During the 20th Scientific Cruise in Maldives (SCM) “Paolo Colantoni”, organized by the International School for Scientific Diving (ISSD) and Albatros Top Boat in the second year of collaboration with Save the Beach Maldives, from 7 – 14 May 2017, we visited 13 dive sites in total. The Velassaru caves, Bathalaa Maaga outer reef and inner reef, Maavaru Faru outer reef and an inner reef, Dhigurah outer and inner, Faanamudugau outer reef, Kubuladhi, Fish Head, Villivaru Thila, Maaya Thila, Guraidhoo corner and Maadhoo Falhu were the sites selected for this expedition.
Our group used the ReefCheck protocols to monitor the reefs. Some reefs were also surveyed last year. Most of the reefs were significantly affected by the warmer temperature of last year El Nino. Most of the corals on the top reef between 6 to 7 meters in the inner reefs seem most affected. Though many of corals were dead, coral recruits had already started growing on the dead corals. The recovery of the reefs starts with coral recruitments. The outer reefs are recovering and seem to be in better condition than the inner reefs. Some of the coral recruits observed during the last expedition have grown bigger. Which gives us new hope for our future reefs.
As expected many fishes varieties were observed. Fish counts were low on some of the reefs. Some reefs had higher counts but none of the reefs had an extreme abundance of fish. Among the indicator fishes studied were Snappers, Parrot fish, Butterflyfishes, Groupers, and sweetlips. Further studies must be done as to why some of these reefs had such low counts of fish. The best part of the survey dives were the encounters with sharks, Turtles, Eels and especially the gentle whale shark, which was an unforgettable experience.
This expedition was a special one. During the invertebrate count, a live Triton was found. Personally, it was my first time seeing a live Triton while diving, or surveying. It’s commonly found now in souvenir shops in the Maldives. But today it is illegal to remove a triton shell from the ocean. These magnificent creatures are fierce predators of the Crown of Thorns (COTs) which in recent times we have been having increasing outbreaks of. We are at a time when the Tritons are needed more thane ever, with some reefs still being infested with huge numbers of COTs. These COTs now have to be removed by local divers. Among the indicator sea cucumbers, only 1 species of cucumbers were to be found. Lots of giant clams were found, some were bigger than 40cm and some banded shrimps was found inside the crevices hiding from predators.
This Scientific Expedition 2017 was very much an educational and yet fun experience. I have learned how to lead a research dive team, arranging dives and gathering the data as a team together and logging the data. In the team were Giorgio Vianson, Virginia Picchio, Manuel Doughnut Donati, Carole Marie, Carolina Di Napoli and Irene Pancrazi. Angelica Miglioli and Irene Pancrazi were inspirational, some of the dives were extra hard and much effort was given to carry out the research. They also made me a stronger researcher and taught me many new insights. My thanks goes to this team for making the experience a wonderful one. But most thanks go to Monica Motefacone for organizing the whole research expedition, teaching me many aspects and other methods of reef research, and for teaching researchers to do meaningful analysis and how to improve our work.
Many thanks are also due to the Albatross Top Boat, Captain Ali and all the crew member for being such a special family and to Dodi for giving us the most fantastic opportunities to learn.
By Hassan Ahmed (Beybe)