Mette Carlsen – Raja Ampat Project Manager
I am happy to share an update of the third quarterly report from the Raja Ampat project. The program has been up and running for close to 8 eight months now and the ongoing development means that this project is constantly moving and improving. Life in the jungle is, in a very literal sense, an adventure and it continues to surprise us with new sightings and exiting dives in the past three months.
Firstly I am going to announce that this will be my last quarterly report as manager for Raja Ampat. In August I will be passing on the torch to the wonderful Mario and Selene. Previous interns from Penida who have been working as dive instructors in Thailand before getting the opportunity to put their mark on this beautiful place. I, however, will be heading to Penida in the coming months to take over as project manager there.
In the past three months 12 interns have graduated from the Raja Ampat project. Once again, I want to personally congratulate Kayla Applebee, Maria Paula Sidiaoui, Charlotte Jolliffe, Rebecca LaForge, Adriana Server, Terry Lin, Valerie Horvath, Amy Kluckow, James Hood, Louanne Gervais, Anna Lam & Alexandre Clivaz. They have all completed either their research or divemaster program and we are extremely proud and happy to send such wonderful professionals and individuals into the world of conservation.
We have been lucky enough to work with the local staff on getting them more in the water and interested in the marine world. Thanks to engagement and ongoing encouragement from the interns some of the Scuba Republic staff did their first DSD with assistants that were helping as their personal photographers. With increasing enthusiasm, some of the locals are now in the process of doing their open water course which the interns are happy to join in on.
Joining the Raja team since June has been the wonderful Caitlin Orzel as program coordinator. She came from the Penida program and has already been a great attribution to the team! We have also been lucky enough to be joined shortly by the lovely Qinthan from the Bira project. She has been with us for a few weeks and has been helping out with various workshops and planning the future progress for our house reef. It has been great to have her positive bubbly energy around!
Even though we are out of the normal diving season, we have still been very lucky with our sightings underwater and now we just have no other divers around. Amongst the highlights have been Reef mantas (Morbula Alfredi), Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna Lewini), Ornate eagle ray (Aetomylaeus Vespertilio) along with the abundance of sharks and pelagic fish we see so often on dives.
Raja is truly still full of surprises and there is no saying what is coming next for this unique part of the world.
Caitlin Orzel – Program Coordinator
The sun has risen and set 92 times since our last quarterly report and with that, we have had 92 days of fun in the sun at the Raja project. It has been busy few months around scuba republic and many new interns have joined us from around the world, Anna Lam, Alexandre Clivaz, Greta Cwika, Anindita Chatterjee, Michael Van Zyl, Giorgio Montoli, Michelle SeowShee Teng, Anne van den Boomen, Victoria Phung, Pascal Steiner, Rachel Gray and Wilkie Wai Kiu Tong. We offer them all a warm welcome into their new home in the jungle for the coming weeks ahead. We have 10 wonderful interns ready to dip their feet into the world of dive professionals and 2 research interns ready to make their stamp in the conservation world. Each intern brings a new exciting energy to the group and as the days drift by everyone blossoms into the confident ocean lovers we know they all are and laughs and giggles are heard around the dive centre from dawn to dusk.
We have had interns arrive at all levels of certification and science knowledge, but it has been great to see everyone come together and support each other in everything they do. As I have now been in this position coming on 2 months, it has been great to see how everyone has created a little scuba republic family here all sharing their diving experiences, education, laughs and stories. But of course, not forgetting the many games of Bananagrams.
Along with welcoming the new interns, we have welcomed a new shoal of sardines under the jetty which has brought the familiar barracudas who often put on a show for us at sunset at the end of the jetty. It’s a shame they aren’t so fun when they scare the sardines into our training area on the sandy patch. But in the true nature of training to be a dive professional that hasn’t stopped our interns working hard to practice their skill circuits. No problem with a few fish watching your no-mask swim demonstration, right?
Windy season is upon us in Raja and along with a typhoon in the Philippines it has brought with it some very difficult conditions for diving towards the end of July. We have unfortunately had to watch the power of mother nature from the jetty for a number of days instead of our usual position on the boat, but we hung tight, and it made the first trip back on the boat all that more sweet. We may not have enjoyed the waves, but it brought a beautiful sighting of a dugong (Dugong dugon) and her calf to the house reef,
Survey’s & BRUV’s
The interns have successfully dropped 14 BRUVs all over Raja Ampat and have been busy viewing 11 of them to identify what action the camera caught. The sharks of Raja had a busy few months making sure to show themselves with 14 black tip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), 3 white tip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) and even a grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) showing up on our BRUVs since May. The marine life at our dive site has been just as rich during our surveys and we have been lucky enough to see and record 27 of our 32 key species across our dive sites. Science isn’t always easy and adding the factors of water and mother nature makes it all the more harder, in addition to some complications with technology it’s not surprising we have had a number of failures. However, it never dims the smiles, it’s all part of the fun and that just means tomorrow we get to do it all over again.
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
Each month we complete at least 2 dives dedicated to coral watch, a citizen science program which tracks coral bleaching globally. Since our last update, there has been 7 dives on our house reef following the 20 corals we have tagged and studied since opening the project in November. This gives interns the opportunity to analyse the concentration of the all-important symbiotic algae that gives coral their notable colours and share their findings with the global coral watch database.
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.
Our coral nursery in Raja Ampat has been expanding over the last 3 months and we now have 4 restoration tables all with growing Acropora nubbins. Since May we have planted 398 new coral nubbins and there is now a total of 1148 corals thriving in our nursery on the house reef. All our interns have had the opportunity to participate in coral propagation as part of the coral course provided through ocean gardener, and as usual, it has been a favourite amongst the interns, and we have certified 14 new ocean gardeners. We have faced some challenging conditions on the house reef in the last weeks with difficult weather conditions, increased algal cover and a rapid change in coral health. To combat this we have increased our coral maintenance meaning the interns are out removing any macro algae and cleaning the table and nubbins of new turf algae growth every other week. We have seen a change in the survival rate since this has been implemented and we hope that this continues for the better. With Qinthan joining us for a short period from Bira, the interns have also had the chance to do some extra coral ID dives. Especially when they aren’t expecting it on fun dives, the coral queen is always ready with her slate for some impromptu coral ID.
Our biweekly dives against debris have continued to take place on the house reef outside Scuba Republic and we have completed 7 dedicated dives since our last update. It has been great to see a decrease in the amount of debris we see on the reef with our regular efforts to keep it clean. The total debris collected reduces with each dive and we have removed 17kg from the reef since May. We continue to see the familiar fishing gear with fishing line being the most common debris we see tangled around the reef along with plastic food packaging. The interns also got stuck in with some on land clean-ups and helped the local staff with 2 beach clean-ups at the front of the dive centre.
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!