’s early mornings and 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. So please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with (and test you on) before you are allowed to collect data.

But enough of the scaremongering! I hope your preparations and packing is taking shape. Remember there is NO dive hire gear in Musandam, so please bring all your own stuff or arrange hire gear in Dubai in advance (see page 19 of your dossier).

I may write once more from Dubai before we all meet at 09:00 at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah on 7 October. Safe travels and I look forward to meeting you soon.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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