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Black Pearl Liveaboard Begins a New Week of Diving Adventures

November 24th, 2009 Comments off

Black Pearl liveaboard sets sail, commencing a new week of diving adventures in the Maldives!

Black Pearl live aboard performed its last dive of the week to Maaya Thila, North Ari Atoll. Once the dive was finished, the Black Pearl started heading back to Hulhumale’ of the North Male’ Atoll.

Maaya Thila Dive Site

The Maaya Thila dive was one of the best dives last week with regards to Maldives marine life. Although the visibility was below average, there was an abundance of fish life, where highlights included grey reef sharks, dogtooth tuna and white tip reef sharks.

Maldives Underwater Grey Reef Shark1 Black Pearl Liveaboard Begins a New Week of Diving Adventures

Grey Reef Shark at Maaya Thila

Visiting Male’,  Capital City of the Maldives

It took about 3 and a half hours to cross Alihuras Kandu, the channel that separates Ari Atoll and Male’ Atoll. During the crossing, the sea remained calm, allowing for an extremely pleasant and enjoyable cruise back to Male’. The clear Maldivian weather was an added bonus. After reaching Hulhumale’, the anchoring process began. Once fully anchored, the guests took off for their visit to Male’, the capital of the Maldives.

Guests Departure and Arrival

Black Pearl‘s guests from the UK departed on the morning of the 23rd, the same day the new diving group arrived, which was a total of 12 divers from Switzerland. The orientation dive began after lunch.

Farukholhu Fushi Beyru Faru, aka Faru Beyru, Dive

 Black Pearl Liveaboard Begins a New Week of Diving Adventures

Mobula Rays in the Maldives

The orientation dive at Farukholhu Fushi Beyru Faru (also called Faru Beyru) turned out to be a very exciting check dive for everyone. We saw 10 mobula rays…Absolutely unbelievable! The orientation dive to Farukholhu Fushi Beyru Faru, aka Faru Beyru, was a great start to the week! Mobula is a genus of ray in the family Myliobatidae (eagle rays). Their appearance is similar to that of manta rays, which are in the same family. The devil fish can attain a disc width of up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) and probably can weigh over a ton, second only to the manta ray in size. Despite their size, there is little known about this genus. Black Pearl recently spotted a mobula, also called devil fish, at Kandooma Thila dive site.

Maldives North East Monsoon Disrupts Route of Black Pearl Liveaboard

November 10th, 2009 Comments off

The dive safari route of the Black Pearl liveaboard changed slightly due to the Maldives’ North East Monsoon

The Black Pearl liveaboard left Male’ this week planning to embark upon the classic Maldivian dive safari route that includes the South and North Male’ Atolls and the Ari Atoll. However, plans were changed due to the weather in the Maldives.

Eagle Ray at Guraidhoo Kandu Dive Site Maldives Maldives North East Monsoon Disrupts Route of Black Pearl Liveaboard

Black Pearl Liveaboard Route Changes Due to Weather

The Black Pearl liveaboard is currently anchored at the North Male’ Atoll at Himmafushi Lagoon. Although the initial dive safari route was changed, two exciting dives were performed at Lankan Manta Point! Learn more about Maldives dive sites here!

Scuba Diving at Lankan Manta Point, North Male’ Atoll

Although the surface conditions were a bit rough, both dives at Lankan Manta Point turned out to be excellent. On the first dive, scuba divers spotted four manta rays and a leopard shark. On the second dive, scuba divers spotted three big, beautiful manta rays.

Current weather conditions in the Maldives: isolated showers every now and then, gusty winds and rough seas at time.

The Black Pearl liveaboard plans to move to South Male’ Atoll, more specifically the Guraidhoo Kandu Dive Site tomorrow.

Sunken steel cages could save coral reefs

September 5th, 2009 Comments off

Scientists are reporting encouragingly rapid coral growth on giant underwater steel cages – structures that they hope will help to regenerate battered reefs and improve protection of some vulnerable coastlines from rising sea levels.

Coral reefs support a quarter of life on Earth and last month David Attenborough warned that carbon dioxide is already above the levels that will condemn corals to extinction.

And while the metal cages, fed with electric current, are not a solution to the global problem of dramatically contracting reefs, they do appear to be providing promising results in small, local projects, and – in some cases – rescuing resorts where coral was vanishing fast.

