Khaled Zaki: underwater photographer and environment ambassador!

PADI member since 1994, Khaled started diving in Sharm El Sheikh – Red Sea, at the end of the 80’s, learning – as he says – by some of the industry’s world-class diving professional at that period of time.

 

After a successful career as PADI Instructor in the Red Sea, Khaled moved to Qatar – where he still lives – in the late 90’s: here he expanded his professional abilities by specializing in underwater photography, film making and rebreather diving, without – of course – quitting his passion for teaching by training thousands of PADI divers (and becoming PADI Master Instructor) !

After winning several prizes as photographer and film maker and having some of his photos selected to promote Qatar worldwide …he has now a mission:

<<Working as a professional UW photographer & film maker gave me the opportunity to dive more often and travel around the world …this made me understand how scuba diving could have a positive impact on the environmental and economic state of different countries >>.

 

Khaled, now involved in several Environmental projects, has a clear strategy:
<<I like to use my knowledge and skills in photography and filming to attract new souls into the underwater world and make them ambassadors of the environment>>

 

That’s exactly what he does: Khaled regularly runs Photography workshops for non-divers, he constantly appears on TV shows/programs and magazines where he talks about diving and the positive impact and huge contribution that a certified diver can provide to the environment.

 

In April 2017 he was invited at the Underwater Life Conference (sponsored by UNESCO) in Salalah – Oman, as a guest of honour to talk about scuba diving and the positive effects of scuba diving on economy and environment.

 

On behalf of PADI, thanks Khaled for your continuous support and contribution to the diving industry’s growth in Qatar !

You can follow Khaled on his new environmentally dedicated Facebook page: Little effort = Big impact

…. Or on his social networks:
Youtube
Instagram
Facebook

Divers Already Make a Difference

When you hear reports about overfishing, global climate change, coral bleaching, shark finning . . . and the list goes on . . . it’s tempting to question whether the situation is hopeless. Will we have coral reefs in 30 years? Will anything be living in the seas in 50 years?

Yes, and yes. The seas face formidable challenges, but they have formidable allies – you, me and more than 25 million other divers around the world among them. It’s not just that you and your fellow divers can make difference, but that you’re already making a difference through personal efforts like recycling, responsibly consuming only sustainable seafood, reducing our carbon footprints and campaigning to protect endangered marine animals. These are vital efforts, none of which are wasted, with millions (and growing) of divers and nondivers doing these – which is great. But, compared to some outdoor groups, divers raise the bar for environmental stewardship and leadership. Beyond the forefront of conservation and preservation, divers are at the forefront of restoration.

Did you know that, working alongside scientists, divers help grow and replace coral? Use 3D printing to create artificial structures where real coral and coral species can live? Remove debris (like plastics!) from almost every dive site? Replant mangroves, sea grasses and other vegetation vital to coral and oceanic health? Use different methods to protect and repopulate turtles, fish and other species? Gather data we need to identify and implement ongoing and new solutionsTeach kids and cultures what we’re learning and that we do make a difference so that saving and restoring the planet continues, expands and strengthens? These are not small local experiments – these are fins-on-the-ground, proven-results initiatives in action.

The truth is, we face a much bigger threat than the issues facing the seas, and it is this: loss of hope. We don’t want our heads in the sand, but let’s not lose perspective amid the doom and gloom. There are thousands of healthy coral reefs and other dive sites around the world. By staying informed, innovative and engaged, we can not only visit these, but preserve them, learn from them and leverage them to rebuild and restore.

I believe in realistic optimism and hopeful future, partly because the data support them, but also because really, we have no choice. With hopelessness comes inaction, resignation and surrender, which solve nothing. Hope anchors our souls to what’s possible, to action, and to doing what needs to be done. This isn’t Pollyanna – no one expects the global environment to be like it was in 1618 – but it can be vibrant, healthy and growing. A healthy Earth with healthy seas can be the ultimate heritage we leave our children and theirs.

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

 

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 – [email protected] and Emma Hewitt – [email protected]

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.

 

 

Tec Diving in the UAE

The East Coast of the UAE is mainly known, among divers, for the beauty of its recreational dives, however, for those certified as PADI TecRec Divers, there are a number of hidden wrecks worth a visit!

Inchcape 1

Normally classified as a recreational dive, this is also a great wreck for honing your Tec skills and/or ‘warming up’ when arriving on holiday or after a period of inactivity. Inchcape 1 is a tug boat that sits at 30m depth, just off the coast of Al Aqah.

During the dive you will be pleased to encounter different sea creatures including, seahorses, frogfish and pufferfish. For Tec purposes, it is recommended not to dive during peak hours on a Friday and Saturday due to the high volume of divers.

Ines

The Ines was anchored 8 miles off Fujairah when an explosion and consequent fire occurred. The ship later sank on 9th August 1999 and now sits upside-down at 72m on a sandy bottom.

The propeller at 54m is the first part of the wreck you encounter during the dive and it is often rich in marine life such as jacks, tuna, rays, guitar sharks, hamour and – if you are lucky -sun fish and whale sharks.

The wreck offers numerous penetration opportunities in the holds, engine room and accommodation decks. The wreck can be extremely silty inside and the use of a line is a must for divers during any penetration.

This site is quite popular among the technical diving community in the UAE, therefore proper planning and coordination with other Tec divers is highly recommended.

Additionally, when planning the dives, consider diving at slack tides as the currents can be very strong. The wreck can be classified as a dive for experienced Tec Divers as it requires the use of mixed gases and decompression stops.

Anita

Approximately 12 miles from Fujairah, the Anita’s wreck sits upright on a sandy seabed at 90m depth with the bridge, at the shallowest part, at 82m .The Anita sank in 1997 after striking a mine. The explosion occurred behind the bow and below the bridge causing the bridge to bend forward at about 30 degrees.

The Anita was an oil field service vessel and, as such, has a very large and flat deck behind the bridge running all the way to the stern. Engine exhausts can be seen on each side of the deck about 2/3m from the bridge.

Penetration with diving equipment is limited to the bridge, no attempt (as far as we are aware) has been made to access the engine room due to the small access hatch and the extreme depth of this dive.

The wreck can be classified as a dive for experienced Tec Divers as it requires the use of mixed gases and decompression stops. On top of that the complexity of the dive can easily increase due to hard to predict currents found in the Arabian Sea below 80 metres.

 

U-Boat 533

The U-533 was sunk on 16th October, 1943 during its second patrol in the Arabian Gulf. The submarine spent approximately 10 days in the gulf and after passing Oman it was destroyed as a result of a surprise attack by a Royal British aircraft which dropped depth-charges on the U-Boat as it crashed-dived. Only two members of the crew succeeded in leaving the boat, and one of these, the First Lieutenant, did not survive.

The U boat lies at 112m at approximately 25 nautical miles from the east coast of Fujairah. Due to its depth, logistics required and possible strong currents, this dive is only recommended to very experienced Tec Divers.

 

On top of the wrecks listed above, there are also some great reefs (between 40 and 50m) which deserve to be explored. For example, Cauliflower Garden:  a sandy bottom surrounded by  large teddy bear Cauliflower corals and populated by marine species such as:  razor fish, sole flat fish, crocodile fish and for those macro lovers, there are white crabs to see.

If you are a PADI TecRec Diver willing to dive these wrecks or you are a recreational diver willing to venture into Tec Diving, get in contact with one of the PADI TecRec Centers in the area. You can find a Dive Shop using the PADI Dive Shop Locator. Enter the location/ click on ‘show search filters’ / select ‘Tec Center’.

 

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.