Sighting, stories, reviews, and experiences from the diving and snorkeling volunteers with TRACC.

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29.2.16

Shy Words and Rollercoasters - Teaching English at Kalapuan Island

Sheau Peng in the Classroom
Sundays at TRACC include a short boat ride to the neighboring island of Kalapuan to teach English, basic science, and a bit about recycling in an effort to clean up the island and prepare the next generation to be active stewards of their island and environment.

Sheau Peng a TRACC volunteer and Marine Science A-level student stands in the front of the open classroom in front of about 50 young village children and writes the lesson on the black board. Today the children learn three letters, A, B, C, and three words from each letter, as well as a short and helpful English phrase. “Good Morning, My Name is ____. I am a Girl/Boy”.  The children actively and attentively write down each letter and word Peng writes on the blackboard, careful to be sure each letter and word is perfectly written.

TRACC Volunteer Liam Working the "Rollercoaster"
When the time comes for Peng to ask the children to stand up and speak their new phrase, a few brave students rise and proudly use their new words. Yet when Peng walks to a side of the room to ask a particular student to use the phrase, the rest of the students quickly scuttle to the opposite side, shyly, but happily, avoiding being called on. The lesson moves on and the students learn a little about health and nutrition, and separating glass, plastic, and metal for recycling, before being sent out into the village, garbage bags in tow, to practice their new skills and collect plastic bottles for recycling.

After the lesson Peng and a few other TRACC Volunteers and A-level students are led to the other side of the island by the group of happy students to explore the tide pools and see the “rollercoaster” (the swing crafted from rope and a section of an old rubber tire and strung high between two trees). As we walk, the children so shy in the classroom, excitedly test their new words and shout “Good Morning. My name is _____. I am a Girl/Boy” up and down the path.
Kalapuan from the Boat


Peng, sums it up best as we walk back to the boat to return to Pom-Pom Island – “It’s so satisfying to see the children already using their English words” – and I see exactly what she means. The peaceful village is filled with bright happy voices and the intelligent and observing faces of children learning skills that will provide them with wider opportunities in the future. 






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27.2.16

Dinner anyone? Endangered Humphead wrasse for sale!

Female humphead wrasse on Sipadan
In Jan 2016, we have just surveyed all the known live fish trade holding tanks and there are approximately 126 individual Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) of sizes from 20-60cm for sale in all the live fish cages close to Semporna.

Really this shocking for 2 reasons.:-  1 there should be many more fish when the wholesale price is US$50 (Rm200) per kilo.  2 There should not be any of these fish for sale. The species is classed as endangered by the IUCN Red list Endangered A2bd+3bd
and protected from export by Malaysian fisheries.  BUT there is no protection within the country.

Malaysians would not eat tigers, elephants or orang utans but endangered marine life :- fish, shark or ray is obviously acceptable

The IUCN red list justification and TRACC observations suggests that the effort from many thousands of fishers results in occasional catches of a few individuals each month or even each year, (IUCN Red list 2016).  The current population of juveniles in fish cages is thought to represent many thousands of hours of fishers searching reefs to catch and remove the last few individuals.

Adult male Humphead wrasse can exceed 1.5m (6ft).
The fish is female until it reaches around 1m
and then it changes sex to become male.
There are only a few of these fish left, Malaysia is proud of its status as a part of the Coral Triangle yet the biggest fish on the reefs is being allowed to go extinct with no attempt at protection.

Between 1996 and 2000, TRACC marine surveys of North Borneo (Sarawak, Sabah & Brunei) spent over 5000 hours underwater. Of 365 sites surveyed, only 11 individuals of the species were found on reefs that were not totally protected. The surveys determined that there were 3 spawning aggregation sites for Humphead wrasse in Sabah (Pulau Layang Layang, Sipadan and Balambangan island)).  A fourth aggregation site was suspected but no breeding activity was seen.
Fishermen interviews and market survey information in 2003 suggested that historically there were more than 50 spawning sites around the coast.

Where have all these fish gone?

Studies on healthy reefs have shown that there are normally 10-20 individuals in each hectare (10,000m2) of reef.  In Semporna district alone the unfished population was probably 350 X 100 x 10 = 350,000 fish (reef area sq km, hectares in 1 sq km and 10 fish).  The population now is less than 1000 so 349,000 fish from Semporna alone have been killed.  That is a very serious measure of overfishing; 349 killed 1 alive!.

