Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Indonesia Expedition: A tale of two boats

This is a 2-boat expedition. The M/V Putri Papua and the M/Y Plan B have been sailing in parallel in order to assess the diverse reef habitats of Raja Ampat via camera and transects, and to explore new seamounts by ROV, helicopter, sonar and SCUBA. A busy agenda!

The team is large and diverse, and with our many goals and priorities, it is a rare moment that we all have together. So, here are some updates from the people aboard the M/V Putri Papua, affectionately named the Plan A for this trip.

Dr. Crissy Huffard, Conservation International
In order to measure the effectiveness of marine protected areas in safeguarding the reefs of Raja Ampat, the CI monitoring team runs regular surveys of coral reef condition, fish communities, among other things. Over time we will see how each site changes over time, hopefully adding more live coral, fish biomass and community diversity. Sites in Raja Ampat vary tremendously—some are world-class dive sites with so many fish you can’t take a picture of the reef, while others were bombed to bits with the occasional rockmover wrasse passing by. Sharks are noticeably rare in (diveable depths at) all these sites, the result of decades worth of finning.

A small blacktip shark at Mof Island (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Yesterday we surveyed Mof Island, a small isolated dot in the blue known for being a major green turtle nesting beach. This exposed high energy reef should be a playground for reef sharks. I started the ‘long-swim’, which is a survey designed to measure the biomass of big fish that normally shy away from transects. Schools of unicorn surgeonfish shuffled around in the current, sweetlips guarded the table corals, barracuda emerged in the distance, dogtooth tuna and giant trevally buzzed me.

A dogtooth tuna swims amidst the fusiliers along the reef at Mof Island (Photo: R. Rotjan)

And then one of the greatest sights I’ve seen in the past two years diving in Raja Ampat--a baby Grey Reef shark. No more than 50cm long, it came in from the blue, swam by to have a look, and then moved on. Grey Reefs are extremely important reef predators that that maintain ecosystem balance by eating sick fish and keeping the smaller, faster-growing predators in check. They have been hit particularly hard by the finners, and as a result, we rarely see them in shallow waters. It was a huge highlight to see this little shark, which was probably born around the same time Raja Ampat was declared a shark sanctuary by the government. Hopefully we will be able to protect it for life, along with its children, to help us all restore the balance of the world’s most biodiverse reefs.

Muhammad Erdi Lazuardi, Science, Monitoring and Research Station Coordinator Conservation International Indonesia, Raja Ampat Program
As you may know, Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia at the moment have the highest marine biodiversity. It has 533 species of hard coral (Turak E. and L. DeVantier, 2008; Veron et al. 2009). Raja Ampat also has 1398 species of reef fish (Allen G.R. and M.V. Erdmann, 2009). Furthermore, there are 699 species of mollusk (McKenna, 2002) and 16 species of cetacean (Kahn, 2008).

Coral colony in Raja Ampat (Photo: R. Rotjan)

I am so proud to be here. As a young scientist from western part of Indonesia, to me, this is awesome, relating my interests of hard coral. I have never seen corals in western parts of Indonesia with so many kinds and forms like in Raja Ampat. Nonetheless, there are not a lot of local people in Raja Ampat aware that they have such high biodiversity and beauty compared to the rest of the world.

With Conservation International Indonesia, it is important to build community coral reef monitoring. Traditionally, the local people have experience and knowledge in their natural resources. By combining traditional knowledge with modern knowledge, they can measure the coral reef condition and also be involved in management of their own marine protected area. It also could be effective communication to send a conservation message to their community, coming from the community itself. To support this program, we are developing a research station together with the Raja Ampat government to facilitate programs for local students interested in research in Raja Ampat.

Just a few fishes from Raja Ampat… (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Our team includes many members, including Ronald Mambrasar and Elvis Mambraku, two young men who originally come from small islands in Raja Ampat who have been closely involved with the Raja Ampat coral reef monitoring program. Mambrasar and Mambraku became interested in the reefs when they learned that Raja Ampat is one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. They learned to dive and are now assessing ecosystem and species health while working with local villages to improve marine resource management. And now, here on this expedition, they have an opportunity to join with Raja Ampat Seamount Survey, together with scientists from around the world.

Today, Conservation International Indonesia, Raja Ampat Program has 20 young men like Mambrasar and Mambraku who join in coral reef monitoring teams. They are one of the many shareholders in Raja Ampat and can continue sharing with their community how important these natural resources are for their life, and for future generations.

