Intern Michaela reaps the fruits of putting-off writing her post for the blog..... At least she's been busy, very busy!
Well, it probably wasn’t very clever to delay my blog entry for such a long time, because the last two weeks have been pretty eventful and now I don’t even know how/where to start!
First, as you can see by reading my collegues posts, things were not looking good for this years season. The weather conditions wouldn’t improve, our pilots were unable to fly, and even on days when they could get up, no whale sharks were spotted. Mornings at the dive-centre turned into nightmares. Dealing with all the dissapointed clients and explaining why we had to cancel their trip again, definitely NO FUN!
All the while the MCSS team tried their best to keep us busy and entertained. Apart from our leisure time activities, such as snorkeling trips, beach days, or (my favorite one) our great night-hike, they gave us the opportunity to participate in their other research projects.
Tiny endemic Sooglossid frog found on our night-hike
Our night-hike also revealed the local tree frog!
Savi, our teamleader started to take us with him on his boat. He is currently creating a map of St. Anne Marine National Park. Using an underwater-camera which is attached to a pole, he has to take pictures of the sea ground and match them to the corresponding Differential GPS points (150 on the day I went with him). With an total park area of 14,43 km2 including the six islands Moyenne, Long Island, Round Island, Ste. Anne Island, Île au Cerf and Île Cachée this means there’s quite a lot of work to do!
At the moment there’s no other available information about the Marine National Park than simple satellite pictures, so establishing a proper sea bottom map will hopefully contribute to a better management and protection through the authorities.
The RTK D-GPS base station set up for mapping
Alvin (driving) and Savi (mapping) in the Marine Park
Another project in collaboration with the government (the Ministry of Environment) are our new beach-cleaning days.
In order to improve the sea turtles nesting habitat, you will now find us wandering along Mahe’s beaches, removing all kinds of anthropogenic and natural debris, as well as trying to reduce the amount of coconut trees or the introduced woody vitex. Digging bare-handed in the sand, swinging the machete, both under the burning sun as well as in pouring rain, trust me, that’s probably the hardest full-body work-out you can imagine.
Jo and Vanessa doing a great job in removing coco-nut seedlings from the beach
Jo and Vanessa sheltering from the rain between beaches
Anyway, all our sore muscles and bruises were forgotten the next day, when we got a call from the turtle patrol, telling us that they already found a Hawksbill nest on one of our newly cleaned beaches.
Furthermore, we made ourselves usefull by installing more acoustic receivers (for Pete’s marine mammal research) or dropping more BRUVS, which my collegues have already mentioned.
We have also managed to remove another 43 Crown of Thorns individuals from various locations in Beau Vallon Bay and we are looking forward to at least doubeling that number on the dive scheduled for later today.
Though we were always busy, as you my imagine the whale sharks were always in the back or maybe front of our minds! We went out with the boat and took plankton samples, trying to find at least an explanation why they didn’t show up any more. But the samples we got were quite rich in plankton so more than enough available food, which still gave us reason to be positive and not abandon all hope. Dr. David on the other hand was probably more rational. After 46 days without any encounters, he decided to stop this years season if there were no more sightings by the end of the week. Sunday was meant to be judgement day!
We interns had already started to make our peace with not seeing any more whale sharks., when on Saturday, the incredible happened. We finally got the long-awaited phone call from our microlight pilots: They had spotted a whale shark!!!!!
I don’t know who was more excited about this great news; the clients that would finally get the chance to see a whale shark, or ourselves at last being able to fulfil the job we’ve been trained for and which brought us to the Seychelles. I was working in the Shop so it was my turn to get all the equipement and the clients ready. It was all a mad rush and by the time we were eventually on the boat all of us were praying, that the pilots will be able to find us the shark again!
Luckily they did, and even better, they found us a second one.
In the end, this trip turned out to be the most amazing trip during the whole season. Both sharks (2 new male individuals by the way) were extremely friendly and in fact really interested in us snorkelling around them, the boat and all the bubbles that we made.
At last some whale sharks again!
They stayed with us for almost 50 minutes, absolutely chilled and relaxed, making the encounter unforgettable for all of us. At 4pm our boat finally returned to the dive centre, on board, 15 fully satisfied people smiling from ear to ear.
After this trip and as there’s been more sightings during the last days, we are now again full of expectations that the whale sharks found their way back. We hope to be able to continue the season and our research till the end of October.
Let’s keep finger’s crossed ....