Big female fish with no hump.
A re-survey for sharks and other large fish in 2011-2013, with over 10,000 survey hours suggested that only one Humphead wrasse spawning aggregation site at Sipadan MPA was still functional. The populations in Layang Layang and Balambangan have been seriously reduced and we could find no evidence of spawning.  There is however a possibility that SIMCA - Lankayan island has been protected and may have developed a breeding population.  Additional reef surveys by WWF 2009 and TRACC 2013 showed that HHW were effectively extinct in the Semporna region.

Even though scientific surveys could find no Humphead wrasse the price is so high (RM200/kg) that the fishing continues. Small numbers of small HHW (15-25cm) are caught occasionally around the Sabah coast ((where are their parents???)) and these baby fish are all kept alive and transferred to floating fish cages for on-growing and eventual sale to the live fish trade.

TRACC purchased 6 individuals in 2013 (more) and 4 individuals in 2015 from the live fish trade aquaculture cages.  These small individuals (approx 20-25cm) were released back into the wild on Pom Pom Island which is a community protected area.  The rescued fish are seen on a regular basis and are clearly growing.  None of the fish are reproductive size in Jan 2016.

The species is a charismatic icon for healthy reefs,  every book on coral reefs includes photos of Humphead wrasse.  Is the legacy of our generation that we took photos but ate all the Humphead wrasse to extinction?

There are a few of these fish left that have not been eaten, we hope to use the remnant population to repopulate an area, advocate for more effective MPA and create an action leading to a policy change so that the species is totally protected under Malaysian law.

Talk to us if you want to rescue a humphead wrasse which we will release and care for.  Of course we would like you to come and dive to see your fish.  :-)

We have also rescued sharks from the fishermen and will buy more in 2016 -->>more info

--------------------------------------------------------------
If you want to help with any marine conservation activity, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc.org
Check out our posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
on twitter tracc_borneo
on google + tracc


or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram

25.2.16

Turtle Nesting on Pom Pom Island

The Return to the Ocean
This week, the first turtle of the season clambered onto the beach just outside of TRACC to lay her many eggs. As we sat in the communal area, number 4, waiting for dinner we were alerted to unusual activity by the steady bark of the camp dog Monsoon. Curious about the barking Paul went out to check out the scene, triumphantly returning with news of turtle tracks just up the beach. Equipped with red headlamps and the knowledge of Professor Steve, the camp went out to find a large, old and impressive green turtle well hidden beneath the spiky underbrush.

Turtles are aged through the length of the shell, with about 1-2 cm equaling 1 year, this one measuring 1 meter from shell tip to tip was a little less then 100 years old when accounting for her initial 2-4 cm hatchling shell.

Oblivious, as most sea creatures are to red and green light as they have no need to distinguish between it at the depths they spend most of their lives where those colors don’t reach, we watched her under the red glow of a headlamp. The initial hole was dug with the front flippers with much crashing of undergrowth. The next stage was chambering where she dug a smaller hole at the bottom of the pit.  Steadily she used one rear flipper then another rocking her body to and fro to dig her hole into the sand. She folded in the edges of her hind flippers to create a perfect bowl shaped shovel and continued the hard work of making a deeper nest. When she could no longer reach the bottom of her egg chamber, she moved to position her hind flippers over the hole.

Laying Eggs in the Underbrush
It’s usual for a turtle to lay between 80 and 100 eggs, 3-7 times each year and the range is thought to be between about 60 and 120. When satisfied with its size and depth, she began to lay her approximate 140 eggs in what we believe to be her first nest of the season.

After laying her eggs she filled her nest with sand to cover and incubate the eggs, and then tossed
sand and brush over the nest with her front flippers, to hide the nest. Becoming tired, she slowed more often to rest during this process, providing a chance for the A-level marine science students to practice some of their data collection skills and measure the turtles shell height and width – the standard measurements used to determine size and age. The resting period of our turtle friend also gave the team from Pom Pom resort, which has the official privilege to gather and safely incubate the eggs away from the danger of poachers and natural scavengers, a chance to begin collecting the eggs.

