Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bioluminescence at Gili Lankanfushi

Sparkles at midnight

The sea never sleeps. Even at night it is bursting with a wonder that seems almost magical - flashes seeming to appear out of nowhere when the ocean is otherwise shrouded in darkness.

When the lights go out nature doesn’t stop communicating. Similar to our adaptations to cope with the dark, by making light, many organisms have developed the ability to produce light. This is called bioluminescence and is created by a chemical reaction within the organism. It is not the same as fluorescence which results from the organism absorbing light at one wavelength and then re-emitting it at another wavelength. Bioluminescence is therefore an active form of communication, whereas fluorescence is passive communication. Whilst visual light is required to observe fluorescence, bioluminescence can be witnessed in pitch black environments. It is generally blue/green in color and this is due to the shorter blue/green light waves travelling further under water.

Bioluminescent beach (credit to National Aquarium) 
Bioluminescence can be found throughout the ocean in many different groups such as jellyfish, sharks, fish, algae and worms to name a few. In each group the chemical reaction that produces the light varies, which is evidence that bioluminescence has evolved multiple times. Generally, bioluminescent animals contain the chemicals required to produce light, but occasionally an animal can take in bacteria or a different bioluminescent organism that has the ability to produce bioluminescence. For example, the Hawaiian bobtail squid takes in bioluminescent bacteria which are stored in a special light organ and at night they then work together to produce light. This light acts as a cloaking device preventing the squid from casting a shadow and hence camouflaging the squid from predators.

Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (credit to Microbial Life)
For light to be produced organisms must contain the molecule luciferin which when combined with oxygen produces light. Different organisms will contain different types of luciferin. Some organisms can contain a catalyst called luciferase which can speed up the chemical reaction. Additionally, luciferin and oxygen can be bundled together to make a photoprotein which can be activated instantaneously when a certain ion becomes present. The intensity and colour displayed can also vary and this is very important for communication.

Bioluminescent animals can be found on land and in the water column, from the surface to the deepest part of the ocean at challenger deep (10,994m), and in coastal and oceanic environments. In coastal environments around 2.5% of organisms are bioluminescent whereas in pelagic environments the number is significantly higher. Studies estimate that around 70% of fish and 97% of cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, anemones and hydroids) are bioluminescent. Due to the vastness of this form of communication it could be said that bioluminescence may be the most abundant form of communication on earth. Humans see only a small portion of bioluminescence - we generally observe bioluminescence resulting from physical turbulences of the surface water due to waves or boat hulls. The aggravation of the water triggers a bioluminescent response in surface dwelling bioluminescent organisms. One of the most common bioluminescent displays observed by humans is from planktonic surface dwellers. When blooming they form a dense surface layer, which by daylight is reddish-brown in colour but at night transforms into a light display. We can see bioluminescence at Gili Lankanfushi - turn your torch off on a night snorkel and wave your hands around to disturb the water. Bioluminescence is unpredictable but the best times to observe it are when the moon is waning. 

Animals can light up for a variety of reasons: to defend themselves, to procure mates and to camouflage or hunt. The dark is an unforgiving place and finding food can be life or death. Some animals concentrate their bioluminescence in a lure and dangle it around their mouths. The deep-sea angler fish has this adaptation - its lure is lit by bioluminescent bacteria. Prey are attracted to the light and can be engulfed before they realise it. The Stauroteuthis octopus which lives below 700m has replaced some of its suckers with bioluminescent cells that direct their planktonic prey into their mouth. The production of light by the cookie-cutter shark tricks whales and squid into venturing closer and once close enough the shark takes a bite out of the animal before it escapes.

Bioluminescent Octopus (credit to Clickhole)
Long wavelengths like red light are absorbed quickly in the surface waters and it is due to this that many deep sea animals are red - they become invisible. Additionally many organisms have lost the ability to see red light. However, the dragonfish has evolved to emit and see red light. This allows it to see red coloured prey and also they can light up the surrounding water to hunt or look for a mate.

Finding a mate in the dark can be a major hardship. Flashing bioluminescent displays can be used as a signal between males and females of the same species to signify the desire to reproduce. For example, a type of male Caribbean crustacean (ostracod) lights up its upper lips to attract females. 

Even though bioluminescence lights up the darkness it can be used for protection and camouflage. Many animals will produce a strong flash of light to confuse predators and swim off whilst the predator is blinded. Some squid can produce bioluminescent ink - upon ejection it can stick to the predator and light it up. This can lead to the predator becoming a meal for something even larger. If a predator manages to take a bite out of a bioluminescent organism the stomach of that predator will glow making it an easy target and giving the prey time to escape.

