Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reefcheck Eco Diver's Course


MNS Miri Branch Reefcheck focus group organized an Eco-Diving Course last May. Reefcheck has been an ongoing effort of Miri Branch funded by the Shell Malaysia Sustainable Development Grant.

Julian and Nattelee from Reef Check Malaysia joined MNS members, Amer and Shirley in Miri to run the Eco-diving course. EcoDivers-to-be were Joyce, Munirah, John, Lee, Guan Jye and myself; Miriam. Amer and Shirley completed the EcoDiver Instructor course. The course involved 3 classroom sessions and 4 test dives.

The course topics covered over the 3 sessions were:
(1) The importance of conducting reef checks/ Threats to the underwater ecosystem
(2) Fish Identification
(3) Invertebrate Identification
(4) Substrate Identification
(5) Impact Survey
(6) Reef Check Methodology

The dives were done in the mornings and the classroom sessions were from afternoon till about 5:30 pm. On the 11th May 2012 however it was just a classroom session from 6:30pm till 9:00pm.

12th May: 1st and 2nd Dive: Anemone North  & Siwa
Fine weather but the water was a tad bit choppy. The group of eco-divers-to be were divided into 2 groups of 3 each. Shirley and Julian went down with Joyce, Lee and myself. Amer and Nattelee went down with Munirah, John and Guan Jey. Once in the water, Shirley and Amer took turns to test us on identifying the several fish that were perched or swimming about. Visibility was 10 to 15 meters. Angel fish would appear on and off and convince us that they were butterfly - such posers. The occasional not-so-solitary grouper would have us think twice before identifying it despite its pectoral fins and spotted- matted complexion. Inconspicuous fish remained inconspicuous due to their small size and schoolish behavior. Sweetlips, we saw three and then we knew they could not be mistaken for another. Snappers were the tricky ones for most of us. A lot of wanna-be snappers in Miri waters, which we need to be wary of while doing the reef check.

13th May: 3rd and 4th Dive: Siwa
After heavy showers in the early hours of the morning we dared the Seahawk to take us to Siwa. The water was choppier than the day before but Billy; the boatman did the best he could given the circumstances and had us at the site in an hour or so. Despite the chaos on the surface, once we dove all that changed. We were still in the same groups; however Nattelee and Julian switched places. The visibility was slightly better than the day before and we were tested on substrates this time. Most of the time we had to waft the coral to check if it was hard or soft and then sometimes tap the surface twice to check if it was silt or sand. We saw a fair variety of sponge, soft and hard coral, silt, sand, rock, Nutrient Indicator Algae (NIA) and unfortunately Recently Killed Coral (RKC). On the whole, rubble was hard to find. A Moray Eel poked its ugly head out while we were being tested on the coral above it. The last session ended with Julian showing us how to lay the line, drop the plum line and also how to pace ourselves while doing the survey. Although the demonstration was on land it gave us a fair view of what is required when we actually conduct the reef check. All 6 of us are currently a reef check dive away from being eco-divers. All in all, the course was educational and fun. We certainly look forward to continue MNS Miri’s Reefcheck surveys soon! 

Reported by: Miriam Chacko