Defy Pada, Marine Conservation and Science Coordinator, Triton Bay Field Station Manager Conservation International – Indonesia, Kaimana Program
Mof Island was one of the wonderful sites that we have been diving on during this expedition. The corals were so beautiful, and of course the fish are also rich.
This is my first time visiting this island and I’m so impressed about the underwater realm below this island. I am on the monitoring team from Conservation International Indonesia, which has a full interest in fishes.

Mof Island, Raja Ampat

Diving in Mof Island of course makes me impressed and really want to dive again on that island. On our first dive in the morning in Mof Island, I’m really surprised for the healthy corals and lots of fish. While doing the transect for reef health monitoring and Fish transect for corallivores, I’m still keeping my eyes open to watch for anything, and fortunately I saw one baby grey reef shark, few napoleon wrasse, lots of schooling fusiliers, snappers and squids.

All of these things are still in my mind and I really want to come back again for the next time. Thanks so much for this amazing journey!

Ronald Mambrasar, Monitoring Officer for Kawe/Wayag and Ayau MPA, Raja Ampat Conservation International – Indonesia, Raja Ampat Program
First, I would like to say thanks to all of team who for their trust in me so I could join this expedition. The expedition like this (seamount survey) is a new experience in Raja Ampat and different with other survey that I involved so far. I am so proud with this trip because as a local person from Raja Ampat, it’s great to have my opinion be part of an international survey.

Ronald and Crissy sampling tissue from Giant Clams (Photo: E. Montague)

There are many things that I can get during this trip, from science to friendship. I would like to apologize because I don’t know or I can’t speak English well. And I would like to apologize if my opinion or suggestion is not match with the team. I hope through this trip we can promote Raja Ampat to the world and could encourage local government to take a wise decision regarding sustainable of Raja Ampat natural resources. Thank you.

Dr. Erika Montague, Associate Engineer, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Our expedition to Raja Ampat has hit a reset button on everything I thought I knew about tropical reefs. Typically a researcher and technologist of deep-sea environments, this trip has been a tremendous learning experience. How do you study such a diverse and rich three dimensional environment, spread out across many thousands hectares?

Using an arsenal of underwater cameras and systems, I set out to find some solutions to this problem. The coral reefs here present new and exciting monitoring challenges for CI's small and efficient monitoring team and it has been a great pleasure to work with these individuals. As Ronald and Crissy sample giant Tridacna clams in Wayag, I watch and learn, knowing that the camera I left on the reef early that day will record the shy fishes and sharks swimming past. Later back on the M/V Putri Papua, we watch video taken by the autonomous camera in our absence, thrilled to see some small black tips sharks and a dizzying array of tiny fishes. These results are encouraging and the first set towards getting technology into the hands who need it the most, people in the field.

Closeup of the mantle of a Tridacna clam (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Elvis Mambraku, Monitoring assistant of Dampier Strait MPA, Raja Ampat, Conservation International – Indonesia, Raja Ampat Program
I am so grateful; thanks to everyone on the team that has been sharing this experience with us – Raja Ampat citizens. Through coral reef monitoring team, we can learn the science of fish and coral that we already know traditionally in name. That is why, I, personally could not reward the kindness from the team. It’s only my prayers to God that I hope God always accompanies and protects the monitoring team. From advisors to team leaders to officers: thank you.

ROV Operations from left to rigth: Bruce, Greg, Elvis, Marko, Crissy, Dafy, and Erdi (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Although, sometime I have mistakes as monitoring assistant, I apologize regarding my mistakes to monitoring team who always give kind attention to me. There is God who accompanies us during our duty.

Dr. Randi Rotjan, Associate Research Scientist, New England Aquarium
I have been working with the CI monitoring team to examine coral diversity and health, and fish-coral interactions, in various habitats that we’ve visited. To do this, I’ve been collaborating with Erdi, who is a local coral expert, and Defy, a local fish expert.
Yesterday, we were excited to see a school of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometapon muricatum) chomping on the reef.

Bumphead parrotfish schooling on a reef near Mof Island, Raja Ampat (Photos: R. Rotjan)

There are discussions about listing this species as endangered, since it is so rare in most places. It was a real thrill to see 41(!!) individuals together, chomping dead coral substrate and live coral. We made some terrific observations to add to our dataset. This is yet another sign of the healthy reefs we are seeing. As the search for seamounts continues, we continue to document all that we see--coral diversity and abundance, fish diversity and biomass, coral disease incidence, corallivory and bleaching (or lack thereof).

It is a great honor to be a part of this expedition and to be working with so many international colleagues.
Science, exploration, discovery: onwards!

Expedition group shot


  1. I miss the team and this journey. Best fishes and wishes to all of you.

  2. I miss the team and journey.
    Best fishes and wishes to all of you.