Marine biologist from Coral Reef CPR joining again on Carpe Vita November 10/20
Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director
The Maldives is known for its megafauna, with annual arrivals of mantas and whale sharks, frequent sitings of pilot, humpback and even blue whales, dolphins, recovering shark populations and an abundance of hawksbill turtles. The Maldives has over 1190 islands in 26 atolls, and also support more coral reef habitat than anywhere else in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the Maldives has more coral reef than the entire Caribbean Sea and about 3.5% of all shallow water coral reefs found worldwide. The reef structures are unique and diverse ranging from outer, exposed fore reef communities, steeply sloping walls, and lagoonal reefs (circular faru’s and seamounts known as a thila) influenced by tidal currents, to swift flowing, deep clefts (channel reefs known locally as a kandu) in the rim of the atoll. They also support more than 220 species of corals, 1,200 reef fish and thousands of other invertebrates. Yet for more of these reefs, especially those around the more remote northern atolls, we know very little about their structure, composition or health, or the challenges and opportunities they present.
We do know that coral reefs in the Maldives and also elsewhere on the planet are under severe threat as a result of unusual warmer than normal conditions due to the combined impacts of climate change and the worst El Niño event recorded in history. Other Pacific and Indian Ocean-wide threats, such as the recent population explosion of the voracious crown of thorns starfish (COTS) place these reefs under further risk.
Coral reef scientists are also aware that the reefs of the Maldives may be doing better than many other locations. The wide expanses (more than 90,000 square kilometers!) of clean, open ocean water flushes these reefs during the winter and summer monsoons, cooling the reef and bathing it in a nutrient rich plankton soup. Further, with exception of the densely populated, highly urbanized city of Malé, there are very few people in the Maldives, and very little direct human pressures on the reefs. Fortunately for the coral reefs.
While guests will be enjoying the normal 4 dives a day offered by the Carpe Vita on this part Northern itinerary, we will thoroughly characterize the coral and fish communities, and their health as we did on our previous trip with the Carpe Vita in August 2016. These surveys will allow us to determine how severe the 2016 coral bleaching event was throughout the Maldives , by combining these data with information from our other sites in Central Maldives and our previous visit. We will also gather valuable information on the spread of the COTS and impacts of these starfish.
COTS first appeared on the west side of North Malé Atoll in 2013, and in 2015 they begin to spread, invading South Malé atoll and Ari Atoll. Recently, they’ve been spotted on Lhaviyani and Shaviyani Atolls. Yet, little is known about their abundance, or effects on these reefs. Whenever we spot a starfish, we’ll collect it to gather additional scientific information on its genetics and also to prevent it from causing more damage on the reef. In 2015, in about a week, a team of four scientists removed over 7,500 starfish from two reef systems in North Malé Atoll and one in South Malé Atoll, saving these reefs from demise. We plan to undertake the same effort during this excursion if we identify outbreaks of the starfish, saving the corals while preventing further expansion of the starfish and future outbreaks.
We are extremely excited to partner with Carpe Diem Maldives Fleet and looking forward to working alongside their team to research these reefs and preserve their health! We will be running regular educational seminars during the trip and be available for all questions, no matter the time of day!
For more information on the work of Coral Reef CPR please visit our website (www.coralreefcpr.org) and if you want to make a difference, why not donate now to help coral reefs of the Maldives (www.coralreefcpr.org/donate-now.html)!