A team of researchers on Vabbinfaru island in the Maldives submerged a huge steel cage called the Lotus on the sea floor. The 12-metre structure, which weighs 2 tonnes is connected to long cable which supplies a low-level electric current. The electricity triggers a chemical reaction, which leads to calcium carbonate coming out of solution in the water and being deposited on the structure.

Corals seem to find that irresistible, perhaps because they use the same material to grow their protective skeletons, and the Lotus has been so thoroughly colonised by coral that it is difficult now to make out the steel shape beneath all the elaborate shapes and colour.

The idea was initially developed by an American architect, Wolf Hilbertz, who sold the concept to various resorts around the world. The Lotus is the largest and most successful of those, and has helped researchers to test the technique.

The El Nino Pacific-warming phenomenon of 1998 killed 98% of the reef around Vabbinfaru, so the researchers there have been able to compare the growth rates for corals grafted on to concrete structures on “desert” patches of seafloor, and those stuck on to the Lotus. Abdul Azeez, who is leading the Vabbinfaru project, said coral growth on the structure is up to five times as fast as that elsewhere.

The electric reef may also make the corals fitter and better able to withstand warming events, perhaps because the creatures waste less energy on making their skeletons. A smaller prototype device was in place during the 1998 warming event and more than 80% of its corals survived, compared to just 2% elsewhere on the reef.

Hilbertz, who died in 2007, believed that his structures could be multiplied across the world to repopulate reefs and protect shorelines. But many experts think the cost and effort involved make it impossible to do except on a small scale.

“I would like to be able to carry out genetic analysis of the algae in the coral to find out whether we can transplant heat-tolerant ones to parts of the reef where it is more exposed and so build coverage there,” says Robert Tomasetti, a marine biologist also based at Banyan Tree resort in Vabbinfaru. “We don’t have that level of equipment so we’re really just growing pretty reefs for the tourists but not in a construction way to protect the island.”

While welcoming the positive impact that the project has had on Vabbinfaru, Shiham Adam, the director general of the Maldivian government’s Marine Research Centre in Male warned that the wider picture for his country remained bleak. “Sprucing up small bits of reef can add value to a tourist resort but it certainly won’t help protect the Maldives from sea level rise,” he said.

Weather in Maldives

September 5th, 2009 Comments off

Weather in the Majestic Maldives

Weather in the Maldives is one of the many reasons that tourists flock in droves (over 600,000 per year) to this magical land of atolls and islets.

Often referred to as “The Pearls of the Indian Ocean,” the Maldives features beautiful lagoons, amazing coral reefs, marvelous marine life and warm, tropical weather that seems to give you a big bear hug as you descend the plane.

Weather in Maldives: Tropical Climate

Maldives Weather is typical of a tropical climate, meaning that the weather is warm to hot, humid and moist all year round with little variation. The average temperature in the Maldives is approximately 29 to 32 degrees Celsius, or 84 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although the humidity is relatively high, the air rarely feels thick and too hot due to the constant sea breezes.

The Maldives is located in the Equatorial belt, so severe tropical storms and cyclones are extremely rare events.

The hottest month on average is April and the coolest is December. The weather is determined largely by the two monsoons: Iruvai, the north-east monsoon and Hulha’ngu, the south-west monsoon.

Weather in Maldives: Iruvai, the North-East Monsoon

Iruvai, the north-east monsoon, greatly effects the weather in the Maldives. The north-east monsoon arrives in November, characterized by strong winds and heavy rainfall lasting for about a week. Iruvai travels from north to south, eventually setting in January.

The north-east monsoon makes the weather in the north and mid atolls distinct from that of the southern atolls. The north and mid atolls experience clear skies, sunshine and calm seas for most of the period. Scuba diving is fantastic during this period. The visibility is excellent on the eastern side of the atolls and the water is warm, averaging around 28 degrees.

Conversely, the southern atolls receive a large amount of rainfall and experience rough seas during the early stages of the north-east monsoon. However, the sea becomes more calm and hot, dry periods prevail until the arrival of Hulha’ngu, the south-west monsoon.

