Coral Lines Findings 2018

Our 2018 Coral Line update brings together different success stories, in the form of expanding the nursery, creating a workshop, and most importantly seeing a steady survival rate of our coral fragments.

IMPROVEMENTS

After four years, the Coral Lines Project was in need of expansion. Therefore, in May 2018 we added six new metal frames alongside the existing nursery.  This will allow us to continue the project into the future without the limitation of space.  We have phased out the use of plastic cable ties and now attach the lines to the frames by tying the end of the rope to each frame. We also up-graded the project by retagging all 204 lines to ensure identification is up to date. During this process, we removed all coral lines with no living colonies. Now we will have a much clearer view of the project into the future.

In March 2018, the Marine Biology team conducted training on how to implement and manage a coral line project. We invited interested researchers from resorts and local islands to Gili Lankanfushi to participate in a Coral Line Workshop.  The full day tutorial taught others to create their own project using a step-by-step process.  Some of the Workshop attendees have now begun their own coral rehabilitation projects on local islands.From November 2017, we began a coral recruitment project which will measure the coral larvae settlement and survival. This project is ongoing today with results expected in three months.Finally, in February 2018, we moved our Marine Biology blog and Coral Lines blog onto the Gili Lankanfushi Resort official website so it is more easily accessed by our guests and interested readers. As of June 2017, this blog is now published by PADI and reaches five million readers.

SURVIVAL

We have planted 204 lines in the nursery over a four year period and after a recent survey of re-tagging and removing dead coral lines we have found that 158 lines still remain in the nursery. Out of the 9928 colonies planted, 6713 remain alive.

 

 

There has been a steady increase in colonies added to the project with an overall survival rate of 68% which remains the same as our findings in May 2017.  The rate of survival is less than pre-bleaching in 2016.  However, it far exceeds the survival rate of coral on the house reef which was found to be between 5% – 10% after a recent coral cover survey.

GROWTH RATE

Every three months after planting a line, we measure the widest point of the coral fragments to determine growth rate and note the fragments survival level. We measure each line for a period of one year.The species found to be most resilient post bleaching were A.aspera, A. pulchra and A.muricata. Although P.lichen does not show a huge increase in growth it has a high survival rate. Whereas, A. digitifera has a particularly high mortality rate (90%) and we have consequently not planted any more of these.

GROWTH FORMS

Species of coral can more simply be grouped into ‘growth forms’. We are mostly using bushy and digitate species as these are the growth forms that have survived best on the lines.We have an abundance of Porites lichen on the house reef which we have just started using on our lines when it is broken off in storms.  This accounts for a 2% increase in submassive form 4% in 2017 to 6% in 2018.

TRANSPLANTATION

In June 2017, we transplanted 15 fragments of A.humilis onto our house reef.  It was our biggest transplantation post bleaching.  The line survived for around two months but bleached due to predation despite our attempts to remove all coral predators.Due to the fragility of coral, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period.  We adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef. So far in 2018, the ocean surface temperature has not been stable enough to transplant our lines on the reef but we will continue monitoring the situation.

FUTURE PLANS

Many of our lines are so large and heavy after four years of growth that we have had to hang the lines over the frames in order to keep them off the floor.  In these cases, we would like the lines to hang from frame to frame and therefore we plan to attach flotation devices at intervals along the line to reduce the total overall weight.

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

UK Coastal Diving

As a UK diver, have you been diving in the sea as much as you have inland dive sites?  As a UK dive instructor, do you regularly teach courses in the sea, rather than just inland dive sites?

The answers to these questions often show that we are not getting out to the coastal sites as much as we should.  Instead we are often restricting ourselves to the very good, but limiting inland dive sites.  Our dive centre survey conducted in 2017 showed 73% of UK based dive centres are primarily using inland sites for their training courses.

None of our divers initially started diving because they wanted to only dive in a quarry!  This is an amazing experience and provides great learning platforms, but it is not the ultimate diving dream!  We all want to have the chance to see amazing marine life, incredible ship wrecks steeped in history and be immersed in a body of water so vast we cannot even fathom it! 

We must ensure we are meeting these desires of our students and divers, otherwise they may go elsewhere, or stop diving altogether and find another activity.

The immense UK coastline, offers an array of various dive sites suitable for all levels.  With many dive centres located along the coast lines there are plenty of spots to fill tanks, get local information and charter boats.

In addition to the fun and new knowledge your students will gain, it is also great for us as instructors to get into new and varied diving conditions as much as possible.  This heightens our skills and keeps up our motivation and interest in our job/hobby.

In addition to this we are providing ourselves brilliant opportunities to teach other courses, for which we may be restricted at an inland site, for example Boat Diver Speciality, Deep Diver Speciality and Drift Diver Speciality.

The Comedian

For more information about running trips to or teaching your PADI courses at UK coastal sites, please contact your PADI Regional Managers – Matt Clements – matt.clements@padi.com and Emma Hewitt – emma.hewitt@padi.com

From Doomed Voyager to Victorious Wreckage

The story beneath one of the most famous dive sites in the Maldives

Part Two

The skeletal beauty

“Victory sank on the captain’s second voyage to the Maldives,” said Saeed. “On his first journey, the captain miscalculated the distance to Male and ended up all the way in Vaavu Atoll. Then on his second journey…” he trailed off with a wry laugh.

