Jessica and Benjamin Graves – Bira Proejct Co-Managers

We are about to enter high season here so this feels like a good time to pause and reflect on the last few months before all the excitement and busyness begins. Bira is lovely and green as we move out of wet season and, thanks to the efforts of owner Robin, the Blue Planet gardens are looking fantastic.  

The last few months have been full of intern initiative, of which we are incredibly proud. After stormy season winds littered the beach with rubbish, team spirit kicked in and ‘Trash and Taco Tuesdays’ launched, where a weekly beach clean was rewarded with a family dinner. This sparked a project by Tobi and Nathalie who used this as a fundraiser, donating money to pay for community outreach projects to introduce locals to the sea. So far four DSDs, and three Open Water courses have been funded with more to come. Particularly lovely to see was a young female DSD student who came out of the water completely in awe of everything she saw and inspired to follow in the footsteps of our intrepid marine biologist, Qinthan.

The beach cleans themselves were a huge success, culminating in a huge community clean up of a public beach, with over 650kg collected in one morning, not only by IOP interns and Blue Planet staff, but local conservation groups, influencers, local government and passers-by. It was truly heartwarming seeing everyone working together for a common purpose.

We were pleased to welcome IOP founder Lauren, and film-maker Pedro to Bira in May. They were on a mission to make a mini film about IOP in Bira and from some quick glimpses at Pedro’s work, it’s going to really highlight what a hidden treasure Bira is. Thank you for coming both – it was great to see you!

In the water it is getting colder, with current returning. This has meant more sharks and rays are appearing on our surveys, BRUVs and citizen science. On the house reef, there is a returning cohort of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus ocellatus); while at Kambing, the grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) are back and we had an amazing visit from a group of ten sicklefin devil rays (Mobula tarapacana). After some maintenance, both of the Blue Planet boats are now back in the water, ready to take us out to find all these sights.

All of this is great for our science, and gives our new research assistant, Kholil, plenty to look into. We’re so happy to have him as part of the team and we know he’ll be a huge asset and help to Qinthan. Together, we have taught 42 ecology workshops over the last three months with Kholil already adding his experience to this educational offering. 

The other invaluable members of our science team are, of course, our fantastic interns, who always bring so much energy and dedication to their time here. We offer our hearty congratulations to our recent graduates for completing their Divemaster training and being generally wonderful: Petra Simpson (New Zealand), Shreyash Chaugule (India), Brooklyn Bolstad (Canada), Muhammad Kholil (Indonesia), Laura Roest (Netherlands), Marian Hawrylo (Germany), Nathalie Groefke (Germany), Tobias Seidel (Germany), Jan Pauline (Germany), Jack Manship (UK), Jaspar Lütke (Germany), Maylin Blunier (Switzerland) and Anthea Fleming (Canada/Switzerland).

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

Bira has thrived with the current science we are undertaking and is even more eager about the next study. The interns have demonstrated their commitment to marine conservation efforts by always being eager to learn and participate in various research activities. Bira Project has made incredible achievements in conservation through research, research and collaboration, making our efforts even more beneficial to the ocean and humans.

Fish and Megafauna Survey (Roving Survey and Unite Bira)

A routine roving survey was conducted, and we completed 33 surveys from 14 various dive sites spread around Bira East, Bira West, Liukang, and Kambing within three months. Fish and megafauna were examined collectively as part of the roving survey and unite bira, providing solid baseline data for monitoring biodiversity and population in Tanjung Bira and surrounding areas. The data collected will serve for establishing a marine protection area in the region. We trained the interns as citizen scientists and survey divers by conducting a species identification workshop, a sizing workshop, and fish identification dives. Surveys are always conducted as a team, and each member of the team has a unique perspective based on their interests. As instance, some people favour coral reef fish while others prefer pelagic fish. That is exactly what we need to do: examine more things from various viewpoints in order to collect as much data as possible. Along with the survey, their desire to find and learn more about marine animals drives them to always bring a camera with them to capture images and films for their own collections and citizen scientific contributions to the Indo Ocean Project. This time, we had special sightings during the roving survey and unite Bira, such as Sicklefin Devil Ray (Mobula tarapacana), Reticulate Whipray (Himantura uarnak), Spottail Shark (Carcharhinus spallanzani), Pink Whipray (Pateobatis fai), Broad Cowtail Stingray (Pastinachus ater), Brown-banded Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum), Jenkins’ Whipray (Pateobatis jenkinsii), Marbled Stingray (Taeniurops meyeni), Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus), Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), and Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolmometopon muricatum).

Benthic Surveys

Over the last three months, 11 benthic surveys were conducted across Bira. The benthic survey attempts to identify the various benthic compositions found at each dive site, such as hard corals, soft corals, sponges, and others, which may be related to different fish compositions in future studies. What we are doing presently is collecting baseline data on benthic in Bira. Data collection while diving also provides interns with valuable practice in managing the distance between the structure (frame) and substrate while following the contour of the dive site from various depths. Therefore, benthic surveys might be difficult due to topographic barriers (ridges, ledges, and so on), low visibility, surge, and current. A torch is utilised to support the light. As side research, we have been conducting a benthic survey at the house reef to evaluate the corals’ recovery rate. Once in a while throughout the benthic survey, special friends came to say hello to us, such as the Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea).