Bioluminescent squid (credit to Arkive)
Bioluminescence can also be used for counter illumination. This is where the animal can manipulate light to prevent itself producing a shadow and making it almost invisible. They can use bioluminescence to match the light coming from the surface. This makes it almost impossible for predators below to see their prey. The lantern shark is an example of this – it can make itself look invisible by producing blue/green light to blend in with the background.

Counter illumination (credits to University of Southampton)
It’s surprising how any organisms create light, even in an aquarium you may notice it. Next time you are at Gili Lankanfushi try and see the bioluminescence yourself. You never know when the next flash of light will catch you by surprise!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Gili Lankanfushi celebrates the festive season with a Christmas Coral Line

Gili Lankanfushi put a festive spin on conservation with a Christmas coral line, we helped the marine life, guests and hosts get into the Christmas spirit. Let’s hope for a Christmas miracle!  

Gili Lankanfushi takes every opportunity to inspire our guests and hosts about the environment and sustainability. This festive season was the perfect opportunity to inject some Christmas spirit into our coral lines project and get as many involved as possible.

Measuring the coral
The coral lines project started in 2014, it is a coral nursery and contains almost 9000 coral fragments that are bursting with colour and potential. We have over 20 different varieties of corals and we are hoping they can repopulate our house reef and put more colour back into our seas. We use our successful coral nursery as an education tool about coral reefs, their threats and practical conservation methods that are being undertaken. Worldwide coral reefs are in distress and dying as a result of our impacts to the environment. Therefore, Gili Lankanfushi’s plan to help rehabilitate the environment is to nurse our corals on the ropes and later transplant them onto our One Palm Island house reef. We nurse the corals until they are strong enough to be moved to the house reef. Once on the house reef we expect them to thrive and provide habitat for fish, turtles and rays.

Clare explaining coral biology
This was the Coral Line Project’s fourth Christmas and it was celebrated in true Gili style. We had the Gili family attend and they helped inspire the guests and raise awareness about the project and our conservation efforts. The line was made by inserting 35 fragments of coral which were around five centimetres in size into a five metre rope. We then measured the size of each fragment. Whilst the line was being made we educated everyone in attendance about corals, their threats and what we do. We then planted the line, on the snorkel we were lucky enough to see a baby green turtle resting on the nursery, a flutemouth and many other beautiful fish. The name of the line is ‘To plant, to grow, to live’. We had many suggestions for the name but sadly only one could be chosen. Gili fell in love with Laura’s suggests so thank you. To view the coral line please click on this link. We will update the webpage over the coming year with new photos and measurements.

 A big thank you to everyone who helped. It was great fun for everyone involved! The coral’s couldn’t have asked for a better send off and start to their new life saving our reef.

Snorkel around the coral nursery 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gili's Assistant Marine Biologist

Getting to know our Marine Biology Team

Emma Bell is the Assistant Marine Biologist at Gili Lankanfushi.  She works tirelessly to teach our guests about the marine environment by guiding snorkels, giving presentations and assisting in our research projects.  Emma first began her role in July 2017 and has helped so many of our guests and hosts understand more about the world around them.  After almost six-months in the role, we thought it was about time to hear more about how and why she decided to venture into the exciting world of Marine Biology in the Maldives.

What made you first want to become a marine biologist?
From a very young age the water has always called to me, be it the ocean, a swimming pool, jumping in puddles or a bath tub! I always knew I needed a profession that was water based. Through-out school and college I had a passion for science particularly biology. When I was applying to University selecting Marine Biologist was just the right thing for me.

What has been your favourite marine experience to date?
I was lucky enough to observe a beautiful nesting green turtle whilst working in the Seychelles. She came up the beach at around 11pm and took the arduous process of digging out her nest and laying her clutch of around 200 eggs. She was there until 1am. I then had the privilege to watch as she dragged her 100+kg body back to the sea. As she entered the ocean bioluminescent sparks were seen blossoming around her flippers. It was a truly breathtaking moment. What a way to say goodbye to her babies.

What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is making a difference, giving back to the environment and inspiring people to make positive change. One of the best aspects of my job is working on the coral lines project. The project aims to repopulate our reef through direct transplantation of corals from the nursery and indirectly by increasing the coral population through natural spawning of the corals from the coral lines. Some of these spawned larvae will settle on our reef and hopefully grow into flourishing corals. Another aspect I love about my job is speaking to guests and educating them about sustainable living and how to be kind to the environment. Even if I just inspire one person I will still have made a difference.