A-Level Students Basil and Graeme
Soon after she was satisfied her nest was safely hidden she turned around in the sandy underbrush, clumsy with her huge weight on land, and headed back to the ocean. Surprisingly quickly and steadily she made her way down the beach, shortened by the high tide she prefers for nesting, and entered to water.

Its easy to imagine she must now be relieved to be back in the ocean where her 100 Land kilograms are lightened to what feels like 2, and she can gracefully and swiftly move through her underwater home. In about 2 weeks she will pick another evening high tide to revisit the beach within about 50 meters of her first nest and lay another nest of eggs. For now, her eggs lay safely protected and incubating on Pom Pom Island, and in about 60 days we will have the privilege of witnessing the hatchlings finding their way back into their watery home.  

More about the turtles of Pom Pom

For more information, please check the TRACC website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org 


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The Moral of Coral

The March issue of A.S. Magazine features an article on TRACC and the wonderful reef rejuvenation project happening on Pom Pom Island written by past TRACC volunteer Sarah Tulkens. The full article is available in both French and Dutch, and the section focusing on TRACC has been translated to English below.  Thanks for the great write up Sarah and for the translation Erik Hagestad!

The Moral of Coral

“Pom Pom Island is a miniscule Tropical Island situated a short hour boat ride off the coast of north-east Borneo and in the heart of the marine protected marine park of Tun Sakaran. It boasts all the usual characteristics of a tropical island; warm crystal-clear seawater, fine sand beaches, palm trees, all the tropical vegetation, and occasional torrential rains of such islands.
            Over the last 45 years there have been massive amounts of bomb-fishing, a deplorable method of fishing where explosives are detonated under water. It is also very practical, allowing fishermen to easily harvest the dead fish, which float to the surface. It is also devastating to all underwater life. It goes without saying that such areas resemble graveyards – huge stains of dead coral with no other life around.
            The British marine biologist Steve Oakley decided five years ago to create an NGO with the goal of revitalizing the coral reef crest circling Pom Pom Island – TRACC, the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre. He assembled a team of a dozen people charged with the tasks of logistics, scientific research and education. Each year they welcome dozens of volunteers, students, and interns all pursuing the same goal; the rehabilitation of the reef around Pom Pom Island.
            A small primitive camp of tents, buildings and toilets/showers, all open air, the facility is home to the collaborators of project TRACC. Six days a week they build structures that the divers install underwater to help coral grow and provide protection to the marine eco-system. In the neighboring dive sites you can see the hard and soft corals growing, which were planted on such structures in the past and which will grow into a new reef and help stabilize the sandy crest of the island.
            The fabulous results of this long, hard process are already apparent after 5 years – fish surveys have shown a renewed presence of large fish – schools of barracuda, bump-head parrotfish and morays, big–eye trevally, eagle rays and even coral cat sharks spotted on night dives. If you add to that the dozens of species of small reef fish, nudibranchs and coral, starfish and sea cucumbers, you realize that things are moving in the right direction.

            Pom Pom Island is a favorite locale for sea turtles to lay their eggs; sadly poachers unearth them in the night to sell in the market at nearby Semporna. Here again TRACC is trying to make a difference and put an end to this practice. The team collects the new eggs and incubates them in a secure place until they are ready to hatch. Afterwards the new baby turtles are released in the sea. The population of green and hawksbill turtles has grown dramatically over the past few years. As for sharks, the team buys the living ones in the market before the restaurants can put them on the menu and releases them into the sea. Thus, TRACC puts in practice its motto ‘one shark one turtle and one coral at a time.’”


To read to full article in French click here, for Dutch click here!

For more information, please check the TRACC website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org 


The main website is at tracc.org
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21.2.16

Operation Sauvetage Du Recif Corallien

Article sur TRACC
l'activité de conservation marine ---> PDF ici <--- Publié dans le magazine A S Adventure février 2016
(English translation here)


Merci pour votre intérêt dans TRACC



Merci Sarah Tulkens Sarah@fraichedebxl.be

--> résumé à propos de la TRACC en français ici <--


For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org 


The main website is at tracc.org
Check out our social media posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
on twitter tracc_borneo
on google + tracc 
Instagram  traccborneo






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