Saturday, January 30, 2016

Blue Whale Sighted!!

At Gili Lankanfushi we offer an incredibly popular Dolphin Cruise. Usually we have fantastic sightings of the delightfully acrobatic Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris). Sometimes, if we’re lucky we can also see pods of Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), and previously in our blog we have even played with the idea of calling our Dolphin Cruise a Whale Watch! But last months' Dolphin Cruise exceeded everyone’s expectations; as it’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to cruise alongside the biggest known animal to have ever existed on this planet. Nope, not a Dinosaur – A BLUE WHALE! 

Photo Credit: Michael Sandak
The large dorsal fin and small overall size of 15m indicates this
is a juvenile
This Indian subspecies (Balaenoptera musculus indica) is known to migrate Eastward through the Maldives archipelago between November and April as they search for more productive regions to feed. Despite their size, these whales have baleen plates in their mouths used for filter feeding on tiny plankton! 

Population estimates for the subspecies are currently unknown but thought to be around 1500 individuals, with only a handful of sightings in Maldives each year! We count ourselves incredibly lucky to have such a rare encounter! 
Typical of Blue whale, the breathing "blow" is spotted just before the dorsal fin is visible.

This one wasn't much larger than our boat, but adults can reach a monstrous 30m long! 
See you soon!
Jon & Debs

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Snorkeling

A very Merry Christmas to you all from Josie, Jon, myself and the rest of the marine team here at Gili Lankanfushi! The marine creatures must have known today was a special day as a lucky Christmas snorkeler and myself were treated to an incredible trip this morning! Luckily we had a camera and are able to share our festive snorkel with you!

Our lucky streak started as the storm that was forecast dissipated over night, leaving us with blue skies, calm seas, and bit of a breeze.. perfect for jetting out to a local snorkel spot on our speedboat "Rainbow Runner". Upon jumping, we were greeted with 40m of visibility over a reef teeming with fish of every imaginable colour. Steaks of light from the sun made the multi coloured reef fish glow like jewels, their colours exacerbated by the male fishes' ability to brighten their colours during this season to attract the females. We spotted various parrotfish and surgeonfish species exhibiting interesting courtship behaviour. Equally as exciting as the perfect conditions, we were lucky enough to have some bizarre encounters! 

This beautiful Crowned Jellyfish (Cephea cephea) was pulsing along the reef edge, its tentacles being snacked on by juvenile Red Snapper (Lutjanus bohar). 

A short free dive revealed the biggest Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) I have ever seen! This old girl was fast asleep, with her head buried under a rock- best to leave her be.

Just before we got back onto the boat, we spotted a baby Tawny Nurse Shark (Nebrius ferrugineus) lazily swimming over the coral with a Bluefin Travelly (Caranx melampygus) bigger than her in tow. The Travellys often follow shark species in the hopes of picking up some easy prey.
Last but not least, just after exiting the water, a lone Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops sp.) gave a show in front of our boat! If only we had stayed in the water a minute longer... But not bad for a Christmas snorkel trip! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Marie's Hammerhead encounter

Above photograph credit:
"Hammerhead! Hammerhead!" came the call from the jetty as our excited Dive Instructor Marie walked, or rather skipped, with her divers back to the Marine Sports Centre following what was clearly an epic dive on Gili's outer reef wall! With her hands balled into fists on either side of her head in an attempt to imitate the species (the underwater sign for hammerhead shark), and a splitting grin from ear to ear, she started to tell us about her encounter...

Constantly praised by our guests as being a calm and patient teacher, Marie was anything but calm whilst telling us about her exciting encounter. She described how the 3.5m shark didn't show itself until the very end of the already amazing dive. Her first thought was that it was a Thresher Shark (Alopias sp.), but as the beautiful creature came tantalizingly closer, she was able to see the tell-tale head shape and large dorsal fin characteristic of this species. Capable of attaining a massive size of 6.1m, this species is classed as 'Endangered' by the IUCN due to the demand for its large fins which can be sold to the Asian Market for Shark Fin Soup. This is only the fourth Hammerhead to have been recorded this year in the area, and was Marie's second Hammerhead sighting ever- her first one being in the Red Sea. We hope to see more as the shark populations of Maldives flourish following the shark fishing ban here in 2010! 

PADI Dive Instructor Marie Denis learned to dive when she was 12 years old. Having worked in 5 different countries as a diver after she gained a degree in Marine Biology, it's no wonder she has seen some incredible things! Despite having over 4000 dives under her belt, she still gets excited to take that giant stride into the water; and no wonder, when she has incredible encounters like this one!! You really never know what you're going to see down there!

Come down and dive with us!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Crown of Thorns Starfish Outbreak

Led by Chief Scientist Andy Bruckner, the team set off on their mission
Last month we welcomed with relief a team of marine biologists from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation. These scientists had agreed to visit our resort and assist us in our battle against the growing population of Crown of Thorns starfish that we were finding on our reef.

Crown of Thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci), or 'COTS', are coral eating animals that naturally occur on Indo-Pacific reefs. In small numbers they actually play an important role on the reef- by feeding on the faster growing coral species they allow room for slower growing corals to flourish. However, for reasons which are not always apparent, there will sometimes be huge outbreaks of the starfish, hundreds or even thousands on a reef, which can cause irreversible damage to the corals they are feeding on. On the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where there have been several outbreaks of the voracious species, coral cover has declined by more than 50% over the last 30 years (AIMS study) and the Crown of Thorns starfish are thought to be one of the biggest contributors to this loss.
Bright purple with about 20 arms, this beautiful sea star has poisonous spines and shouldn't be touched.
Photo Credit: Andy Bruckner; Living Oceans Foundation
In one dive, we brought up nearly 100 COTS!
Photo credit: Stefan Andrews; Living Oceans Foundation
With these sorts of statistics in mind and a COTS outbreak on our hands, we were very pleased to welcome the team of 4 for both the expertise and manpower that they would bring. Lead by Andy Bruckner, an experienced coral biologist from the USA, the team are working on behalf of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation as part of a Starfish Control and Removal (SCAR) programme. They target areas which have been hit by COTS outbreak with the goals to 1) combat the outbreak, minimizing the damage as much as possible, 2) train people to safely control outbreaks, 3) collect data in order to create a global database on COTS occurrence and outbreaks.

Over the course of four days, where three dives were carried out each day, the group managed to remove 974 COTS from the reef connecting Gili Lankanfushi with the neighbouring island of Himmafushi, which stretches only as long as 3km! Even though we were aware we had a lot, 974 was substantially more than we had expected and it just showed how this assistance had come at a very vital time. A few COTS still remain, and for now it is up to Debs and myself to remove what is left of the outbreak.