Jessica and Benjamin Graves – Bira Proejct Co-Managers

In the Northern Hemisphere at least, spring has almost sprung and likewise it feels so in Bira. After our South-West facing bay was battered by the Westerly monsoon with high winds, rain, thunder and lightning, as we move into March so the wind starts to blow from the east, Cape Bira shelters us from the worst of the weather and the seas are calming once more. Although the Blue Planet House Reef and the island of Liu Kang were at most times inaccessible so the change in season opened new dive sites to explore, such as the plunging reefs of Kasuso and Marumasa, the sheer walls of Balla Balla and Phinisi Point and the perfect reefs of Boat Yard and Pelabuhan.

We offer our congratulations to the following interns on achieving the true milestone of becoming Divemasters and so dive professionals: Johanna Alonso (France), Pierre-Louis Lostis (France), Stephen Orford (UK), Cecilie Lefèvre Kejser (Denmark), Carl William Engström (Sweden), Zoe Hiscock (UK) and Elly Clay (UK). Our congratulations and gratitude also go out to Natasja Jansen (Netherlands) and Sabina Ulf Christensen (Denmark) for completing their Research Diver programme.

From tiny acorns, so mighty oaks grow and yet another shoot of hope has sprouted in our aspiration to create a Marine Protected Area here in Bira. Chief scientist Pascal Sebastian presented the findings of a year’s hard work by our staff and interns to the local authorities and gained their consent and blessing to begin the next step on the path to achieving this goal. Another conservation success story, which marine biologist Qinthan will explain further, is the official journal publication of data from our surveys of the diverse marine life around Bira. Many congratulations to all who contributed, interns and staff alike.

Pulau Kambing, continues to be a source of delight and excitement. Although visits have been limited by the weather, this has only increased the intrigue and one group were treated to a rare and magnificent sight, an oceanic manta ray passing by. The sharks, as ever have been plentiful, and as the main current has been striking the dive-site Coral Garden so the large pelagic predators have been feasting and putting on the most spectacular show – sometimes overwhelming the BRUV’s footage with uncountable shoals, so it is lucky we have completed 41 ecology courses, the researcher-aspirants will have their work cut out.

We continue our hard work at Mangrove Luppung, planting 100 propagules, sometimes in water up to our knees and beyond, and we are delighted with the progress of those previously planted, they are growing strong and very few have perished.

Blue Planet Dive Resort’s expansion continues apace, with work beginning on two new dormitory spaces and the completion of renovation on their second dive-boat the Going Merry (continuing the One Piece-inspired boat-naming) and the commencement of the Oro Jackson’s annual makeover and spruce-up. Soon owners Sylvain and Robin will be the commodores of a fleet of dive-boats sailing the seven seas of Bira. Get them some very big hats.

Soon Ramadan will be upon us and Qinthan and the local staff and crew will commence their fasting, we send them solidarity, love and strength and wish them, from the bottom of our hearts, Ramadan Mubarak.

New Publication Announcement

An initial fish and megafauna biomass assessment from Tanjung Bira, a remote unprotected marine area

Qinthan Aulia – Program Coordinator and Marine Biologist

Over the past three months, IOP Bira has been fostering excitement among the team and the local communities in Bira, reigniting connections through scientific and research activities. The interns have showcased their dedication to marine conservation, always eager to expand their knowledge, contributing to a range of research endeavors and sharing their passion for the sea. This enthusiasm has made their internship more enjoyable, leading to vibrant discussions and the emergence of fresh ideas. We protect what we love, yet how can we love something we haven’t fully explored? Bridging this gap of the unknown is the essence of our program.

Over the past three months, IOP Bira has been fostering excitement among the team and the local communities in Bira, reigniting connections through scientific and research activities. The interns have showcased their dedication to marine conservation, always eager to expand their knowledge, contributing to a range of research endeavors and sharing their passion for the sea. This enthusiasm has made their internship more enjoyable, leading to vibrant discussions and the emergence of fresh ideas. We protect what we love, yet how can we love something we haven’t fully explored? Bridging this gap of the unknown is the essence of our program.

Roving Surveys

Our roving surveys were conducted monthly, completing 36 surveys across 12 dive sites spanning Bira East, Bira West, Liukang, and Kambing. Assessing fish and megafauna together during these surveys provided robust foundational data to monitor their diversity and populations. Consequently, this data will be instrumental in establishing marine protection areas in Bira. Through workshops on species identification and fish-focused dives, we aim to introduce participants to the diverse array of species in Bira’s waters. Their passion and curiosity fuel their constant presence with cameras in hand, capturing images and videos for their personal collections and contributions to citizen science.

Getting down to practicalities, prioritizing diverse fish families, key species, species of interest, and megafauna during surveys keeps us busy beneath the waves. As a survey team, each person brings a unique perspective, essential for discovering new insights. During these surveys, we’ve had special sightings, including Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolmometopon muricatum), Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus ocellatus), Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus), Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Sea Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), various fish species like Jacks/Trevallies, Tuna/Mackerel, Sweetlips, Rabbitfish, Barracuda, Snappers, Groupers, and more.

