Fieldwork 2.0

It’s that time again, after a few months of hiding behind my computer I’m starting the second big fieldwork season to collect data! I just arrived in Bali to sort out the last preparations for what will hopefully be a productive three and a half months of data collecting. I’m pretty excited about this trip, as I will be visiting some amazing places again where I’ll be working with great people!

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Home for the next 2 weeks

It all kicks off early tomorrow morning, when I’m leaving on a liveaboard trip to Komodo for two weeks. Safari Bali has once again kindly offered me a place on the Sea Safari VII, so I should be very comfortable while I’m trying to find frogfishesghostpipefishes and maybe the occasional manta ray or dragon. Once I get back from Komodo, I’ll be spending a fair bit of time in Bali again before heading to Lembeh Strait. The main thing I’m trying to figure out in Indonesia this year, is which human factors have the biggest impact on muck critters.

Like last year, I will again be doing presentations about marine biology and having long conversations with divers while I’m on the boat and staying at dive resorts. Some people might see this as a time consuming interruption of valuable research-time, but I really enjoy this aspect of my fieldwork. I feel it’s important as a researcher to share what you are doing with people who aren’t in academia themselves. What would the point be of all the work we do, if only a very select group of other researchers get to know about it?

ADEX

Which is why I am looking forward to the next stop after Lembeh: ADEX in Singapore. ADEX is the largest dive expo in Asia, with thousand of divers coming over to try to decide where to go for their next trip or what the newest trends are in the scuba diving world. I am very excited to have been invited to give a few talks about my research. In line with the theme of ADEX this year (Seahorses), I’ll be talking about pygmy seahorses, which I haven’t really done yet on this blog…

For the final leg of this trip I am heading back to Dauin in Philippines. Those of you who have been following the blog, will understand that I am rather happy that my good friend Luke (aka the Science Hobbit) is joining me again! Together we will be trying to figure out the best methods to study newly settled (=baby) critters. If you want to know how we’re planning to achieve that and whether or not we’ll succeed, keep an eye on the blog 😉

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Baby frogfish (A. pictus), finger for scale

Dragons, Currents and Hidden Gems

Komodo tripThere hasn’t been much activity on the blog recently, mostly since I’ve been stowed away on various boats exploring the marine life around the Komodo Islands. I just got back from a very comfortable liveaboard trip ran by Safari Bali, who have been kind enough to let me hop on the Sea Safari 7 as resident marine biologist. In return for the trip I do presentations for the guests, help them identify creatures they’ve seen, or generally answer any ocean-related question they might have. A great deal if you ask me, since it gives me the chance to do research in one of the best dive destinations in the world.

Komodo has been one of my favourite spots since I dived it the first time six years ago. The enormous diversity in marine life and dive sites is hard to find anywhere else. Raja Ampat might have more species, but to me Komodo is more interesting. There are more muck sites, stronger currents, lots of weird critters and they’ve got dragons…it’s hard to top dragons.

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon (Photo by Jennifer Tambosco)

Komodo national park was established in 1980 and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986. The park was originally designed to protect the endemic Komodo Dragons. They are the world’s largest reptile and are only found in the Komodo National Park and a few areas on the west coast of Flores. It was quickly recognised that the diversity in the surrounding ocean was a lot bigger than on land and protection was put in place for the marine environment as well.

Ghostpipefish party, six Solenostomus paradoxus hanging out

Ghostpipefish party, six Solenostomus paradoxus hanging out

Life under water is governed by the strong currents around the islands. The Komodo islands form a passage between the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the water flowing between them causes the famous currents in the area. These currents bring in important nutrients on which the marine life depends and it doesn’t take many dives in the area before you realise just how much of an effect they have. Diving in Komodo is always exciting, not just because you’re often flying around under water at exhilarating speeds, but also because of the enormous diversity of life that is created by these currents.

Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

Explaining just how diverse and exciting diving in Komodo is very difficult. To make life easier for myself, here is an excerpt from my logbook from the trip: manta rays, sharks, eagle rays, frogfishes, octopuses, turtles, napoleon wrasses, seahorses, ghostpipefishes, giant trevallies,… On top of that reefs are generally very healthy, with huge clouds of reef fish hovering around them. From the boat we’ve seen at least 3 different species of dolphins and a whale. In this crazy fish soup I spent most of my time looking for pygmy seahorses, which greatly confused some of the other divers on board. Why bother with critters 1cm in size if you’ve got manta rays and sharks flying overhead? This is a fair point, but I am trying to get an idea of how many pygmy seahorse are out there, so the manta rays will have to wait… In all fairness, I might have gotten distracted a few times, but who can blame me for that?

Selfie time with the local kids :) (Photo  by Jennifer Tambosco)

Selfie time with the local kids 🙂 (Photo by Jennifer Tambosco)

I am also using these trips to explore other sites in the area for critters. There are over 17000 islands in Indonesia and the best way to explore them is by boat. Some of the places we dived at along the way are absolutely beautiful and still pretty unexplored. One of my favourites was Sangeang, an active complex volcano (it has 2 cones) with 2 small villages on its slopes that specialise in traditional boat building. The dive sites around Sangeang are phenomenal; great muck diving, loads of critters, and mostly unexplored. Another gem (though better known) is the south of Komodo. The waters around Nusa Kode are cold (20°C) but very rich, it had some of the highest concentrations of anemonefishes I’ve seen in Asia. A night dive in the bay made it in my top 3 of best night dives ever, I won’t bore you with details, but if you like weird and wonderful critters it’s an absolute must!

Bontoh village, Sangeang volcano in the background

Bontoh village, Sangeang volcano in the background