Jeffri Heong – Bira Project Manager
6 months has passed since our project relaunched in February 2022 and the Bira project has progressed along smoothly and efficiently, especially with the welcoming of 2 new staff members. Thank you to our partners Blue Planet Dive Resort for their continued support!
With a new addition of Qinthan (Lead research assistant and program coordinator) and Elise (Program coordinator and marine biologist), the Bira program currently has 3 full staff members.
We welcomed 8 interns to our project from May to June 2022 which include Amy, Dana, Lucy, Imogen, Caitlin, Celine, William and Toby who came to us from all over the world. Some of them being from the UK, USA and Austria. With new interns arriving, we also had to say goodbye to our completing interns Alice Bourelli, Jessica Ruhlman, Francesca Waters, David Riach, Benjamin Graves and Jess Williams.
So far, all our interns from the start of the year have chosen SSI for their divemaster programs. Alongside their SSI divemaster courses, we have certified 15 interns with their SSI ecological specialties and coral gardener certifications throughout the year, with 7 being certified between May and June 2022. We are expecting to welcome 15 new interns until the end of the year who will be experiencing different conditions underwater in comparison to our first 6 months as the season has started to change.
The waters in Bira have started dropping in temperature as we have an average water temperature of 27 degree celcius from the 28 degrees we had before. Bira is also experiencing more rain and wind during the daytimes which has made some dive sites impossible to access, primarily those on the east side of Bira due to the large swells and waves.
With the changing of the season, we are also experiencing larger variations in marine life seen and recorded . Interesting sightings during these periods have came in the forms of whale sharks, zebra shark, grey reef sharks, bumphead mola and a slew of blacktip reef sharks which have started to return to shark point.
Along with our marine conservation initiatives, we have also started our mangrove nursery for the purpose of planting juvenile propagules in the village of Tanah Beru to combat the eroding land mass due to the cutting of these precious ecosystem for shrimp and seaweed farming. This project is currently being taken care of by Elise due to her practical experience of mangroves from Penida and Fiji.
We have also started our journey to the schools to influence the next generation of Indonesians in the hopes of gathering interests and curiosity towards the marine life and untapped treasure that exists underwater. We are currently initiating weekly visits to the school on Fridays to start with English lessons before progressing towards gradually exposing them to the underwater marine life issues. This project is currently led by our lead research assistant, Qinthan.
To continue forwards, the Bira project is going to be engaging more with the local community and we believe this is just the start of our journey here. With the local engagement in the mangrove forest and local schools initiated, we are also seeking to add the preservation of turtle nursery sites around Bira through engagement with the local fishermen in the coming month.
Elise Dixon and Qinthan Aulia
Data and Science
During May and June, the Bira Research Team has conducted 19 Roving Survey Dives, deployed 12 BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video), analysed & recorded data for 9 BRUVs, undertaken 5 surveys of our semi-permanent CoralWatch site, and ensured water quality analysis is completed for every BRUV deployment and coral maintenance session.
Since the start of May, the Research Team has recorded over 720 sightings of megafauna; noting time, date, water temperature, water movement, depth, and size & behaviour of the individual, these have been entered into our Unite Bira dataset. Bira is a busy place for megafauna (especially when diving at Pulau Kambing), meaning our interns do an amazing job at being quick with their slates to ensure all the necessary data is taken; thanks for your hard work, guys!
Notable sightings in the last couple of months include frequent sightings of White Tip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Black Tip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari), Marbled Stingray (Taeniura meyeni), Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata); less frequent sightings of Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), Tahitian Stingray (Himantura fai), Mangrove Whipray (Himantura granulata); and rare sightings of Cowtail Stingray (Pastinachus sephen), Spinetail Devil Ray (Mobula japanica), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) AND a Bumphead Mola (Mola alexandrini)!!
Coral Restoration Project
Our coral restoration project continues to grow under the instructive methods provided by our partner Ocean Gardener. Our original nursery, using rope propagation technique, is now at capacity; with a total of 345 nubbins, at only at 2% mortality rate. We have increased maintenance efforts of the nursery to a weekly task; keeping the ropes clean of competitive turf algae, carrying out regular censuses to monitor the growth rate within the nursery, and identify any mortality. This project is being overseen by staff member/coral expert Qinthan Azzhara. I am also pleased to share that Qinthan and her team of interns have begun exploring different propagation techniques and structures, now that the rope nursery is at capacity. Our plan for the future is to determine the most successful restoration method for Blue Planet House Reef through monitoring the growth within our separate restoration sites, eventually using our existing nursery as a source for fragmentation and future propagation as the project continues to grow.
Ocean Gardener is an NGO founded in 2016, and dedicated to coral reef education and restoration. We proudly partner with them across all our locations to provide up to date and accurate information when developing and managing our coral nurseries.
Throughout May and June, the team conducted 6 Dives Against Debris. With Tanjung Bira being a fishing community located outside of a Marine Protected Area, it is unsurprising that the most common items found have been fishing nets, fishing line and rope along with various plastic items. A total of 7kg of marine debris was removed from the reef recorded during these dedicated dives. Additionally, our interns are passionate conservationists and remove marine debris whenever they can safely do so; occurring on almost every dive.
Outside of the water, we competed 4 beach clean-ups in May and June. Throughout May, we removed a total of 255kg of marine debris from the beach. In June we collected a MASSIVE total of 810kg from the beach. Bringing the total trash removed from the beach to 1.065 metric tons over the 2 months! The majority of marine debris collected during beach cleans comprised of plastics, glass and footwear.
During the month of April, we began visiting Luppung Mangrove Forest just 30 minutes from our base in Bira, which is predominately made up of the Rhizophora family. In May we established a mangrove restoration project, beginning with the construction of two mangrove nurseries at Blue Planet Dive Resort.
Following the success of the nursery in Penida, we have used the same methodology to plant 253 mangrove propagules. Propagules were collected by our team and local caretakers of the forest; who are very excited about our restoration efforts. In the future we plan to plant them at the forest to help the local community restore parts of the forest which were previously destroyed.
With the assistance of our interns, we have individually supported each propagule with a bamboo stake on the hope that this helps the growth and stability of individuals and the structure as a whole. Since then, we are pleased to report that the rate at which the propagules are developing leaves has increased. The mangrove restoration project here in Bira is still in its grassroots stage, and I look forward to providing updates on the progress of our mangrove babies in the future!
Mangrove Luppung Manyampa
Throughout May and June, we welcomed 9 brilliant ocean lovers to Tanjung Bira, who travelled to us from near and far. Dana and Caitlin joined us from the United States, Alice and Celine from France, Lucy from Austria, and Amy, Imogen, Toby & William from the United Kingdom. Everyone has been dedicated enthusiasts for both the divemaster training and conservation aspects of Indo Ocean Project, being extremely valuable assets to our Research Team both in and out of the water as part of the Bira Project. Thanks so much to every one of you for your hard work and passion!