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[:en]Another whale shark rescued in the Maldives[:]

[:en]On the night of the 3rd of November the Carpe Vita liveaboard was anchored at a place in Thaa atoll where often whale sharks come and feed at the back of the boat on plankton attracted by the bright lights.  Whale shark “Kessum”, logged in the database of the whale shark research team under WS113 appeared at the back of the boat with a huge fishing hook and piece of rope attached to it stuck in the side of his mouth. Kessum was last seen in Thaa atoll as well in April 2016.  In this amazing footage you see a guest cutting the rope of the hook in two attempts followed by one of our dive team members pulling the hook out at the third attempt after two failed attempts.

 

The size of the hook is usually not used in the Maldives leaving us to believe that it was most probably used by a foreign fishing boat. Question is of course if they are fishing illegally in Maldives waters where the whale sharks are protected or that Kessum got in trouble somewhere else.  Whale sharks are known to travel quite some distance.

This is not the first time our team members were able to rescue an animal in need of fishing hooks or other trash left behind. See also our other stories under Maldives conservation and protection.

 

 

 [:]

Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

[:en]Another whale shark rescued in the Maldives[:]

[:en]On the night of the 3rd of November the Carpe Vita liveaboard was anchored at a place in Thaa atoll where often whale sharks come and feed at the back of the boat on plankton attracted by the bright lights.  Whale shark “Kessum”, logged in the database of the whale shark research team under WS113 appeared at the back of the boat with a huge fishing hook and piece of rope attached to it stuck in the side of his mouth. Kessum was last seen in Thaa atoll as well in April 2016.  In this amazing footage you see a guest cutting the rope of the hook in two attempts followed by one of our dive team members pulling the hook out at the third attempt after two failed attempts.

 

The size of the hook is usually not used in the Maldives leaving us to believe that it was most probably used by a foreign fishing boat. Question is of course if they are fishing illegally in Maldives waters where the whale sharks are protected or that Kessum got in trouble somewhere else.  Whale sharks are known to travel quite some distance.

This is not the first time our team members were able to rescue an animal in need of fishing hooks or other trash left behind. See also our other stories under Maldives conservation and protection.

 

 

 [:]

Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

A coral’s enemy: Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS)

What is the crown of thorns starfish?

The crown of thorns starfish (COTS) is the most voracious coral predator found on Indo-Pacific coral reefs. One starfish will eat a coral every day and can consume all of the corals within a 6-10 square meter area within a year.  They are responsible for destroying entire reefs during severe outbreaks. When COTS undergo population explosions, there may be ten COTS per square meter or more, with tens of thousands of animals invading a single reef. They tend to aggregate, piling on top of table corals and wrapping their bodies around delicate branching corals.  Their path of destruction often resembles a forest fire: they spread through a reef devouring the corals as they move and leaving only a few less preferred corals in their wake.

 

Outbreaks in the Maldives

Coral Reef CPR first began working in the Maldives in 2015 to tackle unnaturally high densities of COTS. This is the third reported outbreak in the Maldives. The first occurred in the 1970s, the second in the early 1990s was slightly larger and more widespread, while the current outbreak is the largest ever witnessed. It began in 2013 in North Malé Atoll; by October, 2015 large numbers of COTS were seen throughout Ari Atoll, two locations on Baa Atoll, one on Lhaviyani Atoll and four locations on South Malé Atoll. Localized but large densities were noted for the first time in 2016 on Shaviyani Atoll.

 diveteamcots

Why do outbreaks occur?

Excess nutrients: COTS larvae feed on plankton and normal survival rates are very low. When nutrients from sewage, fertilizer and run-off enter the usually nutrient-poor tropical waters, there plankton blooms providing these larvae with more food and their survival rates increase.

 

Overfishing of predators: Removing the few predators (Napoleon wrasse, pufferfish, triggerfish, trumpet triton) for the food and souvenir trades reduces predation pressure on the COTS, allowing their numbers to increase.

Life-history and biology: COTS are extremely resilient organisms, with a very rapid and successful life-history. They can regenerate their arms and oral discs within 5-6 months; they are highly fecund and one individual can produce up to 60 million eggs per breeding season (once a year); they can last 6-9 months with no food; they can live and move through very deep water (including between atolls!); their bodies are covered in poisonous spines making them less attractive to the few predators.

 What can be done?

Efforts have been undertaken in the Maldives to remove COTS from the reefs and also inject them with chemicals. This can be very successful, but it requires involvement by dive operators, recreational divers, scientists and resort staff and other volunteers. An effected reef requires an initial clean-up, along with follow up collection efforts to remove any missed starfish. Physical removal is very simple and low cost, our team uses a pvc pipe and mecotscollectingsh bag to collect starfish, sending full bags to the surface with an SMB to avoid injury. If injection methods are used, they must be conducted correctly otherwise the starfish can shed the injected limb, re-growing it rapidly. It is also vital that non-toxic substances are used when injecting so collateral damage to the reef is avoided. The only known effective and non-toxic substances are bile salts and vinegar.

Coral Reef CPR has partnered with Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt. Ltd. to detect outbreaks of COTS throughout the Maldives and remove them from affected reefs.

Dive teams of each of the 3 boats have been provided with the education, tools and mesh bags to remove them and will start removing them whenever possible during regular dives and register the information.

During the 10 night trip on the Vita in August 2016, Coral Reef CPR together with the dive team of the Carpe Vita  removed 242 COTs from different sites.

 

Check back frequently on the Carpe Diem website (https://carpediemmaldives.com/blog/) for the total numbers of COTS we have removed!

 

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