The Heat Is On: Sea Turtles Are Becoming Mostly Female Due To The Earth’s Warming Climate

Some of the more charismatic inhabitants of the reef here at Gili Lankanfushi are the Turtles, and we do our best to help them thrive.

In fact, our resident Hawksbill Turtle, the aptly named ‘Gili’, was initially found here in critical condition, but was rescued by our marine biology team who sent her straight to the Four Seasons Rehabilitation Centre for recovery. Of all the threats posed to these animals; poaching, entanglement in fishing gear, plastic and other marine debris, and ocean pollution – There is one issue you may not be aware of: Climate change is turning Sea Turtles female.

As reported by Sarah Kaplan for The Washington post, scientists in the 1980s accidently discovered that temperature can determine the sex of Turtles. The team were attempting to aid a population of sea Turtles by rescuing eggs from vulnerable beaches and keeping them warm in incubators until they were ready to hatch. To their surprise almost all the hatchlings were male. What these scientists observed was “Temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD)”, a phenomenon that occurs only in reptiles (and some fish).

At what biologists call the ‘pivot temperature’ (roughly 29oC for Green Turtles), nests will produce equal amounts of males and females. A little warmer and embryos develop as females, but keep the eggs just a few degrees cooler (like the scientists did with their incubators) and they’ll come out mostly male.

Turtles tend to target their breeding periods to times when the sand is slightly warmer than their pivot temperatures, resulting in populations moderately skewed towards female, but a recent study conducted around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef found that the populations are becoming more than moderately skewed. On the warmer nesting sites 99.1% of juvenile Green Turtles were female, as were 86.8% of adults, suggesting that there has been a shift in gender ratios over the last few decades.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal
-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Global warming is rapidly emerging as a universal threat to ecological integrity and function, say scientists studying coral reef assemblages. In species with temperature-dependent sex determination the impacts of rising temperature are particularly pertinent. At the key breeding grounds of many Sea Turtle populations the sand has warmed significantly since the 1990’s and researchers say that this almost certainly accounts for the dramatic decrease in the number of males. Since turtles will often return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their own eggs, this cycle will likely continue; and with global temperatures continuing to rise, many Sea Turtle populations are in danger of high egg mortality and female-only offspring production.

“Finding that there are next to no males among young Northern Green Turtles should ring alarm bells, but all is not lost for this important population.”
– WWF Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman

The good news is that management strategies are possible. Options include shading beaches or using artificial rain to cool the beach. Protecting some of the big breeding males from threats such as poaching and entanglement is also going to be of particular importance.

Of the seven species of sea Turtles in the world, five species have been recorded in the Maldives and some species are known to nest here: The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) and Leatherback Turtle (Dermachelys coriacea). The Maldivian archipelago clearly serves as an important habitat for Sea Turtles, and here at Gili Lankanfushi we strive to help maintain that habitat by educating our guests about the negative effects of global warming; reducing the amount of harmful marine debris entering the ocean and growing our seagrass beds that act as a carbon sink and produce food for our sea turtle population.

So, what can you do to help mitigate climate change? Start by finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint; embrace a minimalist lifestyle, walk instead of drive, [a comprehensive list of ways to reduce your carbon footprint can be found here and here] and support only the large companies that are reducing theirs too.

Acknowledgements:

Guarino, Ben. 2018. Climate change is turning 99 percent of these baby sea turtles female’. Washington Post.

Hogge, Katie. 2018. Not Cool: Climate Change Turning 99% of These Sea Turtles Female. Ocean Conservancy.

Jensen, M.P., Allen, C.D., Eguchi, T., Bell, I.P., LaCasella, E.L., Hilton, W.A., Hof, C.A. and Dutton, P.H., 2018. Environmental warming and feminization of one of the largest sea turtle populations in the world. Current Biology, 28(1), pp.154-159.

Kaplan, Sarah. 2016. Some like it hot: Scientists figure out why female turtles are born at higher temperatures. Washington Post.

WWF. 2018. How climate change is turning Green Turtle populations female in the Northern Great Barrier Reef. WorldWildLife.org.

PADI guest blogger Jon Fry introduces himself:

After receiving my degree in Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology from Plymouth University I worked in Madagascar where I gained experience in reef restoration and tropical biology. I believe awareness is the most important tool we have in conservation, and I am pleased to be here at Gili Lankanfushi where I can educate the curious about marine life and sustainability.