Weather in Maldives: Hulha’ngu, the South-West Monsoon

Hulha’gnu, the south-west monsoon, sets in from May and lasts until November, bringing forth heavy rains, strong winds and occasional thunderstorms. This monsoon affects the weather in Maldives by making the seas rough.

During the south-west monsoon, most divers choose to scuba dive around the western side of the Maldives.  Currents at this time of year are reversed, flowing from southwest to northeast.

Weather in Maldives: Dry Season

The shift from the moist south-west monsoon to the dry north-east monsoon occurs during October and November. The dry season in the Maldives lasts until April.

Weather in Maldives: Rainy Season

Brought by the summer southwest monsoon, the rainy season in the Maldives lasts from May to August each year. Generally, the annual rainfall averages 2,540 millimeters in the north and 3,810 millimeters in the south. Even during the rainy season, the temperature rarely falls below 25°C (77°F).

Despite the rain, weather in the Maldives is pleasant all year round!

Weather Forecast for Maldives – 10 AM, 21 July 2009

July 20th, 2009 Comments off

Weather update of Maldives and latest satellite picture

Weather: Partly cloudy with scattered showers. A few thunderstorms are also expected to northern and southern atolls.

Winds: Light and variable becoming South-west / westerly 4 – 13 knots in southern atolls and 7 – 16 knots elsewhere. Winds may gust to 35 knots during showers.

Visibility: 12 km, becoming 5 – 2 km during showers.

State of the sea: Moderate becoming rough during showers.
Wave Height (open sea) 2 – 5 feet.

www.meteorology.gov.mv Weather Forecast for Maldives   10 AM, 21 July 2009

(Latest Satellite Picture)

Categories: Weather Tags: ,

Artificial Coral Growth Speeds up Post-El Nino Recovery Process

June 27th, 2009 Comments off

El Nino Destruction

In 1998, El Nino brought excessive and prolonged heat to the Maldives, bleaching and killing 90 per cent of the nation’s corals, and in some atolls, damaging up to 98 per cent of reefs.

The stress of that year’s oscillation left the normally tropical-colored marine organisms in a pallid white state, and some scientists are trying to speed up the recovery process through cutting-edge techniques of coral propagation, also known as artificial reef growth.

“It’s important to grow them and that is proved, I think,” says Thomas Le Berre, managing director at Seamarc Pvt, Ltd. “It definitely grows. A few years back the international community said it’s not possible and people are still under the impression that it’s hard to grow some corals.”

In conjunction with Four Seasons Resort hotels, Le Berre and a team of engineers have successfully developed a method of growing reefs by attaching small pieces of broken coral onto iron grids and dropping them into the water on trays.

The scientists are looking for methods of growing heat-resistant coral that would be less vulnerable to climate change.

Not only is Seamarc’s project one of the first success stories in the field, its propagation techniques are unique because the grids are portable and can eventually be brought to areas where new coral is needed to speed up recovery.

“This means that if we’ve got bleaching, we can take them further down, let them recover, and bring them back up later,” says Le Berre. “If you can’t move your corals you will lose them. All your effort will be lost.”

Despite the team’s success, coral propagation is still a controversial area because expenses are high, results are uncertain, and outcomes are at a small scale.

“We have to be quite clear: building artificial reefs in resorts will not solve the problem of corals dying around the world…we need to look at large scale human issue.

“Trying to build coral trays to save coral reefs…will not save the Maldives from sinking. What they are fantastic for is to provide an area on a resort which can vastly improve the quality of the reef for a guest… it is also an educational and scientific tool.”

“Physical integrity”

The relationship between the Maldives and coral goes back deep in time, as well as deep into the earth’s surface.

Coral has existed in, below, and around the islands ever since volcanoes from the Indian plate subsided around 55 million years ago, leading to atoll formation, according to Thomas.

“The way I see it is that Maldives is a bit unique because our country is totally built on limestone that has been provided by coral reefs,” says Hussein Zahir, senior reef ecologist at the Marine Research Centre.

“If you travel down the Maldivian reef platform, down to 2,000 meters is still calcium carbonate. They are very important for physical integrity of Maldives.”

Reefs protect the islands from rising sea levels; the destruction of Male’s reefs due to reclamation resulted in a US$14 million project to build a sea wall around the capital island, says Zahir.

