Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Interns Arrive

The last few weeks have been a bit hectic as September and the start of the whale shark season draws near..... The interns for the programme have all now arrived and are completing the first week of orientation and training. So before we get into the nitty-gritty its probably best to introduce this team of eight eager participants who in alphabetical order are:

Alex Taylor is a New Zealander although she is currently travelling the world and temporarily lives in the UK. With a background in Marine Science she was captivated by whale sharks after two failed attempts to see them at the Bay Islands, Honduras so she has big expectations of the Seychelles programme….

Anna Westling from Sweden: Anna is doing her MSc dissertation project on the effects of environmental parameters on the occurrence and abundance of whale sharks. As such she is going to be spending a lot of time running multilevel plankton tows and doing environmental monitoring with a conductivity-temperature-depth probe…. So she’s also going to be keeping the other interns pretty busy! Anna arrived a week early so she could get used to the equipment she is going to be using and has been giving the new plankton net a thorough talking to (see photo on the right)!

Carl Royle is from Manchester in the UK; he was a volunteer previously with the Global Vision International (GVI) project in Seychelles and had heard about the MCSS programme during a presentation given during his term there. With an MSc in Ecology Carl is hoping to broaden his experience further on this programme.

Francesca Compton is from Oxfordshire in the UK and like Carl was a GVI volunteer in Seychelles. Her background is in marine and freshwater biology and during a course at UMBSM in Millport she helped with the Basking Shark project (which David Rowat also assists) and so has certain affinities with whale sharks and Seychelles.

James Tutty is also from the UK and is another ex GVI volunteer; like Carl and Francesca he had seen the MCSS whale shark presentation and assisted in the plankton tows that GVI do for the programme but hadn’t had the chance to actually see a whale shark, so this was the logical next step!

Richard Berry and Sarah Colley are also from the UK; Richard had recently completed his MSc in Environmental Science while Sarah works as a project coordinator with young adults. They were taking a year off to travel and having seen whale sharks in Belize they had got the bug and applied for this programme while hiking through Japan’s National Parks!

Tomoko Morimoto is from Japan but has worked as a whale shark guide at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia for four years and so is no stranger to whale sharks. Having seen visiting researchers like Brad Norman and Mark Meekan at work on their visits to Ningaloo she wanted to learn more about the sharks and get involved more directly in whale shark research, so Seychelles seemed like a good place to achieve her wishes.

Last but certainly not least, completing the monitoring team for the first part of this season is our micro-light pilot David Daniel. David hails from South Africa where he instructs microlight flying in both weight-shift (trike) and three axis (fixed wing) configurations with his own flying school in Natal. A very experienced pilot, David will be with us until the end of September when Johan Anderson rejoins us after his recovery from a hang-gliding accident.

So that’s the full team, they are all working away like mad this week but we will get them to start posting to the blog as they get settled in… all we need now are the sharks!

Meanwhile Luke seems as equally bemused by the new plankton net as Anna was!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meet The Team

As the 2008 whale shark season gears up for the first of the activities its probably a good time to introduce the team behind the activities several of whom will be posting or featuring in the blog over the coming weeks.

Dr. David Rowat:

‘Doctor David’ is still getting used to his new title, but he is the Whale Shark Monitoring Programme leader and Chairman of the MCSS. Having lived in the Seychelles for over 23 years, running the country’s largest diving centre with his partner Glynis, David was one of the founders of MCSS and established the Whale Shark Monitoring Programme in 1996 and has been running it ever since. Besides being a PADI Master Instructor, David is a well published scientist and collaborates with many internationally renowned researchers; he has recently completed his PhD on the whale sharks here in Seychelles and continues to develop and implement innovative research to unravel the mysteries surrounding these giant sharks.

Elke Talma:

Elke is the MCSS Research Officer and she manages the running of the various MCSS programmes. Since 2004 her main focus has been the MCSS Turtle Monitoring Programme involving an intensive beach survey regime as well as a satellite tagging programme. Elke has also worked on the Whale Shark Programme and helped develop the data management routines.

Katie Brooks:

Katie is the Whale Shark Programme Intern Co-ordinator and one of the two Team Leaders. This is Katie’s third whale shark season working with MCSS in the Seychelles and she has also worked a whale shark season on the programme in Exmouth, Western Australia at Ningaloo Reef. Katie was originally introduced to Seychelles through Global Vision International and has also worked here with a marine biology team surveying hard corals and marine ecosystems on Mahe, Silhouette and Aride. Working with David, she has been responsible for developing the whale shark internship training programme and the standardised protocols for data collection. Katie is a PADI divemaster, a licensed powerboat operator and tour leader and has worked and dived around the world in Palau, Australia, Seychelles, the UK and Thailand.

Luke Riley:

Luke is the second Whale Shark Programme Team Leader and has previously lived and worked in the Seychelles for over a year with Global Vision International as a volunteer co-ordinator. Luke was also involved in the 2007 MCSS Whale Shark Programme and on the 2008 Coral Bay whale shark programme, off Ningaloo, Western Australia. Luke is a PADI divemaster as well as a licensed powerboat operator and a yachtmaster. Luke has also worked, sailed and dived in the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as well as in Western Australia, Egypt and the Seychelles.

In the coming weeks the team of seven interns and Anna Westling, an MSc. student researcher, will be arriving and we will introduce them and their activities during the two week training and work-up phase as the season gets under way.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Welcome to the Seychelles Whale Shark Blog!

Welcome to our blog about all the latest happenings in the world of whale shark monitoring in Seychelles.

The Marine Conservations Society Seychelles have been monitoring whale sharks here since a two week pilot project in November 1996. Since then the programme has grown steadily both in terms of scope and size and is now one of the most comprehensive whale shark research programmes globally.

This blog will be updated by members of the whale shark monitoring team who are in Seychelles for a 10 week internship programme under the guidance of whale shark researcher David Rowat and team leaders Katie Brooks and Luke Riley.

From its inception in 1996, the programme has relied upon the enthusiasm and support of the public in assisting with the gathering of data and this has been the primary building block on which the programme is based. However, in order to maximise the value of the data collected, the monitoring systems require strict standardisation and while the public is directly involved in the in-water encounter activities, the majority of the data are collected by the interns (sometimes called eco-volunteers) who are trained in the necessary data capture activities and data entry to ensure compliance with standards.

The seasons starts at the beginning of September and we hope you join us for the regular updates!