Green Sea Turtle Nesting on Earth Day 2018

In the early hours of Earth Day, 22nd April 2018, a female green sea turtle was coming to an end of her journey as she finished laying the last of her 150 ping pong ball sized eggs in the sand close to the tree line at Gili Lankanfushi.

The adult turtle was around one meter in size with her carapace (shell) measuring around 80cm. After arriving on the beach just before high tide (at 4:30am) she searched for a safe spot to lay her eggs in an area where the sand was soft enough to dig a hole around 50 cm deep.

She succeeded on her second attempt and went into a trance to deliver her clutch. We did not want to disturb her but used this opportunity to assess her size and check the hole was deep enough for her eggs.

After a two-hour process, she began to make her way back to the ocean. Her energy levels were high and her timing impeccable as she re-entered the water at 6:15am, just before first light.

The nest is in an area that could be disturbed by hosts or guests walking, so we constructed a make shift boundary to protect the eggs from the pressure of human feet above.

After a 60 day incubation period we hope to witness the emergence of the hatchlings as they make their way down to the ocean. Turtle hatchlings follow the light of the moon to reach the ocean so we will be sure to turn off external lights during this time as any light pollution could cause the hatchlings to make a wrong turn and reduce their chance of survival.

Female green sea turtles nest three to five times per season and they lay their eggs on beaches within a 100kilometre radius of where they hatched. We hope she is planning to nest again on Gili’s shores in the next few months. We noticed a unique marking on her carapace and we will try to use this white mark to identify her in the future. However, we were not able to get clear photographic identification as we did not want to disturb her behaviour by shining a light on her.

As she entered the water, we became acutely aware of the responsibility we had been given – to keep these eggs safe from disturbance and predators for around two months until they emerge as hatchlings.

As only one in 1000 turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood we can safely say that Gili is carrying precious cargo into the months ahead.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi

Dive site topography in Lhaviyani Atoll – Part 1

The underwater topography of the Maldives is dramatic, varied and perfect for exploring. Scuba divers visiting the Lhaviyani Atoll in particular have a huge variety of reef formations awaiting them on the dive sites – the first glimpses of which can even be spotted from the seaplane window. In this, the first of a three part series, the underwater islands of giris and thilas are explored.

What is a giri?

Giris are shallow underwater islands with a top reefs lying at around 5 meters and appearing as blueish-green spots when viewed from the seaplane window. Typically found inside the atoll, they are perfect for beginner divers and macro lovers.

One of Hurawalhi’s favourite giris is Maa Giri. It means Flower Island and it is usually described as ‘fish soup’. On the front of the giri are thousands of lunar fusiliers catching food in the gentle currents that flow around the dive site. Once the divers descend a little deeper they can explore small overhangs and crevices where nurse sharks are sleeping or moray eels are getting cleaned. All around the giri are schools of yellow snappers, humpback snappers, and sweetlips. Occasionally, at the right time of the year, there is a glittering swarm of glass fish that divers can swim into the middle of – this is an enchanting experience that will be remembered for a very long time. Along the walls there are macro creatures like the mantis shrimp, whip coral shrimp and nudibranchs.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

On Tinga Giri, close to Hurawalhi, there is currently a large red frogfish that can often be seen fishing with the lure, which comes out from the top of its head.

What is a thila?

A thila is a deeper underwater island usually starting around 12-14 meters. Two of the Hurawalhi team’s favourite and most fascinating thilas are Anemone Thila and Fushivaru Thila.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

Anemone Thila gets its name from the incredible amount of anemones that have made themselves at home there. It is a very small thila and can be dived all they way round its circumference 2-3 times in one dive. This site is great for underwater photography and experimenting with macro photography. The most spectacular part of the dive is towards the end when divers arrive at the shallowest part of the thila and see the clownfish swimming above all the anemones along with bright blue and pink damselfish. For a good part of the year this site is also completely covered in ‘baitfish’ – so many that visibility can be reduced to 1-2 m with the fish parting to make way for the passing divers.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

Fushivaru Thila is a manta cleaning station and from November to January divers can witness the spectacular sight of the majestic mantas as they cruise in and hover over the station as small cleaner wrasse come and cleanse them of parasites. When the mantas are elsewhere, Fushivaru Thila is just as beautiful with huge schools of snappers and hunting grey reef sharks, nurse sharks sleeping under coral blocks, and large stingrays on the sand.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

There are many underwater island dive sites in Lhaviyani Atoll waiting to be explored. In Part 2 of the Dive Site Topography series all will be revealed about the differences between East and West sides of the Atoll.