Though Victory met a watery death on the unfortunate captain’s second trip, the expensive goods she was carrying were not beyond saving. A team was put together which, led by Hassan “Lakudiboa” Manik, began the operation to salvage the wreck’s cargo.

“The cars were the first things we salvaged,” he had said in an interview to veteran diver Adam Ashraf. The recovered goods were later auctioned off.

A diver during an excursion to the wreck of MV Victory. PHOTO – MOHAMED SEENEEN

Amongst those who got to see the salvage process was Hussain “Sendi” Rasheed, a renowned name in the Maldivian diving industry.

“My first dive was at the Victory wreck,” revealed Sendi, who had regularly visited the site between 1981 and 2003.

Over the course of 20 years, Sendi was able to observe MV Victory’s metamorphosis from lifeless skeleton to a vibrant ecosystem pulsing with life. Lying upright and parallel to Hulhule’s reef, she naturally became a breeding ground for corals; and the multitude of marine life she attracted, along with great visibility due to the currents in that area, established Victory as one of the hottest dive spots in the Maldives.

The wreck of MV Victory off the coast of Hulhule. PHOTO – MOHAMED SEENEEN

“This is one of the most beautiful wrecks, and one of the biggest. It’s around 110 metres in length,” stated Sendi.

However, even 37 metres underwater, Victory did not lie undisturbed for long. Bits and pieces began to disappear. Portholes, doors, the anchor and steering wheel fell prey to scavengers until all that remained by the year 2000 was “a metal skeleton”.

The culprits behind the robberies included local and tourist divers – a foreigner had personally shown Sendi one of Victory’s portholes, wrapped up and ready to be shipped to her home country as a souvenir.

“Everything that could be physically removed was gone … It’s like breaking into a museum,” said Sendi, expressing frustration over the lack of established laws and regulations to ensure the protection of shipwrecks.

Though the rich coral life and abundant fish surrounding MV Victory remained ever picturesque, Sendi noted with remorse that her true beauty remained lost to those viewing her after the new millenium.

Onslaught of damages

Victory, and by extension the diving sector, suffered more blows years later when the site was closed down in March 2016 for the development of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge between Male and Hulhule. The bridge is a mere 500 metres away from Victory’s resting place.

The first setback was the abrupt cessation of revenue. Wreck diving, though a rather obscure activity for most civilians, holds a significant popularity for divers who travel to the Maldives from around the world. As such, MV Victory was responsible for contributing to the attraction of hoards of visitors daily from within the central atoll dive circuit.

According to Sendi, local dive guides typically escorted a minimum of eight dive boats, with around 15 divers on each, to Victory every day.
“That’s an income of at least USD 3  million from Victory alone, every year,” said Sendi.

Illustration depicting the value of Dive Sites around Central Male region. IMAGE_ RAE MUNAVVAR_THE EDITION

The second blow to MV Victory did not take place till later that year when Dive Instructor Adam Ashraf, having extensively researched the wreckage for years, approached the government regarding protecting the wreck during the construction and development of the bridge. He led a team of divers to set up four buoys to mark Victory’s location so that bridge workers would steer clear of the wreck site.

Damages caused to Victory Wreck

However, later it was discovered that Victory had sustained damages of magnitudes that could only be caused by dropping anchors of vessels, which were deployed around the bridge, onto the wreck. With the housing ministry’s permission, a team of divers inspected and documented the damages: two wings of Victory’s wheelhouse had been destroyed, while several cabins on one side, including the captain’s, were crushed.

Subsequently, Ashraf proceeded to meet with the boat captains working around the bridge, intending to expand their awareness on MV Victory’s importance. However, her proximity to the bridge meant other adverse effects continued; the ongoing construction work disrupted the ocean floor, encasing the wreck in the suspended sediments, thus suffocating the corals and chasing marine life away from their homes.

Heaving a sigh, Sendi recalled his last dive to Victory, accompanied by Ashraf: “There’s no more life now.”

“Shipwrecks are underwater museums”

Though Sendi and Ashraf remained optimistic that coral and other marine life would return to Victory once the bridge has been completed, both admitted that all the damages might not be repairable – damages that could have been prevented had there been proper protocols.

“We need to regulate diving, or establish standards and regulations for wreck diving,” said Sendi.

The divers stressed that it was imperative for authorities to protect shipwrecks for the sake of heritage and tourism promotion. Though all sunken vessels become state property under Maldivian law, they claimed that proper steps have not been taken to preserve them.

Inside the wreck of MV Victory off the coast of Hulhule. PHOTO – ADAM ASHRAF

“[Victory] belongs to the museum. It should be an asset of the museum,” Sendi declared, stating that all shipwrecks in Maldivian waters should fall under the ownership of the National Museum.

Describing them as underwater heritage sites, Sendi said that under the museum’s protection, shipwrecks could be properly maintained and conserved for future generations.

He added that preserved shipwreck sites could possibly generate sustainable revenue towards the maintenance of these sites by providing additional income serving the needs of the hospitality sector.