What is the hardest part of your job?
I do my best to create a safe environment for the marine creatures that share their home with me, but it isn’t always enough. The hardest part of my job is seeing when humanity destroys the beautiful animals in the ocean. Be that, a turtle entangled in ghost nets, a piece of floating plastic or fishing line in the water, propeller injuries on mantas and dolphins or coral bleaching. But it makes me fight harder to make a brighter future for them than what is currently forecasted.

What is it like to work in the Maldives?
The Maldives is beautiful. The view from my office is endless azure oceans and sun shine. There is as much beauty above and below the water. Entering the underwater world it like stepping into your favourite aquarium, but only better as the ocean is free and endless. Additionally, the culture and the people here are very vibrant and friendly. I feel at home in my little portion of paradise.

What is your career highlight?
I had just finished my turtle watching shift covered in sand a mosquito bites. All I wanted was some clean clothes and a shower. But then we got the call – “green turtles mating”. I have never gotten my swimming gear on in such quick time.  

What do you hope to achieve at Gili?
My passion is helping the environment. Last year the reefs of the Maldives where decimated by the 2016 bleaching event. Sadly, as a result our house reef now has poor coral coverage. At Gili, we have a fantastic coral nursery which houses over 8,000 coral fragments. I would like to expand the current coral nursery and I would love to see some of the corals from the nursery being planted on the house reef, so we can start the coral restoration process.

What is your favorite hobby?
I am very lucky, my favourite hobby is one I get to practice regularly – scuba diving. I started diving at 14, I am now a rescue diver (PADI) and sports diver (BSAC). I have had the privilege to dive in Maldives, England, Wales, Bali, Montenegro, Crete and Bali. Diving in the Maldives is breathtaking, with beauty in both large and small scale. Although, it isn’t just Maldives with amazing diving. Not many people will believe this but there are some awesome wreck dives in the UK. Definitely worth taking the plunge – with the proper thermal protection! No one wants hyperthermia.

What is your favourite marine animal and why?
My favourite marine animal is the majestic spotted eagle ray. They are so effortlessly magnificent. They glide through the water silently in their prefect V formation; which I have had the privilege of observing once - something I will never forget, even when I am old and grey. My favourite animal used to be dolphins, they still remain high on my list but after having seen 1000s, they don’t hold quite the same wonder as before.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gili Lankanfushi Plastic Project Launch and Education

Gili Lankanfushi conserves our limited resources and cleans up our islands to help preserve our future.
Following the success of plastic recycling on Gili Lankanfushi we took the leap and expanded our project. On November 2nd Gili Lankanfushi visited Himmafushi, a local island and a big producer of plastic waste due to their plastic water bottle factory. With the assistance of the local NGO Parley, who are spearheading plastic recycling in the Maldives our aim was to implement a plastic recycling project at the school and expand this throughout the island. Together with Parley, the teachers and local council members in attendance Gili Lankanfushi conducted a 30 minute presentation including two activities which all the children participated in. The presentation was well received and the council were positive regarding expanding recycling to all areas of the island. After the school visit 50 staff from Gili Lankanfushi conducted an island plastic clean to demonstrate how easy it is to recycle plastic and what types of plastic can be recycled. A huge amount of plastic was collected and on seeing this the Himmafushi local community has also become inspired to recycle their plastic waste. Gili Lankanfushi will remain in close contact with Himmafushi and offer support and guidance when needed.
Launching plastic recycling on the local island Himmafushi
Giving presentation on plastic recycling to local school children and the council
Throughout August 2017 on Gili Lankanfushi 280 hosts attended the sustainability training. Host mentally regarding plastic pollution, water, electricity and food waste has now changed for the better. In addition to Gili Lankanfushi’s plastic presentation Maai Rasheed from Parley visited and conducted a presentation about plastic recycling. Hosts can now be seen regularly recycling their plastic and helping with island cleans - for example the recent Himmafushi clean.
The results of Himmafushi plastic clean up
Following the training activities aimed at increasing host water and electricity use awareness, hosts now know how to reduce wasting these resources through enhanced understanding of water and electricity requirements of common activities. They were given top energy and water saving tips, for example using the fan over the AC, turning off electrical appliances, washing full loads in the washing machine at a low temperature - 20°C, air drying clothing, turning off lights, having shorter showers, only using a small amount of water when cleaning, turning the tap off when brushing teeth, shaving and soaping up. You can make these changes too!
Raising awareness about excessive water waste
Over the coming months plastic recycling, food waste, electricity and water use will be monitored. In the near future we will host a no bin day in the canteen which will teach hosts about portion and waste control. We have already observed a decrease in water use - before training the average host would use 200L of water per day - this is now reduced to 160L. We are confident that hosts will continue to reduce the waste of resources and participate in plastic recycling.