We added two new frames to the reef system and propogated them with corals fragmented from the original frames. Let Cynthia run through our process with you as the interns also wave Cerf Island and the Seychelles Goodbye.
"Time for us, the European team to say goodbye to the CICP and the Seychelles and put an end to our adventures. But last time, we kept you waiting a bit, as we were just preparing new artificial frames, remember? We know you’re impatient to know more about them, so here it comes!
“But what are those things you keep talking about?!”, you say? They are metal structures that were made specially for the project. Six faces with several horizontal bars, they offer us a lot of space to put our dear coral fragments.
“And you put the corals on the metal like this?! You guys kept on saying that corals were fragile and vulnerable, and you just leave them all alone to survive on metal?” Of course not, we have to protect them from the rust, that’s absolutely right! To do that, we prepared the frames: first, we put some resin – veryyy sticky and chemical – on the whole structure. Before it could dry, we covered it with rinsed sand from the beach, covering it as carefully as possible, not leaving any blank space on the poles. Then, the next day – because it needs to dry perfectly – we put another layer of resin, to protect it all. Another drying session, and the frames are ready to welcome coral fragments!
“And then? How can you stick the coral on there??” For that, remember how amazing corals are: they can grow through fragmentation. So we took advantage of it of course! Using corals of opportunity around the reefs or fragments from our nurseries, we attach them on the frames, simply using cable ties. Super easy isn’t it?
“That sounds great! But why are you actually doing this? So that tourists can have more alive corals to look at?”, you ask? Even if that is true, people love beautiful and colourful corals, right? But it is only a side-benefit. Implementing those frames, we aim on replacing the reef structure. The corals will grow more and more on those, and become a new shelter, a new source of nutrients, and a new playground for the reef fish! It will create new healthy reefs, that were lost after the bleaching events or the tsunami in 2004. Of course, it’s not a magical solution that will solve all problems, because as you know – yes you do, don’t listen to Trump –, climate change is happening, and will trigger more bleaching events… Corals will continue to suffer with these global warming events, but we have to try our best to counteract the consequences of those events and help our beloved corals. With the use of resilient and resistant corals, we are helping to prepare the reefs for these events as we help create the reefs of the future.
So yeah, somehow, we worked on making the world a better place here with the CICP! Which isn’t nothing right? Your turn now… ;)"
Thanks for your enthusiasm and hard work Cynthia! You are very right in passing the baton to our audience. There are so many things one person can do to help our planet. You can lead a beach clean with you community, reduce your meat intake, recycle and up-cycle as much as possible, buy in bulk, say no to disposables, and share your passion for the marine environment with as many as you can. These are of course just a few suggestions but one person's actions is never too small. It takes many snowflakes to build an incredible snowman, but the secret is teamwork!
During the weekends, not only did the interns visit other islands, and the the hikes of Mahe but they decided to start and continue their diving experience with some courses at the Underwater Dive Center Seychelles in Beau Vallon.
Read on as Gabriel and Merijn tell us about their Open water and Advanced open water courses with a group Night Dive!
For me, this internship also meant my first steps, or fin kicks, into scubadiving. Elena and I decided to partner up for our Open Water Diving certificate, as all the other interns already had higher qualifications than that. I sure was glad that I had already completed the theoretical part online, as apparently doing it at the dive centre would have taken me a weekend that I could now spend in the water!
Both me and Elena were happy with our supervisor Michael, he even managed to keep us concentrated during the confined water dives in the swimming pool, as our minds tended to (prematurely) wander off to swimming in the open ocean. Our first diving site was L’islot isle, a tiny island just off the coast of Mahé that you can swim around during one dive. After some initial problems with equalizing the pressure in my ears (I forgot to do it at some point, resulting in high pressure on my ears as I descended a few more metres), the dive actually went quite smoothly and we had some time to look around us and enjoy the corals and other animals at the divesite.
What bothered me a little, was that my first few dives I had the impression that the underwater life between 10 and 18 metres actually didn’t differ at all from the animals I had been able to spot previously whilst snorkeling. Thus I wondered whether I actually found diving worthwhile, considering snorkeling is free. This changed after my last dives to Ray’s point, Grouper point (x2!) and our night dive at the aquarium. The first two mentioned were not so much coral reefs as large granite formations with some corals on them. This resulted in some exciting observations of animals that I had not seen while snorkeling, such as an enormous Bumphead parrotfish, a formation of 5 huge marble rays and two white-tip reef sharks. Emphasizing the difference with snorkeling, Ray’s point and grouper point both had numerous large schools of pelagic fish, as you would expect in the ‘open water’.
Then as a grand finale, we all did a night dive together. For me and Gabriel, it was our first dive, and I expected to be nervous or even anxious the first five minutes in the dark ocean. The opposite was actually true, as soon as you backroll into the water at night, you dive into a very calming atmosphere, things are much less hectic under water than during the day. As you might expect, a different ecological niche is filled during the night by different species of animals, resulting in the sighting of spiny lobsters, nudibranchs, a huge(!) marble ray and… a green turtle! I very much hoped to encounter this creature during my internship, thus I was disappointing when I heard they are usually very shy. Of course the numerous hawksbill turtles I was able to swim with largely made up for this, but being able to lie on the sand next to a (groggy, I think we woke her up…) green turtle was an incredible experience.
