Malaysia research blog April-May 2009

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Phew, expedition number one in the can, done, completed. It’s been a tough few weeks and jam packed with activities, research and outreach programs but it has flown by. It seems just yesterday that 8 sweating, pale but smiling volunteers showed up at my dive centre doorstep.

The expedition started quietly, with volunteers trying to adjust to the climate, get over jetlag and get used to diving twice a day. But they soon found their feet and once diving training was done, we launched into the science training. Volunteers learnt 20 fish families, 85 fish species, 10 groups of benthic invertebrates and 14 species of mobile invertebrates. This knowledge was then used to conduct fish belts, invertebrate belts and point intersect transects. Volunteers mapped 6 survey reefs and identified 2-3 survey sites of each reef. Reefs were chosen based on type of reef; tourist pressure and depth. At least two repetitions were done per sites, so in total 26 fish belts, 52 PITS and 48 invertebrate belts were completed. A great start to the survey program.

During the course of the first six week expedition, volunteers used underwater cameras and ID skills developed to document and identify 24 species of fish not previously recorded on Pulau Tioman. This is an 8% increase to fish species inventories on Pulau Tioman and increases the known biodiversity, and therefore ecological importance of the island.

Volunteers also had the opportunity to star on the small screen as we made a ‘Crown of Thorns Pick-up’ video demonstrating best practice when carrying out COT clean-ups. The video was shown at the opening ceremony of Tioman Reef Clean-up 2009, organised by the Marine Department of Pahang on the 16th-18th of May. Check out the video yourself on You Tube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPboe-5D3OA

That weekend, volunteers picked up 95 Crown of Thorns and a total of 1600 Crown of Thorns were collected over the clean-up weekend by all the participants. Several more clean-up dives were conducted during the expedition and we managed to reduce the starfish-from-hell’s population by 302!

We also had two beach clean-ups, in partnership with two local schools on the island in Kampong Mukut and Tekek. School programs designed and conducted by students from the University of Kebangsaan Malaysia and aided by Blue Ventures Malaysia volunteers began with a presentation about rubbish and litter, after which we headed down to the beach for a clean-up then returned to school. The 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle were taught and finally, bottle rockets, made from the plastic bottles collected on the clean-up, were then launched in the school yard. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids of the volunteers! The program was attended by 38 students in Tekek and 18 in Mukut and 29 sacks of rubbish were collected from the two clean-ups.

The first six weeks of Blue Ventures Malaysia, or Expedition primo as they liked to call themselves, has been one of the most challenging, entertaining, stressful, hectic and enjoyable six weeks of my life. There have been highs such as identifying many species not yet recorded on Pulau Tioman, dancing on the deck, first BVM T-shirts and learning the intricacies of the sand oven as well as lows such as boat engines breakdowns, leeches, reverse squeeze and eggs again for breakfast. But, overall, I feel we can call the beginning of BV Malaysia a success! And that’s not me blowing my own trumpet, it would not have been such a success if it wasn’t for the hard work, dedication (and often understanding!) of volunteers, students and Tioman Dive Centre staff. I’ll miss you all Thom, Jamie, Ed, Jack, Anika, Emma and Martin. Come back soon, but you can leave your sand sculptures behind…

Blue Ventures Malaysia; expedition 1 volunteers