 

PADI’s guest blogger Paige Bennett introduces herself:

I am an American Scuba diving instructor who has been living in the Maldives for the past 2 ½ years. I have been travelling and working for the past 6 years and have been to Koh Tao Thailand, Playa del Carmen Mexico, Marsa Alam Egypt and have now settled in the Lhaviyani Atoll working with Prodivers Diving center. I love the abundance of textures and patterns in the ocean and am very interested in underwater macro photography. I also have been involved with several conservation/restoration projects such as ReefCI in Belize, Eco Koh Tao in Thailand, and the coral transplantation project for the 5.8 undersea Restaurant on Hurawalhi Island Resort.

 

Green Sea Turtles hatchlings on Kuredu

Guests at Kuredu Resort recently had a very cute surprise in the sand: a green sea turtle nest hatched! Late in the evening, while walking back to their villa, the guests spotted the tiny turtles making their way quickly across the beach into the ocean. A few hatchlings wandered astray and were collected by resort staff, soon to be released under the supervision of resident Sea Turtle Biologist, Stephanie, along with volunteers from the Prodivers Team.

According to previous reports, it takes green turtle nests 49 to 62 days to hatch here in the Maldives, but the baby turtles on Kuredu were a little slower – it took them 64 days to make their way out of the nest.

To evaluate the hatching success of the nest, Stephanie and a volunteer digging team from Prodivers went to exhume the nest 48 hours after the hatching event. After quite some digging, they successfully discovered the nest and out of 105 eggs laid, only three had failed to develop – that’s 102 more baby green turtles in the ocean! Such a successful nest is great news for the sea turtle population and we hope to see some of the hatchlings back on Kuredu to nest in about 10 to 15 years’ time.

Snorkelling or scuba diving at Kuredu Island Resort Maldives gives a very good chance of seeing turtles – the island is blessed with a large community of green sea turtles that can be seen at Caves, either on a Prodivers snorkelling excursion or dive trip. Turtles can also be spotted grazing in the lagoon.

Want to learn more about turtles? Visit Stephanie at Kuredu’s Marine Center and join her snorkelling on the reef for a turtle tour while she collects valuable data for the Olive Ridley Project.

Common crabs encountered in the Maldives: Part 1

Crabs are an underappreciated species. Whilst living in a harsh and arid environment they dedicate their lives to keeping the beach pristine.

The Maldives is rich in life and biodiversity, but the majority of this diversity is marine based. Due to the great distance of the Maldives from large land masses there are relatively few land based species. Crabs, are one of the most common. These shy little critters are abundant, entertaining to observe and vital to the island’s survival.

Hermit Crab. Picture by Laura Pola
Hermit Crab. Picture by Laura Pola

Land Hermit Crabs

Land hermit crabs are completely adapted to life on land, living under leaf litter or in other sheltered areas. A common error made by people is completely submerging these crabs in water, mistaking them for marine animals. Unfortunately hermit crabs can only survive for a few minutes when completely submerged. They are not true crabs because they do not have their own shell. Instead they use shells from dead gastropods in order to protect their soft abdomens. They are a long lived species – sometimes reaching the age of 40 years and older – so they go through a lot of shells!

Hermit crabs start their lives moving through a variety of larval stages whilst floating in the ocean. The larvae spend the first 40 – 60 days of their life alongside plankton until they change into a hermit crab/lobster shape. In this final larval stage they find a small shell and over the period of a month will spend more time on land until they finally molt and leave the ocean for good. By feeding on vegetation, insects, detritus, other smaller hermit crabs and microbes in the sand the crab grows in size. To accommodate this growth their hard exoskeleton must be shed periodically during the year and this process will carry on through-out the hermit crab’s life. As they grow in size the hermit crab molts less frequently and the molt process takes longer, during which time the crab will stay completely submerged in the sand.

