Ben and Jess- Raja Ampat Project Co-Managers
These last three months have flown here in Bira. It’s been the height of the tourist season so our interns have been kept very busy with not only their divemaster courses and research projects, but assisting fun divers from all over the world, who have descended on Bira for the beautiful reefs and wonderful wildlife over the European summer holidays.
And what an exciting time for wildlife it’s been! Since our last report, where we were thrilled to report the first Mola Alexandrini sighting, there have now been over a dozen spotted on the same dive site: Mola Mola. Not only this, Bira waters have given interns, guests and staff various bucket-list sightings such as hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus), a resident mangrove whipray (Himantura granulate) and the biggest grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) you ever did see! A good job we completed 33 ecology courses this quarter, as we all have an even greater appreciation of what we’re seeing here. We’re preparing for a small change in these courses and have received our certifications to deliver the now IOP in-house ecology specialties.
Not always playing ball during this high season, the big tides and supermoons of July and August have given us an extra challenge for scheduling. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we’ve all adopted a Blue Planet-patented method of swimming out at very low tide which avoids touching the corals – for their comfort and ours. Happily, other scheduling has been eased by a new boat at Blue Planet. As yet unnamed (though we do keep suggesting the HMS Benandjess), New Boat has already joined the roving survey, BRUV and benthic teams. We can’t wait until it’s kitted out and even more comfortable a ride. It’s already super speedy and smooth, taking us to Kambing in no time at all.
Our usual projects have continued, and I’m sure Qinthan will tell you more, but in brief we’ve gathered nearly 6kg of rubbish during Dive Against Debris, and over 400kg during beach cleans. Favourite item found so far is a rather fetching snake ring. Not only are we taking away, but putting back in the form of mangrove propagules. We had a grand day out in the mud, planting 64 future trees, with more planned for another trip at the end of September.
The interns were all very happy when visits to our local kindergarten re-started after the school holidays, everyone learning the Bahasa words for our underwater friends, led by our fantastic Qinthan. It’s a new class now, so hopefully the children will become another group of young ocean lovers.
We finish with our favourite part of this report – sending our heartfelt congratulations and thanks to our most recent graduates: Gareth Leach (UK), Elsa Chaucesse (France), Douglas Fraser (UK), Rebecca Brown (UK), Lalie Bonneton (France), Hilde Ringger (USA), Karina Wiening (Germany), David Braden (Germany), Liesel Tjin (Singapore), Michiel Van Nieuwenhove (Belgium) and Martina Moschny (Austria). You have all been wonderful, occasionally feral, and always a joy.
Qinthan Aulia- Program Coordinator and Marine Biologist
The ocean’s unexpected conditions have been causing some new challenges for us here at the Birs Project. Cold water has rolled in with temperatures down to 21oC, with an average of 24 to 26oC. With cold water brough incredible visibility reaching over 30m+ and averaging at 20-25m. However, these ocean conditions also bring in nutrient rich waters that attacts marine megafauna and incredible elasmobranch sightings. A whale shark (Rhincodon typus), a few bumphead molas (Mola alexandrini), a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and a mysterious ray (our guess is a porcupine ray/Urogymnus asperrimus). Plus our other reef residents like whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus), blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), coral catsharks (Atelomycterus marmoratus), spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus ocellatus), marbled stingrays (Taeniurops meyeni), mangrove whipray (Urogymnus granulatus), lots of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Survey’s & BRUV’s
We won’t let this colder water stop us. It has contributed to our never-ending scientific endeavours, bringing with it a Mola alexandrini in a roving survey, and more sharks, turtles, key species, and an abundance of fish. We have been unable to conduct our survey and BRUV field work to our study area in Bira East since the weather is not conducive in the monsoon season. We’ve conducted 11 BRUVs and 27 roving surveys in the past three months. Although the current is occasionally unfriendly in some cases of benthic surveys and BRUVs, the interns keep trying and are undoubtedly skilled dive professionals despite the challenging situations we are in.
