Penida Island Mola Project (PIMP)
Nusa Penida is a tourist hotspot and attracts snorkelers and divers from all around the world. They come to see the vibrant coral reefs surrounding the islands and the diversity of megafauna that inhabit the waters above. Mola molas (Mola Alexandrini) are one of the notably popular marine mega fauna species seasonally found off the coast of Nusa Penida, with interactions and sightings mostly occurring from July through to October.
These months also coincide with high season for tourism. The island is surrounded by deep-sea trenches on either side and during winter, currents bring cold water through up-welling to shallower depths. Attracted to the cold nutrient rich waters, it is thought the Mola follow the up-wellings to depths accessible to divers and explains why interactions may be more common during this time.
There is a high pressure from divers and their interactions with these fish and their environment. Species of the genus Mola are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable with their population trend decreasing. With little known scientifically about their habits it is clear further research is needed to learn more about these marine giants. This information can be used by divers and local governments to ensure correct etiquette is used when interacting with these animals and appropriate action is taken to protect the environment in which they are found in.
Opportunistic ID pictures are taken during regular survey dives using a go-pro and laser mount (for size reference). Early morning dives are scheduled to specifically target common Mola sighting areas such as known cleaning stations to collect further ID shots. With each ID photo variables including dive site, depth of sighting, temperature, current, and surface observations are recorded.
These profile photos are run through I3s Spot software to identify new individuals and confirm any re-sightings around Nusa Penida. This data is then submitted to our online database and shared with our friends at the Coral Triangle Centre and marine park officials.
A secondary ID database will be run as a citizen science project using Mola profile shots from local dive centers and visiting divers to further determine how many new vs. re-sighted individuals are in the area. This may help determine whether the Mola population in Nusa Penida has resident individuals or if they are rather migrating through this region.
It is currently assumed all Mola sightings around Nusa Penida are of the species Mola Alexndrini, which can be distinguished from other species of Mola by comparing certain specific characteristics. Combining the photo identification project with CTC’s acoustic tagging project will allow us to have a thorough understanding on the population size and dynamics of our resident mola mola’s, specifically looking at repetitive sightings and consistency.
In addition to our mola identification and tagging project we run 2 separate perception surveys one targeting tourists and the other targeting the local community in Nusa Penida. From this survey we will be able to have a better understanding on local and foreign perception and general knowledge of mola’s to help us prepare information packages and outreach initiatives for future conservation efforts.