When sexually mature the male will knock on the female’s shell to signal mating. Both genders will then extend out of their shells and the male will fertilise the female. After fertilisation the female will carry her eggs around on her abdomen where they are protected from predation. The bigger the female the larger the quantity of eggs. After one month the eggs are fully developed and the colour of the egg will have changed from brick red to grey. To hatch the eggs the female will enter the water at low tide. Upon contact with water the eggs burst open and the larvae are released.

Ghost Crab. Picture by Hans Hillewaert
Ghost Crab. Picture by Hans Hillewaert

Ghost Crab

Another common crab species is the ghost crab which is aptly named due to its nocturnal activity and sandy colouration, making the crab perfectly camouflaged into the beach backdrop. These crabs are found on sandy beaches and live in burrows. The narrower and shorter the burrow the smaller the crab. Their burrows serve a number of purposes: protection from predation, storage of their food, protection from drying out and other extreme weather conditions as well as a place to mate (although not all ghost crabs mate in burrows).

Young crabs and female crabs create burrows with sand scattered everywhere, with young crabs preferring to create burrows nearer to the water, whilst male crabs have burrows with a neat mound of sand outside – the larger the crab the larger the mound. Males produce mating sounds, squeaking noises, in a variety of ways; by rubbing their right claw on their leg, by rubbing their legs together, or by using their gill chambers, which they keep moist with saltwater.

After mating the females store thousands of eggs inside an abdominal flap. She will then venture into the sea when the eggs are ready to hatch. Since ghost crabs cannot swim the female will float upside down in the water allowing the eggs in her abdomen to breathe. Upon contact with saltwater the larvae are released and after two months return to land.

Swift-Footed Rock Crab. Picture by Laura Pola

The exoskeleton of a ghost crab is water tight, which prevents the crab from drying out in the arid and salty conditions on the beach. All ghost crabs have eye stalks with the males additionally having horns. These eyestalks enable the crab to see in any direction and can be stored in groves on their shells. The ghost crab’s eye sight is so good that they are able to catch insects’ mid-flight. They also have a well-developed sense of smell. They are very agile, capable of moving at 10mph, which makes them the fastest of all crustaceans.

Due to the erratic nature of their food supply ghost crabs are very protective of their food and will use their claws in combat displays. Male ghost crabs have one claw that is slightly larger than the other and combat is normally non-contact and ritualistic. Ghost crabs spend the majority of their day looking for food and particularly like to eat fish, seaweed, microbes in the sand, jellyfish, other crabs, snails, turtle hatchings and really anything they can get their claws on.

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Interview: PADI Course Director Zoona Naseem

Zoona Naseem

Zoona Naseem is only the second Maldivian to have attained the rank of PADI Course Director, and the country’s first female to do so. She is the owner of Moodhu Bulhaa Dive Centre in Villingili Island, just 10 minutes away from the capital, and is passionate about getting young people diving. Here she shares her PADI journey, discusses what it’s like to be at the top of a male-dominated industry, and advises instructors on the best way to become a CD.

 What inspired you to become a PADI Pro?

I spent the first few years of my life in a small island in Noonu Atoll in the north of the Maldives, so I was always in the ocean as a child. I learnt how to swim at the same time I learnt how to walk. When I did my first dive at 17, honestly, I found it so easy that I thought to myself ‘Why isn’t everyone doing this? And why are there no female instructors?’ I think I knew after that first dive that I was going to become a PADI Pro.

How do you think you’ve changed as you’ve moved up the ranks to become a PADI Course Director?

I did my IDC when I was 18, straight after leaving school, so I’ve been a PADI Pro for my entire adult life. One of my first jobs was at a resort called Sun Island Resort & Spa and the dive centre was one of the busiest in the country at that time. It was like a dive factory! I got to teach every day and I really developed my skills as a teacher. Of course, later I learnt managerial skills as a dive centre manager but it’s my teaching skills that I am continually improving as I move up the ranks.

What will it mean to the Maldives to have its first female Course Director?

In the Maldives, there are still very few women working in the tourism industry, and I feel that this is down to a lot of lingering misconceptions about resorts amongst Maldivians. But in reality, resorts are fantastic places to work for women. You get exposed to so many different cultures, you save everything you earn and there are lots of opportunities for travel and training. So I think that with a female PADI Course Director working in the country, I can show people what a fantastic industry we are a part of, and what you can achieve as a PADI instructor. My greatest hope is that more women will follow my example, and I have set a personal goal to have two female Maldivian instructors working in my dive centre.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in your diving career?