Recent Survey Publication in Penida
Our sister project in Nusa Penida recently published their results on roving survey data. We are currently finalizing the draft to publish Bira’s results!
Coral Reef Health Monitoring & Restoration
As the heart of the coral triangle, we have a lot of diversity in our coral reefs. For the last three months, the coral reef in Bira are still healthy and beautiful, but we kept protecting them through regular monitoring and restoration activities. We have completed 6 CoralWatch events and 16 benthic surveys. Our benthic surveys will soon begin annotation on CoralNet to establish the diversity and coral coverage of each study site.
According to the CoralWatch survey result, the average score is between 3 to 4, which indicates a healthy coral reef. The chart is shown in Figure 1. During the CoralWatch dives interns compare coral cover and perform basic maintenance on the tagged areas to help preserve the project materials. After these dives we gather together for an always entertaining data input to CoralWatch.
The interns have all been trained on coral restoration methods, coral ecology, and how to identify hard and soft corals down to the species level. All of that is included in their Coral Diver course in collaboration with Ocean Gardener. Since the last update we have had 8 interns certified as Coral Divers by Ocean Gardener in the last three months. Together, we have planted 144 coral fragments on 6 new reef spiders. For the last 2 coral planting events we changed the method from using cable ties to stainless wires to reduce the amount of plastic used in our restoration strategy. Within 2 months we have seen excellent preliminary results with this method and coral nubbins have already begun to encrust and grow overtop the wires and the reef spiders.
CoralWatch is a not-for-profit citizen science program based at The University of Queensland working with volunteers worldwide to increase understanding of coral reefs, coral bleaching and climate change.
We continue our regular beach and community clean up events including dive against debris. We have done 8 dive against debris and 10 beach clean-ups over the last 3 months. A total of 14,365 kg of debris from the dive against debris and 703,665 kg from beach clean-ups including plastic bottles, plastic fragments, glass and shoes, with an average of over 70 kg/clean-up. Currently there is no functioning recycling program in Tanjung Bira and most items are burnt so I have started an Eco-brick activity to help recycle rubbish. We saved plastic bottles that were in good shape from our clean ups, along with cleaning single use plastics to be packed into the brick. We have a lot of bricks to make but eventually we will be able to use them as reliable building materials. I’m very excited to launch this project with our interns and incorporate it’s use within the community of Bira.
Educational Outreach Program
Now it’s time for Friday, or as we call it around the Bira Project Fri-Yay! The school visit is always one of our intern’s favorite activities during their internship here. We play, we educate and we have fun with the local kids in Bira. Early morning Friday’s the team heads out to be greeted by highfives and smiles from our kindergarten community. We educated them on marine animals, ocean art, and games. We have now established a new collaboration event with IOP, students and teachers in regular clean up and recycling activities in the community and we are excited to share those events in our next update!
Mangrove Nursery & Restoration
We were excited to head out for another mangrove planting event! The entire IOP Bira team has been a part of caring for the mangrove propagules in our nursery site at Blue Planet Dive Resort. Once the propagules meets our planting requirements (minimum size and leaf number) the team prepares them for transplanting in their forever homes. On 27th July 2023 the team headed out to Mangrove Luppung Conservation area with the propagules that let our planting requirements (minimum size and leaf number). Before we started, we had lunch at the local restaurant inside Mangrove Luppung and the food soooo yummy! Planting mangroves has never been as easy as it looked, and teamwork is crucial for its success. We are divided into teams and roles, to make our work efficient. Some of the team handle shovels, to dig the mud. Others pass the propagules and wires and sticks, and the final team plant the propagules into the mangrove mud. We select a planting site close to the larger mangroves and extend the mangrove edge. Planting is only possible during a low tide and be prepared to be COVERED in mud! On reviewing the state of the previously planted mangroves with Adi, the manager of Mangrove Luppung, we are pleased to announce that we have a 0% mortality rate! Wohoo!
Want to join the team?
August to December is peak season in Bira, and we have some last minute spots available. Apply online to start you admissions process and join the team in Sulawesi!