For those who don’t know, the hawksbill turtle and green turtle are not that hard to distinguish! First off, as the name implies, the hawksbill turtle has a bird-like bill, almost like a hawk or a parrot. The front of the face of a green turtle is much more rounded. The second step to distinguish between them is to look at the back of the carapace: where this is fairly rounded and smooth with the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle has sharp edges (teeth-like) at the back of the carapace. Green turtles also grow larger than hawksbills.
In my case, I got my Open Water Diving certification three years ago, so I though that Seychelles would be the best place to go for the next level. Thus, I acquired my Advanced Open Water Diving Certification! Michael was my intstructor as well, and thanks to him everything went smoothly. The course consisted of five dives where you can experience five different diving specialitations.
The ones that I especially enjoyed most where wreck diving and deep diving. For the wreck diving we visited two wrecks that were sunk together called “Twin barges”. It was very exciting to dive around (and also inside) the wrecks and enjoying the scenery. I was impressed by the amount of fishes that were living and surrounding the wrecks: Stone fish, Lionfish, morays, large bunches of diamond fishes...It was incredible. Deep dive was also very impressive. It was the first time that I went deeper than 25 meters (28 to be more precise) and I have to admit that your dive perception really changes. Normally, when you are close to 30 meters depth you are not able to think as clear as when you´re dinving in upper zones. I realized it when Michael wanted me to answer a few questions that he had prepared in a waterproof slide for me. I am still wondering how I couldn´t write down my name backwards!
Regarding the rest of the dives, all of them went smoothly. Navigation and Buoyancy dives made me feel more confident underwater. Lastly, I did my fifth speciality in Drift diving. Basically, this dive consisted of gaining hands on marine currents and knowing how to use them while you´re diving, to make the dive safer and more enjoyable. Though it wasn´t as usefull as I expected (the currents were not so strong this day), the dive was still worth it as I saw a white tipped reef shark for the first time in my life! It was swimming around the coral reef and could be observed for 30 seconds. These 30 secs will persist in my mind as one of the best experiences in Seychelles. "
We're happy you guys were able to experience the diving side of Seychelles since we had been so focused on snorkeling and reef ID. Best of luck to your master's and thanks for all your hard work here!
Part Three of the blog saga takes us away from the daily routine of an intern as we dive in to a special visit.
"When you to protect the environment and to save the planet, you get to be a movie star! The work done on Cerf Island brought CNN (yep, the big fancy National TV Channel!) to come here and film us while working and interview Savi (who wasn’t stressed out at all). So they were recording our daily routine (beach cleaning, guided snorkel tours, nurseries maintenance, etc.) during two days. It was a bit strange as we had to repeat the scenes several times to get the correct footage. After this experience, I´ve decided that my career as an actor is done". This 3 part documentary aims at covering climate change effects on the marine environment, active mitigation projects as well as broader impacts. The documentary will be aired on July 7th as part of the program ‘Inside Africa' and will be available for online streaming the following week.
But when the work is completed for the day and the week comes to an end, what do the interns do?
"We usually enjoy hiking or snorkeling with the rest of MCSS volunteers. One of the personal highlights was one of the weekends where we didn’t go to the main island Mahé (it’s nice to get off the small island of Cerf in the weekend and enjoy the ‘busier’ atmosphere of Beau Vallon beach or Victoria!), but we kayaked to Moyenne island, where we got to meet some peculiar locals: Seychelles giant tortoises. It was amazing! They are huge! Also, I didn´t expect that they were so cute. They come to you because they love when people scratch their necks. It was super funny."
The interns continue to regale us about their experience here at CICP...
"Time in the office is also entertaining. We continued working not only on coral growth monitoring, but also on turtle monitoring! Basically, we use a Photo-Identification program (Interactive Individual Identification Pattern) that recognizes the individuals based on some natural marks that they have on their face (the "scutes" or the scales are their identifiers the way we have unique fingerprints). CICP have tried to take mugshots of them during all encounters, so that we are able to log every encounter. We mainly encounter Hawksbill turtles and one of them was so recognizable that one day we could differ it while we´re snorkeling! From the beginning of 2016, about 17 Hawksbill turtles frequent the reefs around Cerf Island with some very photogenic individuals! There’s plenty of other creatures to see here while snorkeling, such as different species rays (Eagle, Feathertail, Whiptail just to name a few ), octopus, and one of the largest moray I have ever seen!"
Don't worry Merijn, we will do our best to encounter a white tip reef shark before your leave!
"Also, we carried out other activities like Coral Reef Mapping. The idea was to create maps for the different snorkel sites to provide the vistitors with an aerial representation of the coral reefs with highlighted points of interest. To achieve this, we had to go snorkeling several times to check the important points (large coral colonies, artificial frames, buoys, etc.) that had to be included on the map. At the end, it was very funny to check the maps we got so far and compare the drawing skills of each of us (I gave Merjin a hand with his map). Now, there’s no way to miss all of the nice spots on the reefs or to get lost ;)
We also carried out transects to assess the benthic communities both living – corals and sponges for example - and not-living – rocks, rubble, algae etc. At the same time, we also assessed the bleaching of the corals of the reefs. It was a very nice activity!"
Though a few colonies exhibited bleaching symptoms from the usual warm months of Mar-Apr-May, it was such a relief after last years disastrous El-Niño event.
...Stay tuned for part 3!