Becoming a Course Director. It was a long journey to get here, and I didn’t really even believe it was possible until recently. Nobody ever told me that this was an option for me! So it definitely feels like a big achievement. And my other greatest achievement, the thing that gives me great happiness, is seeing so many of my students now owning their own dive centres. They are leaders in the Maldivian dive industry, and I’m extremely proud of them.

What does diving give you that nothing else does?

On a personal level, when I’m diving, I get a sense of peace and happiness that I can’t find out of the water. There’s nothing in the world like diving. But as a diver, I also have the chance to be an advocate for our environment, to be a marine ambassador, and that’s a privilege.

Did you have to overcome any fears, challenges or obstacles to get where you are now in your diving career?

When I was working for Banyan Tree International, I was managing five dive centres, plus five water sports centres – so it was a real challenge. And at first, managing all those male employees proved a little tricky. They found it hard to accept a local female as their leader, but I didn’t give up! With a little patience and perseverance, the team soon saw that I knew what I was doing.

Do you believe PADI instructors change others’ lives through diving?

For sure! When you take someone underwater for the first time, they will always remember you. One of my strongest memories was of taking a blind student diving. He simply wanted to experience how it felt to be underwater; to be weightless. We have the chance to create amazing experiences for people, and to educate them about our fragile underwater ecosystems.

Describe in a few sentences how you would convince a non-diver to learn to dive?

Well in the Maldives, it’s pretty easy to convince people, because the best of this country is underwater. There’s not a boring second when you’re diving, and it’s extremely safe. Actually, being underwater is much safer than walking in the busy roads of our capital city!

PADI Course Director Zoona Naseem

What does “Be Best. Be PADI” mean to you?

 It’s simple. PADI is the best diving organisation in the world; there is no comparison. PADI changes lives!

What would you say to other PADI Instructors hoping to become PADI Course Directors?

 I would always encourage instructors to keep moving ahead, and to explore opportunities to increase their training, knowledge and experience. I tell everyone that becoming a PADI Course Director is an option open to them, you just have to work towards it.

What did you enjoy most about completing the PADI Course Director training?

The trainers were without doubt the best part of the course. Their presentations were so entertaining and creative that I honestly never lost focus. And just getting the chance to meet these incredible divers from all over the world and to work on group assignments with them was so enjoyable.

And lastly, what’s your favourite dive site in the Maldives?

Oh, that’s a hard question but I think I’ve got to say Embudu Express, which is a channel that we often visit with our dive centre. There can be dozens of sharks, huge schools of eagle rays, and abundant fish life. But every dive is different, and it depends on how you dive!

 

Crown of Thorns Eradication

As the corals of the Maldives are already vulnerable our understanding and removal efforts of the crown of thorns starfish is paramount to the health of our reef.

Everyday Gili Lankanfushi has sightings of the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish (COT) Acanthaster planci. Native to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region and the largest species of starfish (Asteroidea), they are generally seen at depths of up to 30 metres. However, they have also been known to travel between Atolls at great depths of around 200m. There are four species of COT, but it is A. planci which is responsible for coral mortality in the Northern Indian Ocean and the coral triangle. COTS are corallivores and during optimal conditions can grow to over half a meter in diameter and have more than 30 arms.

Crown of Thorns

Generally COTS can be considered a keystone species because they can maintain healthy coral reef diversity by primarily feeding on fast growing corals, such as staghorn and plate (Acropora sp.) and enable the slower massive corals to establish and develop. When coral coverage is low, often resulting from COT outbreaks, COTS will eat PoritesMontipora, sponges, algae and encrusting organisms. One COT can consume all the coral in a 6 to 10m square radius annually, so the impact on an already vulnerable reef is catastrophic. The feeding behaviour is dependent on population density, water motion and species composition. COTS are covered in venomous spines coated with saponin which causes irritation and pain at a puncture wound. The spines are long, sharp and lowered to avoid drag.

Fossil evidence suggests that COTS developed millions of years ago. However, COT outbreaks have only occurred in the last 60 to 70 years and with increasing frequency and intensity. The first recorded outbreak occurred in the 1950s in the Ryukyu Islands off Japan. Combined with anthropogenic threats and other stresses outbreaks are greatly detrimental to coral reef survival and the fish associated with the reef.