Benthic Surveys

Fourteen benthic surveys were conducted across Bira East, Bira West, Liukang, and Kambing, covering various dive sites. These surveys offer valuable opportunities, especially for interns, to hone their buoyancy skills while conducting research using the pipe structure (frame) and camera at different depths. Maintaining an optimal distance between the frame and benthic elements (like coral reefs, sponges, etc.) while following the dive site’s contour is crucial. However, benthic surveys can pose challenges such as complex underwater terrains (steep slopes or walls), poor visibility, surges, and currents. With practice, interns gradually adapt to these challenges. A torch is often used to enhance visibility in deeper areas where natural light may not accurately depict coral colors. Additionally, special marine visitors, such as the Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and Broadclub Cuttlefish, occasionally make appearances during our surveys.

BRUV’s

During the three-month research period, 7 BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video) were deployed, showcasing the Bira team’s hard work paying off. BRUVs use video recording to explore fish and megafauna beyond divers’ reach and without causing disturbance. Each month, we ideally deployed BRUVs 4 times at various dive sites, although challenges arose due to unpredictable weather conditions, particularly during El Nino, leading to rapid shifts from sunny to windy and stormy weather. Consequently, we had to maximize deployments at available dive sites. Despite this, the Bira team finds BRUV deployments essential for keeping busy underwater while advancing scientific knowledge.

Successful BRUV deployment relies heavily on teamwork, with each team member holding different responsibilities. Post-dive water quality tests were conducted to monitor seawater’s physical parameters. At the end of the day, staff and interns would eagerly review the deployed BRUV videos for any interesting findings. Throughout these months, we observed busy schools of snappers and spotted a Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) on the BRUV footage. The diversity of fish and megafauna captured on the BRUVs highlighted the unique characteristics of different dive site topographies, making BRUV deployments a fascinating and rewarding endeavor for discovering marine life.

Marine Debris

Part of ongoing conservation efforts involves cleaning up and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. We conduct regular beach clean-ups twice a month, right in front of our headquarters. During these clean-ups, we’ve collected over 30 kg of trash per hour on average. Challenges arise during storms, which can deposit large amounts of debris on our otherwise pristine beach. Additionally, Bira sees an influx of tourists and celebrations every weekend, necessitating extra clean-up efforts. In total, we’ve conducted 5 beach clean-ups, collecting 175 kg of trash, including common items like plastic bottles, fragments, glass, and shoes.

Due to the lack of a proper Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for waste processing, Bira has only basic rubbish sorting facilities. To address this, we’ve started an eco-brick initiative to recycle our daily plastic use. Our clean-up efforts extend beyond land; we also participate in underwater clean-ups through Dive Against Debris. These dives occur twice a month as part of shore dive activities. Across 6 actions, we’ve removed 15.29 kg of trash, primarily plastic, from the seabed.

Croal and Mangrove Restoration

As part of our ongoing conservation efforts, IOP Bira regularly engages in restoration activities, focusing on coral and mangrove planting. Our coral planting initiative began with a three-day course in collaboration with Ocean Gardener, leading to the training of 9 graduate interns as coral divers within three months. The course covered coral ecology and identification workshops, providing interns with a foundational understanding of coral reefs. Combining classroom learning with practical dives, our interns showed great enthusiasm for expanding their knowledge of coral, culminating in coral restoration activities.

During the course, we planted 168 coral fragments (nubbins), with 144 corals placed in Dego Dego and 24 corals in our house reef. Our collaboration with Gaia One and the local community of Dego Dego aims to restore the coral reef ecosystem in Bira. In addition to coral planting, we also engage in mangrove restoration activities in the Mangrove Luppung Conservation area. Planting mangroves is a coastal action that enhances the mangrove population. It’s an enjoyable activity that our interns particularly enjoy, as it involves playing with mud. In total, we planted 100 mangrove propagules as part of our mangrove restoration efforts.

Education and Outreach

We pursued our impact and spread wisely to the people with a regular visit to the Tanjung Bira Kindergarten, with hopes of building up love for the environment (especially marine) and awareness of pollution and climate change. We tried to educate the children by introducing them to the marine ecosystem, such as showing the video of marine biodiversity and mangrove ecosystem, colouring, painting and crafting the whale shark from recycled materials! The kids and teachers always remind us of a good connection between nature and humans, and the local community is always one of the crucial keys to supporting conservation actions.

Last but not least, we are proud to present our first Bira paper that has just been published! The endless research in Bira and with proof from our paper, drive us to want to explore more in science here. Collaboration of potential research is starting for the next year, with different approaches to study area, hopefully, we can achieve higher steps of preparing this marine area to get protection. We introduced our current research to the government and university in Makassar, and as a result, they were pleased to work together with us to establish a protection area in Bira. Although destructive fishing activity still happening, very few people of Bira realise they need to protect their homes as they also support our positive activities here. We believe our good actions will be paid off one day to allow a better life on earth in the future. Stay tuned 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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