What do the Farallon Islands, National Marine Sanctuaries and California Marine Protected Areas have in common with the Coral Triangle? In this case, marine protection and of course, sharks! Every summer since 2013, I have worked in the Coral Triangle with Shark Stewards, helping teach a University of San Francisco California tropical ecosystems class and worked with local NGO partners in Malaysia to assess shark and ray catch, encourage shark and ray protection and establish marine protected areas. Last year we brought the Trident and used it to survey reefs for coral disease and crown of thorn density, and search for the Siamese Crocodile. This year we are partnering with a new organization SORCE (Sustainable Oceanic, Research, Conservation and Education) with exciting teaching, research and conservation opportunities. Based in Southern Lombok just east of Bali, the new Centre is adjacent to the Gili Nada Marine Protected Area, has great diving, beautiful corals and fish biodiversity. We even dove local islands with hammerhead sharks, reef sharks and scores of mobula rays.

We are transferring and combining our Fish Bombing and Reefs project on National Geographic’s Open Explorer with this our Unsettled Waters project, and partnering with SORCE on the Mangroves, Manatees and Mantas project on Open Explorer. We hope to have a Trident shipped and ready to assess the seagrass beds and search and document the local Dugongs and other habitat and marine wildlife. Please follow the MMM project and watch for posts from our Coral Triangle expedition.

Gili Asahan, Lombok, Nusa Nagarra, Indonesia

Mangroves, Manatees and Mantas: exploring and protecting the marine biodiversity of Sekotong Bay, Indonesia

Nestled deep in the Coral Triangle, Sekotong Bay sits at the SW corner of Lombok Island Indonesia. This island-studded bay called Gilies, is lightly inhabited by humans, but is richly populated with ocean life. Over 3500 species of marine life inhabit this region, placing it among the highest in the world in biodiversity. Supported by volun-tourism and trained citizen scientists, this project is based at a new field Centre run by the non-profit SORCE (Sustainable Oceanic, Research, Conservation and Education) will be largely supported by ecotourism and volunteers. Trained volunteers assist in community restoration of adjacent mangroves, transects to monitor turtle grass as critical habitat for Dugongs and foraging and nursery habitat for fish and invertebrates. The marine component includes fish transects and identification and photo ID of sharks and mantas at the outer islands and the drop offs east of the Bay. The goal is to support legal marine protection in the Bay, minimise human impacts of fishing and plastic pollution and engage the villages of Kampung Siung and Desa Putih in marine education and restoration of the mangrove habitat. Critical to the interface between the mangroves of the upper bay, and the health of the reefs is management of the turtle grass beds which serve as buffer zones and critical habitat. Much of the Sekotong bay is shallow and difficult to navigate, even with the local shallow draft boats called Sampans. We will use the Trident to monitor the turtle grass and coral reef for health and cataloguing species, photograph reef Mantas and fish along the outer reef, and with hope capture the shy Dugong on camera and determine his/her range.

Called a Manatee by the locals, or Lembaut lau, this marine mammal is actually a Dugong (Dugong dugon), a member of the Sirenidae, a family which includes manatees. With a range limited to the margins of the Indian Ocean including north Australia, this species has been impacted throughout its range by hunting and loss of habitat. One local denizen known to inhabit the Bay has been named Burt, and little is known of his (or her) range, habits or if he/she is alone. The sea grass (Halodule uninervis) is ideal foraging habitat for dugongs and sea turtles, and the light boat traffic and clean waters are ideal. In other bays turtle grass has been dredged up in front of resorts or damaged by siltation and anchors. Shy for good reason, Burt is extremely wary of divers and no known photographs exist. With our conservation partner David McGuire of Shark Stewards, we are interviewing locals and conducting field surveys by dive, aerial drone and soon, our new Trident drone. With David’s experience filming sharks with the Trident in California and coral habitat in Malaysia, we hope the drone will serve as a non-invasive way to document this threatened species, and help protect it. We will attempt to determine if there is more than one dugong here, and maybe we will even be able to identify Burt’s sex!

The past few days our small team has been trained in fish identification, we have dived the house reef outside the Centre, and dived the outer reefs of Sunken Island where we saw a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), a blue-spotted stingray (Dasyatus kuhli) and a large sting ray I believe is a short-tail stingray, (Bathytoshia brevicaudata), but she swam away quickly. So far, no sign of Burt, but we will keep looking.

SORCE is dedicated to ensuring a positive future for our marine habitats and wildlife, achieved through scientific action and public engagement. With the help of volunteers we will be working endlessly towards our vision in the hopes that our efforts can help to combat the negative effects of climate change by fuelling a climate for change!

Today we plan to swim the seagrass beds out and around Gili Goleng and search for signs of the dugongs!