Crown of Thorns destruction: 1 – healthy coral, 2 – freshly killed coral, 3 – recently killed portion colonised by algae and bacteria, 4 – long dead coral

COT outbreaks in the Maldives are relatively recent; the first recorded outbreak was in the 1970’s, the second in the 1990’s. Currently we are experiencing an outbreak which started in 2013. It began in North Male Atoll and has spread through to Ari Atoll, Baa Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, South Male Atoll and large densities have recently been documented in Shaviyani Atoll.

Outbreaks result for a variety of reasons. Firstly, when there is an excess of nutrients entering the water as a consequence of runoff from sewage, fertiliser and other island practices. The resulting eutrophication leads to increased plankton for the COT larvae and decreased juvenile mortality. Secondly, loss of COT predators; napoleon wrasse, lined worm, harlequin shrimp, starry puffer fish, titan and yellow margin triggerfish and triton’s trumpet (red and spangled emperor and parrotfish have been known to feed off young COTS before they have spines).

COT being predated upon by Triton’s Trumpet.

Loss of predators occurs due to overfishing for the souvenir trade, bycatch and habitat destruction. This leads to a drop in already low predation pressure and results in a COT population surge. Finally, COTS have excellent adaptations as they are resilient organisms with an selected life history (high growth rate, typically exploit less crowded ecological niches and produce many off spring). COT females can produce 65 million eggs annually between October to February. The eggs are released into the water column and are fertilized by clouds of sperm from nearby males. After fertilisation larvae are in their planktonic form and remain that way for weeks. After settling on the sea floor and developing into their adult form they develop their spines and start feeding off coral. This process can take around a year. COTS are most vulnerable before their spines are developed. Additionally, they can survive between 6 to 9 months without food, and body parts lost due to stress or predation can regenerate within 6 months.

Short and long term methods are being established around the world to minimise the effects of current outbreaks and to help prevent future outbreaks. The marine biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is focused on the removal of COTS. Our primary aim is removing these creatures from the overwater villas and jetty’s. Guests and hosts report sightings of COTS, and our team of marine biologists will remove them by injecting them with vinegar. This method is labour intensive and is carried out as regularly as possible by both the Marine Biology team and the Dive Centre.

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

 

Colonies of Hope

Blog written by guest blogger and marine biologist Clare Baranowski

Preserving coral reefs is a growing concern in the Maldives

At Gili Lankanfushi, we are recovering our coral reefs through the Coral lines Project. By growing small fragments of coral on hanging ropes (lines) and then transplanting them to our house reef near One Palm Island, we hope to see regeneration and aim to kick start the health of our house reef.

Our Coral Lines Project started three years ago and currently holds around 7484 coral colonies. We are consistently adding small fragments of coral to the already growing population on 153 lines.

Josie monitoring our 153 coral lines

The vulnerable nature of coral populations mean that they undergo cycles of disturbance and recovery. Our house reef was affected by warmer waters created by the El Nino event in 2016 which bleached much of the corals. Yet against all odds, most fragments in our coral lines nursery survived.  They have also been faced with a Crown of Thorns (coral predators) outbreak this year and have still remained intact.

In some cases, the corals in our lines are no longer present on shallow reefs in the area.

Now, is the perfect time to begin stage two of our coral restoration project by moving coral from our nursery to our house reef.  Transplanting coral is a delicate procedure with a lot of trial and error. We began slowly by creating a test site with a small number of coral colonies to ensure we would not lose healthy coral unnecessarily.

Josie beginning the process

We found a site with conditions not too dissimilar to the nursery. The area had to be flat and solid, with no loose material and space for growth.  It also had to be an area that is easily accessible for monitoring, but nowhere in danger of tampering or accidental damage.  We chose a depth of 8 metres in the middle of house reef drop off where we regularly snorkel. Another major concern was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, so we placed the coral in an area visited regularly by Harvey Edwards, Ocean Paradise Dive Centre manager, who has been removing these starfish from the reef for months.

