Note: the following post is the latest in a series chronicling the ongoing expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands. Read more here.
Yesterday afternoon, we picked up the rest of our team from the Conservancy’s Misool field station and headed southwest to start our surveys at the edge of the Misool marine protected area. There is nothing quite like waking up to a perfectly calm, clear ocean with rugged, forest-clad limestone mountains all around you. Breathtaking!
But we are here to work (!), so we divided our team of ten into two groups. The first team consists of experts in evaluating general coral reef health, and the second team specializes in assessments of coral reef resilience (stay tuned for our next blog, which will provide a full explanation of reef resilience).
Our reef health team consists of six people: three from the Conservancy and three volunteers from the local Misool community. From the Conservancy, Purwanto is our resident fish expert, Muhajir is our coral expert and I’m here to check if there is any coral bleaching or disease. Our community volunteers Ali, Andreas and Naftali are already experienced divers and are doing one of the most important (but often underrated) monitoring tasks: swimming down to the ocean floor to lay out the transect tapes that the rest of us follow while diving.
The resilience team is led by Sangeeta, who has done many of these assessments in Raja Ampat and other parts of the world. She is joined by the Conservancy’s Rizya, an Indonesian resilience expert; Ubun, a second fish expert from our partner organisation Wildlife Conservation Society; and Wahab, our fourth community volunteer.
As our speedboats headed out early to our survey sites from the Putiraja, our live-aboard diving vessel, a group of 15 bottlenose dolphins welcomed us to Misool!
Between the two groups, we surveyed six sites today and we were very pleased to see that the reefs here are in excellent condition. One of the islands we surveyed has been proposed for protection by the local communities because it’s supposed to be an important place for sea turtles. We were excited to confirm this: both teams spotted turtles. As an added bonus, this island has flourishing reefs, with some big fish like groupers and napoleon wrasse among the local residents that will be protected along with the turtles.
But we can’t be complacent — as beautiful and remote as this part of Misool is, there are still signs of overfishing and past reef-bombing in some isolated areas. Our surveys will help inform managers where to focus their efforts in protection and patrolling and provide information on just how quickly these areas are recovering.
(First image: a mountainous island in Misool; credit: TNC. Second image: the entire expedition team; credit: TNC.)