by Katie Yewdall. 2009 saw the first year of Blue Ventures Malaysia (BVM). The first volunteers showed up on the 17th of April to be greeted by an excited BVM team. They were quickly set to work with their open water and advanced open water courses, quickly followed by fish and benthic ID training. As well as their science training, BVM volunteers began work on the first of the Responsible Diving series of short videos. Their subject was how to conduct a responsible Crown of Thorns starfish clean-up. The video was later shown during the briefing of the Tioman annual COT clean-up, arranged by the Marine Parks of Malaysia. As soon as they were trained up, Fish belts, PITs and Invertebrate belts were quickly collected. Photos of the fish taken by keen volunteers began to reveal species that had yet to be recorded on Tioman and the fish species list began to grow. Four Malaysian students from the University of Kebansaan Malaysia, who would stay with us for three months, then joined the team and outreach programs began with a school session on recycling in both Tekek and Mukut schools.
After six weeks, the first group were waved off and expedition number two moved in. A smaller group this time, soon got stuck in to their science training and video making. This time, the video was focusing on responsible snorkelling, as this group of tourists can be particularly damaging to the reefs and many tourists to Tioman Island do not dive, but snorkel. BVM volunteers also joined Reef Check Malaysia for a school program supported by the corporate social responsibility team of a large business in Kuala Lumpur. Socio-economic monitoring was carried out by the UKM students to investigate the knowledge and perceptions of coral reef conservation of local people and tourists. Expedition number two also began the first BVM campaign, to raise awareness to visiting and local boats to use the mooring buoys instead of dropping anchor.
Arriving in July, expedition three was the biggest group yet. They took up the anchor campaign, developed various amusing slogans and made t-shirts to distribute. They also began a wider ‘responsible tourism’ campaign and made leaflets to distribute to tourists explaining the dos and don’ts of responsible tourism. Their video focused on how to be a responsible diver. After science training was completed, the group quickly collected the target number of PITs, fish belts and IBs. The visit to Mukut had volunteers playing games with the kids to practice their English.
Expedition number four arrived in August. The group of three brought a sudden calm after the frenzied activity of the previous group of twelve. After completing their Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses, the group began their science training as usual. Their video educated divers about how to achieve perfect buoyancy, very important for conserving air, avoiding damage to the reef and looking like a pro! They continued to collect Crown of Thorns and a huge net was released from the reef saving further damage to the precious coral there. They left leaving Tioman Dive Centre’s wooden boat looking much shinier than when they arrived!
The final group of the year, expedition five arrived in October. As three of them had previously been with Blue Ventures in Madagascar, science training was quicker than usual and surveys were started almost instantly. This group also began identifying fish species on a site-specific basis to allow a diversity index to be calculated per reef. The final video of the year was drawing divers’ attention to the less glamorous but highly important cleaners of the reef and encouraging divers to leave the marine life undisturbed.
Over the year, 567 Crown of Thorns were collected from reefs, 53 bags of rubbish were picked up from beaches, 7 school education sessions were run, large fishing nets were picked up from Bahara and Sepoy, 3 green turtles were seen laying nests, 435 turtle hatchlings were released, 6 pilot whales, 8 common dolphins, countless Green and Hawksbill turtles, numerous napoleon wrasse and several bumphead parrotfish were spotted, 29 new species of fish were added to existing fish species lists and 113 fish belts, 220 Point Intersect Transects and 220 Invertebrate Belts were completed by BVM volunteers.
But, it wasn’t all work for the group of budding conservationists. Taking part in Fasting (Ramadan), going to local weddings, drinking from water melons, learning to fire poi, sampling Malaysian food, wearing silly hats, painting boats, jungle trekking, cursing the expedition manager for the jungle trekking, jetty jumping, boat roof diving and visiting the island clinic made the experience even more rich and unforgettable. Many memories were made as well as photos and videos! All the videos in the responsible diver series, plus a few more, can be found on Youtube and the Tioman Dive Centre Facebook page. Photos can be found on the Tioman Dive Centre Facebook group page and on the Blue Ventures Malaysia website.
The final volunteers of 2009 left on the 12th of November, after a challenging, exciting and ultimately successful first year. Next year, BVM plans to continue this monitoring as well as introducing new research and outreach programs, work more closely with national and international universities and the Marine Parks of Malaysia and continue to work on the Green Fins program. The BVM team would like to thank all volunteers, staff and partners for all the help and support over the year, you all left your unique mark on the project. Don’t forget Tioman, it won’t forget you! Now, the team looks forwards to a new year, new volunteers and the further development of Blue Ventures Malaysia!