Clare cutting the coral from the line

The next step was to cut the colonies from the lines in the nursery, and transport them in mesh bags in the water. We decided to use three different Acropora species to begin with as they are fast growing and like a lot of light and a moderate current. Once at the site, we cleaned the area of algae and attached the coral to ensure protection from extreme water movement. We placed them an equal distance apart to allow quick growth and attached the coral using epoxy, which is a clay like cement. We were aware from previous studies that Miliput (epoxy clay) has been seen to kill the part of the coral it is attaching, so we placed small amounts of putty at the base of the coral.

Once a week, for a total of six weeks, we will measure growth and survivorship of the coral.  We hope to replicate the test at different depths and locations to find a suitable site to start a larger restoration project. However, we will hold off on most of the major transplantation until after the monsoon season.

Attaching the colonies using epoxy

Due to the fragility of coral species, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period.  We expect to adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef. Previous restoration plans have been hindered by external threats, so we are so excited to finally begin this project. We will be producing scientific data along the way which we hope will contribute to current coral reef rehabilitation knowledge.

Although our transplants are working well so far, we will still have many question to answer in the future such as: are the corals on the house reef still reproducing? As these corals survived the last bleaching, will they be more genetically suited to future hostile conditions? The answers to these questions are all just a work in progress and we will have to keep on watching and learning as we replant and monitor these corals over the next few years. As our house reef sustained a lot of mortality and the coral cover is low, we hope that this new project will help to rejuvenate the reef and raise awareness.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.

“Person of the Year”

“Person of the Year” of the Republic of Maldives

Maldives First PADI Course Director Mr.Hussain Rasheed Sendi was named “Person of the Year”  at Maldives Travel Awards People’s Edition by Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tourators (MATATO).

Sendi who is also the Managing Director of Dive Oceanus has been among the active dive industry professionals who have worked hard in training the youth as dive masters and instructors. His contribution to keep the marine industry safe is remarkable while his experience and knowledge to keep the diving industry going ahead by awareness programmes on species and environment have benefited the tourism industry and the nation.

The first event of Maldives Travel Awards People’s Edition has been held on 13th July at Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi in North Male’ Atoll.

Ten Individuals were honored with the title of “Person of the Year” at the special function. MATATO started the Nation’s first travel industry recognition brand in 2012 and succesfully deleivered Maldives Travel Award events in the country and a special edition in Dubai.

In 2017 MATATO has introduced 3 editions of Maldives Travel Awards, recognizing Guesthouses, People’s Edition and the Gala.

 

 

No Limit Diving

dive-instructor

Cast your mind back to that moment when you decided that you wanted to become a PADI Pro. It may have been what got you started diving or it may have been during one of your courses when you had that Eureka moment and decided that teaching divers to dive was for you. No matter when you started you immediately had that thirst for knowledge and wanted to learn  more.

Generally most people start their professional path with the rescue course. Besides learning many important rescue skills you would have also learnt many new Physiological terms that you may not have previous encountered. Things like Arterial Gas embolisms, Sub Cutaneous Emphysemas and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. Your quest for knowledge was unending and you sought out seasoned instructors to feed you with the knowledge you craved.

Then you started your Divemaster course. Again there was so much to learn, both in the classroom and underwater. Theory became even more daunting, physics was a nightmare and would you ever master decompression theory and the Recreational Dive Planner? But you studied hard, practised your diving skills repeatedly and that day finally dawned when you could stand proud as one of the elite, a PADI Divemaster.

Onwards and upwards, next came your \instructor development course. Seven to ten days of early mornings and late nights, cramming in as much knowledge as possible. From knowledge development presentations, Dive Theory, General Standards and procedures you worked late into the night to get it all perfected for the Instructor Exam.

Once again you stood proud, this time as a PADI Instructor. Ready to start teaching people how to dive. And so you did. And you are a good instructor, training divers the way they should be taught. But what have you done to further your knowledge since becoming an instructor?

Its important that as a PADI Instructor that you should continue with your own personal development. The more knowledgeable you are, the better an instructor you will be. Its easy to stay up to date.

Make sure you register for the quarterly training bulletins. Ensure that you download the latest instructor manual as part of your yearly renewal benefit. Read the PADI blogs that appear monthly. Further develop your training. Sign up for speciality courses with a PADI Course director thereby ensuring that you gain from their knowledge. Read diving magazines and publications. Do equipment servicing courses with equipment manufacturers.Make the effort to develop yourself and your students will ultimately be the ones to benefit the most.

Do not stop learning. Do not limit yourself. No limit diving.