Friday, October 24, 2014

TIP: Don't delay in writing your blog!!

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 .... 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

End of month one.... Megan's post!

MCSS Intern Megan gives us an insight into what the team have been up to during the current whale shark drought...

We’ve been here for 1 month now and have managed to settle in to island living, get some weekly rituals of Wednesday night stock up on food & goodies from the bazaar and Friday night out to let our hair down after the working week, meet a few locals and even perhaps pickup on some Seychellois slang (or maybe a twang:-))

As far as work goes however, to be fortunate in the Whale Shark season, we need a combination of natural elements to come together. These are – clear skies for flying the micro-light, calm sea state for boats & visibility and plankton to lure the Whale Sharks in for food. Sadly this has not been in our favour lately, due to multiple days of intermittent torrential rain, the fresh water and ocean current have pushed the plankton elsewhere. The water is now a beautiful colour and clear, which sounds delightful for snorkeling and those not aware of the reason we are here, must think we are a crazy bunch when they overhear us begging for that stinging plankton to return, as we long to be brave again not wearing the tourist stinger suits and emerge from the water with red marks and welts just for the mere experience of getting up close with these majestic creatures 
One of our whale sharks from our first week of monitoring

….. But, all is not lost since we are in paradise after all, there are many things we can do to stay occupied. We were given Sunday afternoon off, but it is a very quiet day with shops closed, so the choices are either sleep and recover from the night before or get out amongst the great outdoors. A few of us decided to try a new hike trail not far from home, that apparently has fresh water springs up the top. I say apparently, because it seems we got lost.  It is also evident that it is not a good idea to let the dogs choose the path direction we follow, whilst presuming that it is all part of the same loop, so what harm could it do …? (famous last words) … we walked up and down jungle terrain for 3-4 hours, it was beautiful, scenic, heart pumping, enduring and it seems we did find some fresh water to swim in, it was just the wrong one. 
Deep in a palm forest, somewhere on Mahe!
As the sun was setting, I was quietly (or maybe not so) getting nervous, hoping to see something that looked familiar, but it wasn’t to be and suddenly we saw car headlights and a road, aahhh saviour I thought. We weren’t sure which road it was and some locals laughed when we told them where we had to return to, but at least we were in civilisation and not lost in the jungle after darkness when all I had was an iPhone, camera and bottle of water (not exactly survival skills 101 kit), however the phone was useful for Googlemaps to get our bearings and a phone call to Jo and Pete asking to be picked up and rescued, just as the rain stated again (THANKS to you both and sorry for interrupting your Sunday night relaxing dinner!)

Monday, the start of a new working week. Vanessa went on Turtle Patrol and after last week’s effort where I joined them for the wettest patrol day on record, she had the sun shining for her and a new MCSS employee Paul....

Me and the team on a very wet turtle patrol....

...meanwhile, the rest of us set off to change over the last acoustic receiver in the marine park and complete 3 BRUVS (Baited Recording Underwater Video System) drops after the success we had where a lemon shark was sighted in Friday’s video.
 Three BRUVs awaiting our deployment
and the last of the VR2 receiver stations

Tuesday was a similar day, where a reduced team headed out for more BRUVS drops under Freya’s guidance to see what we could find. They need to remain in the water uninterrupted for a minimum of 1hr, which meant we got free time for a snorkel and it was a lovely way to spend a working afternoon.
A screen shot of a young lemon shark from one of the BRUVs

Wednesday was my day in the dive shop, dealing with the bookings for the trip that day. There’s always an anxious wait for the 11am call to learn if Whale Sharks have been sighted and if we are heading out. Unfortunately this day, even though the weather was good enough for the pilot to circumnavigate the island fully, there weren’t any sharks spotted, so we had to cancel the trip. 

Later that afternoon Jo and Pete took a few of us and the 3 dogs for a sunset hike on a new track, trying to show us how it should be done and where to go. 
Me and Sid (and the back of Boris's head) at the top of the climb

The track had quite difficult inclines, where the path seems to have washed away and we needed to grab onto tree roots and branches to help hoist ourselves up. We were rewarded with a view of St Anne’s marine park and the Eden Island side of Mahe, before arriving back at the car in darkness … but this time we were wise enough to take head torches with us :o)
Thursday was a house day of data entry and no trip in the afternoon, so to break the cabin fever mentality at the end of the day, I got a lift to the main beach in Beau Vallon for a walk along the 3km beach and back home. When I arrived at the house the others were playing cards, so we settled in, played game after game, began pouring drinks and before we knew it, it was 2am and time for bed! Lucky for me Friday was my day off and I was able to have a slow start to the day. 
After Vanessa returned from her Turtle patrol where she saw 2 new nest tracks, we went for a quick snorkel close to home from Sunset beach, to try and find her the local resident Turtle we have seen a few times, but he must have been elsewhere that day. A tourist was telling us to stay until 6pm, because each day a Reef Shark comes right to the shore for feeding and so do Rays. Some evenings we watch an Eagle Ray jump out of the water from the balcony at home as the sun is setting, but he said they do that here as well, so we will have to return at the right time to have a look one day. There was no time to do so now, as we had to go and prepare to head out for Regatta weekend, where Beau Vallon becomes abuzz with market, food & drinks stalls, boat races, beach football/volleyball competitions and a band on stage.
Saturday was a slow working day at the house and no trip in the afternoon, so we headed down to the south end of the island for a change and had a snorkel and play on the beach, before heading home to get ready to do it all again, because Saturday was the main Regatta night, where we think the whole of Mahe island, may have come to party. 
Another hard day at the beach...
Not often, but sometimes, we are grateful for quiet days and waking on Sunday morning hearing rain drops, we knew it was going to be one of those, where we don’t need to feel guilty for wanting a lazy quiet day and can set up the projector and mattresses in the lounge room for Sunday night movie night …
Freya and Sid organising the afternoons activities....

Tomorrow is a new week, where it begins with me in the shop on Monday and a day off on Tuesday so I have booked in for my first fun dives of the trip. I have extended my visa to stay the whole 3 month duration allowed and can’t believe how quickly the weeks are passing, with 5 already complete and 7 still to come. Now we just need the Whale Sharks to return so we can get back in the water with them again, or take time to do some island hopping and explore and enjoy the archipelago oasis of Seychelles.

....... Megan