BRUV’s

BRUV is one form of underwater science exploration that involves recording video that reveals new fish and megafauna beyond the diver’s limits and interference. We dropped BRUV four times per month ideally in different dive sites. Despite slight issues, 10 BRUVs were successfully deployed within three months during the research period. Welcome to field science! The interns enjoy conducting BRUV because it keeps them busy underwater and allows them to gain more research experience. Additionally, good teamwork skills are important for a successful BRUV deployment. Water quality tests appear to have a high standard of physical parameters for seawater. The team and interns are quickly reviewing the video to see if there are any exciting. We had sightings of Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus). The Bira team’s hard work paid off!

Coral and Mangrove Restoration

We are looking for interns to be ocean ambassadors, which means they will not only become dive professionals but will also have an impact on marine ecosystems including coral reefs and mangroves. Through the conducting programme, a three-day coral course associated with Ocean Gardener comprises workshops and dives covering coral ecology, identification, and restoration. We planted coral to close the course since the interns were so eager to learn more about coral. We planted one new spider structure and 101 new fragments. In a matter of three months, nine interns finished the programme and attained the status of coral diver! Raise your hands in victory! The majority of the graduate interns who wanted to work in the conservation field were very happy to apply what they had learned about coral to their future careers. Getting muddy is ready! We were planting mangroves as part of our efforts to help Luppung’s mangrove population recover. It’s always going to be a good time for everybody. We have been planting twice in the last three months, totalling 202 mangrove propagules planted in the Mangrove Luppung Conservation area. The second time planting was more remarkable because of the tremendous rain, but we achieved a wonderful outcome!

We continued to collaborate with the regional government and Makassar University, and as a consequence, they carried on to support and guide us in our efforts to establish a protection area in Bira. Although harmful fishing activity persists, some people in Bira have realised the importance of protecting their homes and they are also supportive of our conservation actions here. We believe that our moves will be repaid one day, resulting in a better existence on Earth in the future. Keep an eye out for our next action!

Muhammad Kholil Hidayat Abdillah – Research Assistant and Junior Marine Biologist

Coral Watch

Besides all of the magnificent dive sites in Bira, our beautiful house reef is still one of our favorites. As part of our attentiveness, we’ve conducted six CoralWatch surveys to monitor coral health and especially when it comes to the bleaching events that have happened since December 2023 in our house reef. Most of the 20 coral colonies that we tagged and observed throughout the bleaching event died, so we moved it to the new location at the house reef. As shown in the figure below, most of the average color scores that we got from this past 3 months’ surveys are above 3 indicating a state of healthy corals.

Coral Maintenance

On the other side of House Reef, our coral nubbins’ growth never ceases to amaze us. Big thanks to all of the interns who twice a month help us to maintain the health of our coral nubbins by cleaning them from algae and tunicates. It’s allowed all the corals to conserve their energy and focus more on growing.

Marine Debris

1.4 tons of trash! That’s right – We proudly announced that we successfully removed that much trash consisting of plastic bottles, fragments, and cups as well as shoes and glass in the past three months. The Public beach clean-up that was initiated by the interns also Trash Taco Tuesday that we conducted was a big step to significantly remove trash from our beautiful sandy beaches in Bira. The Public beach clean-up that we conducted together with the interns, Blue Planet staff, and the local conservation group successfully removed 650 kg of trash. We hope that we can do it again with more people in another part of Bira. If we do it continuously and spread more awareness about marine debris all across Bira, we hope that there will be more tourists who will be amused by such heavenly beaches of Bira.

Apart from removing the trash by the beach, we also conducted 6 Dive Against Debris in the past three months and successfully removed 9.9 kg of trash consisting of fishing lines, plastic, and cloth from our house reef.

School Visit

Friday mornings with the kids in the kindergarten are always fun! Starting with doing an exercise together, the interns spend their time well with all of the kids in the kindergarten. The fun in the class begins with an introduction, the interns have to introduce themselves in Bahasa Indonesia and all of the kids learn to give a simple greeting in English. Then, the kids will show their singing skills in English about the alphabet and numbers. Besides that, we also want to share a little piece of science by watching a cartoon series about marine animals called Sea of Love. The series is about four best friends, Bruda a gentle whale, Wayu the cheerful ray, Puri the kind seahorse, and Bobby the mighty shark. Not only an introduction to marine life, this series also teaches them about day-to-day moral values like kindness, sharing, helping each other, compassion, etc. When they were already familiar with all the characters, they had to do some coloring of the characters in a paper-printed picture. The interns also help them to pick the right color and of course have fun!

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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