Friday, October 16, 2009

Sharks, dives and exams!!

Week two in paradise produced many challenging, interesting and new experiences, starting with the early rise on Monday, which was a definite challenge subsequent to our rather epic weekend. ‘Nuf’ said. This week also saw the first coral exam. I say first since the pass mark is 95%, and pairing a coral with its Latin name is a tricky task. Knowing 49 different genera of coral is demanding, and volunteers began resorting to identifying many by what they look like. To the amusement of the staff, one volunteer identified the coral that looks like zips as ‘Zippyphora’ (actually called Merulina, Merulinidae). Congratulations to the five volunteers who passed, and good luck to those who live to try another day.

Wednesday introduced the first of our turtle dives. It was also the first time most of the volunteers had ever been diving without an instructor. Each buddy pair was let loose somewhere in our beautiful Bay Ternay and given a shore heading and a compass. Using a basic U-shaped search pattern, each pair was to scout for turtles, whilst making their way to shore. For some of the more navigationally challenged volunteers, this was a daunting task. Being dropped into the deep blue, whilst constantly having to monitor your heading, depth, dive time, and air, was an important experience for everyone. It gave us greater confidence, and we all made it safely back to the bay. The turtle dives were accompanied by a presentation from MCSS about their turtle monitoring program. It is now turtle mating season, and we are all eager to get involved with their research.

With such an intense schedule, including compressing air into the tanks and flour into our homemade bread, having half an hour to hang out on the beach is a treat! Mid week on an early morning walk, we encountered possibly the tiniest creature in BTC, the brittle star- small but mighty, it uprights itself in 3 seconds!

Then there was plankton, even smaller but extremely hard to pull out from the deep blue during our weekly plankton tow. Every week we collect plankton from the local waters in order to predict the likely movement of whale sharks around the Seychelles. We did not manage to break the record tow of 36 seconds, but Brendan certainly cheered and egged Drew on as best as he could!Since there was a lack of enthusiasm to make a delicious plankton pie, we decided to send it off to MCSS to be used in data analysis. Sightings of mega-fauna continue to provide great bursts of excitement for all the volunteers. Eagle rays are constantly seen majestically gracing the bay, juvenile sharks have often been spotted visiting the shallows, bottlenose dolphins have swam alongside Manta, our dive boat, and three lucky volunteers shared the water with a 7ft Lemon Shark during their AOW deep dive. Even sea turtles have been seen mating on the surface of the water from the boat, whilst many caught a glimpse of a guitar shark swimming over the reef. Yet, we are hungry for more, as we all eagerly anticipate our first sighting of the largest fish in the sea. The Whale Shark.