Ben and Jess Graves – Bira Project Co-Managers

As we approach the end of the year, we are really starting to notice changes in the season. After five months of no rain, storms are starting to arrive in Bira, bringing with them warmer water and slightly more challenging conditions. The Divemaster aspirants arriving over the next couple of months will be lucky to have experience diving in more than just the perfect, calm conditions that we’ve had earlier in the year. We always love a challenge here in Bira.

Here are some of those interns that we’ve been happy to congratulate and send out into the world since last time: James Binns (UK), Emily Turner (USA), Laura Prospero (Switzerland), Sinea O’Neill (Australia) and Alice Bellec (France). Thank you all for your commitment and energy during your programmes. 

With 22 ecology courses completed, recent and current students are busy continuing to collect data that will be used as evidence in our aim of securing a marine protected area in Bira. We’ve welcomed several visitors from the Raja Ampat project, and all were stunned to discover this little-known gem of dramatic underwater landscapes and exciting wildlife spotting, enthusiastically supporting what we already knew: Bira is just as fantastic as its more famous cousins!

Evidencing this are some of the sightings on our BRUVs and during surveys: spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), and the most amazingly dense schools of small fish being hunted at high speed by bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus) and rainbow runners (Elagatis bipinnulata). We barely have time to add one species to our surveys before a crowd of the next come along. 

We were lucky to be visited by YouTuber Kristian Hanson, who made Bira a focus of one of his films, including talking to our Marine Biologist Qinthan about IOP. You can watch the video here. Qinthan, you’re famous!

Blue Planet has been working on some updates to the resort too. There is a lovely new kitchen area and breakfast bar – a huge and unique privilege that we’re all grateful to have access to. An additional bonus being that we’ve temporarily thwarted the monkeys who had a habit of helping themselves to bananas and mangos from the old fridges. They’ve also begun installing solar panels so we still have electricity in case power cuts happen. 

We recently returned to Mangrove Luppang to plant 60 more propagules. We’re delighted to report that almost all the previous planting has been successful and they are growing strongly. Qinthan has also led the preparations for securing our coral nursery ready for storm season. Many have been transferred to new, more stable structures, and anchored into place. 

A very successful few months! Now looking forward to the first Bira IOP Christmas. We made a tree from recycled bottles, have a big family dinner planned and two days off! We’ll probably use them to treat ourselves to a fun dive!

Qinthan Aulia – Marine Biologist

Science is endless exploration!

Summer months are coming to an end, and with it the weather is changing and we welcome the west monsoon season. With this change in season comes the change in temperature underwater, with temperatures rising. But it does not bother us, we never stop diving! Being able to conduct research through the different seasons is one of the values behind our ocean observatory program. The interns are incredibly passionate about progressing through the divemaster to the research and conservation skills and applying them to protect the ocean.

Roving Survey Dives

In the last three months, we have completed 27 roving surveys at 9 out of 11 dive sites being in three different study areas: Bira West, Liukang and Kambing. We could not survey Bira East due to the East Monsoon, but will be focusing our research efforts on this area with the change of season over the next few months. Roving surveys always keep the team busy, with sightings of different fish species and megafauna. We had several noteworthy sightings such as Jenkin’s Whipray (Pateobatis jenkinsii), Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus) and Round Blotched Ribbontail Ray (Taeniurops meyeni). All species commonly recorded on surveys have continue to be noted such as Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Tuna, Snappers, Groupers, etc.

Benthic Survey

We have conducted 13 benthic surveys over Bira West, Liukang and Kambing and across varying benthic types. Besides contributing to our ongoing ecological monitoring initiative, benthic surveys are always a favourite amoung our interns. Surveyors need to maintain the perfect distance between the frame and the benthic contour while maintaining precise bouyancy in challenging conditions. But once you nail it, you will master the skills of monitoring benthic habitats while diving. A torch is applied to support the light when the deep blue cannot show the true color of the corals. Occasionally, special guests appear in our surveys, such as the Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). 

Baited Remote Underwater Video

12 BRUVs deployed since the last quarterly update! Wow, that sounds like a lot, huh? Like most of our underwater research, teamwork is crucial to successfully deploy and assess BRUV’s. Everyone on the team has a different role in the deployment and reviewing the video results.  From these three months, we had a busy BRUV in Kambing with a lot of schooling fish such as Bluefin Trevally and Bumphead Parrotfish. We also had sightings of Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus), Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), and mysterious sharks (between Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) or Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). Different species of fish and megafauna on the BRUV usually represent the unique diversity of different localities and dive sites.

Marine Debris and Plastics

As one of South Sulawesi’s tourist highlights, Bira always gets busy with tourists every weekend and holidays. To keep the environment healthy and beauty in Bira, the IOP Bira project conducts 2 beach and community clean ups per month. We have completed 7 beach clean-ups in the last quarter with a total of 319 kg of rubbish including plastic bottles, fragments, glass and shoes as the most common rubbish types collected. From all of the beach clean-ups we have conducted, more than 30 kg of rubbish could be collected within an hour in each beach clean-up. As Bira has not set up a proper MRF (Material Recovery Facility) to process the rubbish, we are started producing our own eco-brick to process our daily plastic uses. “A small step for a bigger impact,” said Lovensia Albasit.

Coral Reef Restoration

Although Bira is located in a remote region in Sulawesi it is still vulnerable to coral destruction, especially as it is not legally protected marine protected area. Anthropogenic factors are assumed to be the biggest cause of coral damage observed on surveys. We continue to conduct coral restoration with our partners at Ocean Gardener. 67 coral nubbins were planted on the existing table nursery, using the rope-twisted method. A new method was also applied to prevent broken corals from the pending west monsoon season. We have moved the corals from the tables to the spiders, to give them a better opportunity to grow on the structures and well-anchored on the ground. To date we have 26 coral spiders and 2 tables in our coral restoration area, and we were proud of the progress we made. Our corals look healthy, started to grow (encrust), and some coral reef fish have been utilizing the structures. With continued monitoring, we believe it will continue to grow and help restore the damages areas of reef.

Mangrove Restoration

Once every two months, the Bira team heads out for an exciting (and messy) land activity in collaboration with local mangrove group, Mangrove Luppung. Within the last three months we ventured out for two mangrove planting events where we  planted 145 new mangroves. We reached an 87.24% survival rate from the previous planting! We will continue to collect propagules and expand our mangrove nursery at Blue Planet to help support restoration in Southern Sulawesi.

Bira has so much potential to be developed, especially within sustainable tourism and conservation practices. Since few people are already aware of conservation in the region, it is also one of the powers that the Bira community has to protect their home and to support our initatives. With some scientific efforts, we aim to establish protection in Bira, apart from reaching the goals in 2030 to gain 30% of the Marine Protected Area in Indonesia by the government. Stay tune to our next action!

Want to join the team?

We are always seeking hard working and enthusiastic ocean lovers to join our award-winning and innovative divemaster and research diver internship. Contact us and apply online today!

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