The wreck of MV Victory off the coast of Hulhule. PHOTO – MOHAMED SEENEEN

“Wreck sites could be sold as facilities for wreck diving training,” said Sendi. “… The museum could also charge fees for divers to visit wrecks.”

It is the divers’ long-enduring wish to see a day when the shipwrecks, scattered across the atolls, would be properly protected and conserved. Listing some of his favourite sites such as the wrecks at Fesdhoo, Halaveli, and Macchafushi, Sendi added, “Every individual wreck has a story” – such as the tanker “British Loyalty”, which was torpedoed by the German navy in 1944 and later scuttled by British forces off the coast of Addu Atoll’s Hithadhoo in 1946; a unique relic of the Second World War that is now another top dive site in the Maldives.

“Underwater archaeology, museums, history – shipwrecks are symbols that represent all of these.”

PADI’s guest blogger  Fathmath Shaahunaz  introduces herself:

Fathmath Shaahunaz is a long-established shinnichi currently writing as senior Journalist at The Edition. A self described ‘english nerd’, she also harbours a deep appreciation for ocean and all things magical.  The Edition brings readers the most comprehensive news coverage throughout the Maldives delivering the latest in breaking news and updates covering defining moments in politics, business, sports, travel, entertainment and lifestyle across the country and the region. 

www.edition.mv

Reef Restoration at Gili Lankanfushi – “Mahuge Veshi”

Home to more than a quarter of all marine species, coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. But these reefs are now under threat.

Of the many problems facing coral reefs, rising sea temperatures due to global warming are perhaps the most serious. In 1998, a complex climate event in the Pacific Ocean known as ‘El Niño’ pushed global temperatures to new highs and killed 16% of coral worldwide; this was declared the first major global coral bleaching event. The El Niño of 2010 triggered the second global event, and in October 2015 The US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a third global bleaching event – so far this has been the longest event recorded, impacting some reefs in successive years.

Here in the Maldives, we witnessed the effects of global warming first hand when the bleaching event caught up with us in 2016 – affecting about 60% of corals.

In view of the environmental and economic value of coral reefs there is considerable interest in preventing further damage as well as rehabilitating and/or restoring coral reefs subjected to damage. A widely adopted method for reef restoration is the construction of Artificial Reefs (AR’s). The main purpose of these structures is to attract fish by providing them with habitats that are as favourable as those that are present in the original environment.

Gili Lankanfushi is surrounded by a beautiful and diverse coral reef, but we weren’t exempt from the bleaching of 2016, and some of the varied habitat once provided by corals has disappeared. To aid the reef we recently constructed a small AR adjacent the damaged coral. In this instance, the term ‘artificial reef’ is somewhat of a misnomer as its purpose is to rehabilitate an already existing reef; so a better way to think of our project is the building of ‘fish homes’. To maintain the natural aesthetic we are accustomed to here at Gili, the AR was constructed using natural rock from around the island. After settling on a location the rocks were assembled in a pyramid shape and care was taken to leave several openings as previous studies found that reef blocks which had a higher number of holes also possessed the greatest fish species richness and abundance. We have named our structure Mahuge Veshi (Pronunciation: ma-hoo-geh veh-she), meaning fish environment.

AR’s tend to develop in fairly predictable stages: When an ocean current encounters a vertical structure it creates a plankton-rich upwelling. This upwelling provides a reliable feeding spot for small fish, which draw in pelagic predators such as trevallies and sharks. Next come creatures seeking protection – hole and crevice dwellers such as grouper, snapper, squirrelfish, eels, and triggerfish. Over months and years the reef structure becomes encrusted with algae, tunicates, hard and soft corals, and sponges which add to the structural integrity of the AR. There is an expectation that ecologically the AR will resemble the local natural environment over the long term as plant and animal assemblages associate with the structure.

We know from previous studies that AR’s can increase the total aggregate of fish and invertebrate species, and in some cases the abundance of corals have exceeded that of adjacent natural reef areas.

The use of AR’s to increase fish populations goes back at least 400 years, but there have been suggestions that they don’t actually increase the total numbers of fish, and act simply as attractors; moving fish from one place to another. However, we know from well documented studies between animals and their environment that when a habitat range is extended their numbers tend go up. Imagine an island populated with birds: their population is at its limit, until one day another island appears within flying distance. What we would expect to see is a sequence of events:

  1. Arrival – Some of the birds would migrate from the old island to the new one.
  2. Population increase – With more nesting space available the populations of each island would increase.
  3. Persistence – Assuming a steady supply of resources (food, nests, etc.) the birds on each island would thrive.

AR’s can be thought of like underwater islands, and for each one built we essentially extend the geographical range of the animals that live within reef structures, and so we would expect to see the same sequence of events mentioned above.

So far Mahuge Veshi has been visited by large schools of surgeonfish, butterflyfish, and on last inspection a large moray eel had made itself at home within the structure. The Mahuge Veshi project is a simple, environmentally friendly and self-sustaining venture. All being well, the structure will help grow the natural area and support help marine life while our corals recover.

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.

 

 

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!