It is unclear how much time is left to adapt to sea level rises; the scientific community ranges from setting off a 50 to 200 year hourglass.

“This is not a short-term process,” says Le Berre. “We have 50 years to react and adapt but we better start as soon as possible.”

Unbelievable artificial reefs

While past attempts at propagation provided dismal results, Le Berre’s design has led to colourful new coral.

Armando Karenzlin, general manager of Four Seasons Kuda Huraa North Male atoll, says, “In 2005 or so we started to use the first grids. Now they look unbelievable. I was so excited. They are totally overgrown. You don’t see the grids anymore. Now it’s proven to me that you can grow a reef.”

He says that the easy process of setting up the grids has led it to be a popular activity among guests.

“It’s very quick, very efficient, fun. Kids can get involved in it. They can do a tray in a half hour or so. Some guests are sponsoring them. Putting names on them and we send them pictures,” says Karenzlin.

Stevens says the resort is reaching out to Maldivians from local islands, getting them involved in the propagation process in the hope that interaction with reefs will raise awareness on the issue.

Having attained confident results, Le Berre is now looking to make coral propagation economically feasible. He estimates that it will take approximately US$1 million per year to grow 10,000 square meters of coral.

“We know the tool,” he says, “but we still need to do research to make it as beneficial as possible.”

“Edge of Existence”

Bleaching is not fatal for coral, but an inbuilt mechanism for adapting to stress.

Even calm, still seas lead to a lot of coral bleaching, yet they recover within weeks.

Understanding coral bleaching requires understanding the symbiotic, mutually beneficial, relationship between algae and coral.

Algae, which give coral their pigment, live in coral and transfer food to it, while the coral provides a home for the algae.

A mere three degree increase in temperature, such as the one in 1998, can cause the algae to die, and in order to protect themselves from the dead algae, coral get rid of the algae, as a survival method.

Therefore the bleached coral are not dead. “It’s a safety measure… corals are right on the edge of existence,” says Stevens.

However extremely severe stress will lead to fatality, and that there was a 90 per cent mortality after 1998.

Regardless of whether the coral is bleached or killed, natural processes will recover the coral that El Nino damaged, although the process is slow.

In the past four years, the reefs around the Maldives have had a huge recovery, contrary to “doom and gloom” predictions that came out when the mass bleaching first took place.

Also that he is optimistic because the natural capacity of reefs to recover in the past decade has been good in some places, particularly in the southern atolls.

Proactive v Reactive

While Zahir acknowledges the educational and scientific uses of artificial coral growth, he is more interested in focusing on measures that prevent future damage, and allowing Mother Nature to address the re-growth.

“There are concerns such as sewage reclamation…human-induced threats like pollution, coastal reclamation…Those are much more damaging…It destroys the physical structure of the reef,”.

Stevens also acknowledges the importance of looking at the underlying problem of reef destruction, but he concludes that the destruction in the Maldives was a onetime event, not part of a chronic problem.

“We have 100 resorts or so with reefs that can recover and are recovering, but if you can speed up the process that would be fantastic,” says Stevens.

Scientists do not know how to predict when the next El Nino will come, but Stevens says that you can loosely conclude that one occurs once every three to eight years.

Furthermore their severity is also uncertain; some can have virtually no affect, while some can have far-reaching consequences.

The last waves of El Nino have had no impact on the Maldives, says Stevens.

It is also unclear how much of a concrete impact coral propagation will have in the Maldives.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Ibrahim Didi says that his ministry is interested in supporting coral propagation.

He says that a week ago, a bill was submitted to the committee on fisheries from the marine biology research center proposing to begin coral propagation at an uninhabited island.

Didi says he thinks there is a high chance that the proposal will be approved by next week and that the ministry is always interested in new projects. He says that the extent of the ministry’s support for coral propagation will depend on demand.

At this point, the ministry does not know if propagation is economically or environmentally feasible. “It is a pilot project,” he says.

Although there is no widely held view on how to protect coral reefs, there is agreement across the board over the importance of public awareness and support in the process.
Zahir says that snorkeling for everyone, not just tourists, is an important way of gaining interest in coral care.

“More people should go snorkeling and go see how nice [the coral] are,” he says. “Even the politicians who talk about it don’t know. They should go as well.”