Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Blue Light Adventure...

The 'Blue Light Night Snorkeling' experience is a one-of-a-kind trip at Gili Lankanfushi: Completely different from any other snorkel trip you will go on!

Don your wetsuit as the sun sets in front of the Marine Sports Centre, make yourself comfortable, and join our short briefing, showing you some of the wonders that you are about to see. As the sky changes from brilliant orange to a deep purple and the first stars begin to wink, you kit up with CSI-esque hand strapped torches and yellow mask filters, and step onto the pontoon boat that awaits you. You are whisked off to our One Palm Island where the blue light adventure begins...

The excitement of searching for fish and other critters in the darkness with your beam of white light is exhilarating in itself, where you will notice plenty of things that you wouldn't spot in the day time. The experience is taken to the next level though when you switch your torch to the special blue light setting and pull your mask filter down...
The corals glow in front of you in neon green whilst everything else remains dark. Looking closely you can spot bright yellows and reds woven into the shades of green. Everywhere you shine your torch you see the bright fluorescence and you notice how alive the reef really is. Even shining your torch to the sand picks up the tiny sand anemones that are so intricate and transparent that you would never see them without the fluorescence. One guest likened it to searching for emeralds as he swam around between the reefs!

The phenomenon you are witnessing is something called coral fluorescence. A relatively new discovery, what we see under the blue light are the effects of excited 'Green Fluorescent Proteins' within the coral animals.The corals aren't glowing on their own like glowworms & fireflies are able to, but the blue wavelengths of light given off by the torch are being absorbed and re-emitted as a different wavelength which are the fluorescent colours that we see. The yellow mask filter is used to block out any reflected blue rays and enhance the light show even more. It really is a spectacular sight!

The incredible thing about coral fluorescence is how little is actually known about it. Nobody quite knows why the corals fluoresce as they do or what the reason is for these special proteins? Theories include: The fluorescent proteins could be acting as a sunscreen, absorbing UV light thereby protecting the coral tissue from damage; the corals might be using their fluorescence to attract prey towards their tentacles, or to deter coral larvae from settling on existing living corals. New evidence from the Red Sea suggests corals emitting red florescence may be converting short wavelength UV rays into red photons with longer wavelengths which symbiotic algae can turn into energy more effectively.

We actively invite our guests, and you, to get thinking about the reasons for this incredible phenomenon and we constantly get some really interesting suggestions! Keep on guessing!

Regardless of its purpose, the fluorescence transforms the night snorkel into an extraordinary adventure which is quickly becoming one of our most popular excursions! Come and join us!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Welcome To A New World

Discover SCUBA Diving at Gili Lankanfushi
Photo credit: Josie Chandler
Have you always wondered what it’s like to breathe underwater? If you want to try SCUBA diving, but aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into a certification course, Gili Lankanfushi offers a Discover SCUBA Diving (DSD) program. We begin either in the pool or off the beach and if you’re comfortable then we can head out by boat for an amazing reef dive! Our team of instructors have been fortunate enough to take over 100 guests in the last couple of months alone for their very first breaths underwater. As an instructor, it has to be one of the most rewarding parts of the job as it’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to introduce someone to a whole new world! Some of our first time divers have even been lucky enough to spot turtles and Manta rays on their very first Discover SCUBA Diving experience - well worth a try!

While not a certification course, Discover Scuba Diving is a quick and easy introduction to what it’s like to explore the underwater world. To sign up for a PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience, you must be at least 10 years old, and no prior experience with SCUBA diving is necessary, but you do need to be in reasonable physical health and be comfortable in the water.

Hope to see you soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Gili rays- a lot of confusion!

We're very lucky at Gili Lankanfushi in that we get to see a lot of beautiful ray species around the island. They can be spotted frequently from the pontoon boats or be seen dancing around in the light from our water villas and- if you're really lucky, they will sometimes make an appearance during a snorkel trip too.

Can you identify this guy?
A Spotted Eagle ray sighted at night off the villa
Perhaps due to their size or their graceful nature, they are always an exciting thing to spot wherever you are. We often get guests visiting us at the desk and telling us about which ones they've sighted that day and we love identifying which species it was from descriptions of colour, shape, behaviour or blurry photos. At a fleeting glance or a flick of a tail they can appear quite similar and we've noticed that there's a lot of confusion surrounding which ray is which. So we've decided to try and clear up the confusion a bit with a brief overview of our rays at Gili!

We can start with some background information on rays...

Rays are actually very closely related to sharks and both are what we call 'cartilaginous fish' (yes they are fish!) in the Elasmobranch taxonomic class. These Elasmobranchs are different from most fish you see on the reefs, like the parrotfish, butterflyfish, triggerfish and so on, as these are all 'bony fish' or class Osteichthyes (also sometimes called 'true fish'). As you can imagine, the main difference between cartilaginous fish and bony fish is the composition of the skeleton but sharks, rays and other members of the cartilaginous fish class also have other unique features such as rigid dorsal fins, special placoid scales and no swim bladder.

The rays themselves can come in many different shapes and sizes. So here's a quick run down on the main ones we see around Gili...

Stingrays are bottom dwellers and this is an obvious trait that we can use to identify them. They will spend their time on the seabed either feeding, lying stationary to conserve energy or gliding around very close to the sandy bottom. Sometimes they will cover themselves in sand for camouflage, with only their eyes and tail visible. It can be quite alarming when what you thought was a dead palm frond turns out to be the tail of a large stingray!

Most stingrays have barbed stingers, usually at the base of their tail, which they will only use for self-defense. Stingrays are not aggressive and do not sting without being provoked. The only time to be wary of stingrays is when entering the water, it’s important to check before jumping in so that you don’t land on one!

A variety of stingrays can be spotted commonly under the villas! Credit: Vaidas Kirsys
Eagle rays do not live on the sea bottom but instead will be found swimming or gliding gracefully through the water. They have quite distinctive 'duck-like' snouts at the front of their diamond shaped bodies and can occasionally be seen burrowing their snouts into the sand looking for food. Whereas most of the stingrays are pale and sandy coloured, the eagle rays are much more obvious with their dark blue/black colouring and bright white underside. These rays can have very long tails, up to 5 metres, and can swim very rapidly. They do also have barbed tails, however they are much more likely to use their speed to escape and rarely use them. 

The most commonly sighted eagle ray species is the White-spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus), has a dark blue/black dorsal side with distinctive white spots and a white underside. (Photograph from animalspot.net)

A reef Manta Ray at Vavvaru Island. 
Credit: Gianluca Arlotti
Manta rays have to be the most popular rays at the dive centre, with lots of guests keen to learn about them or asking where they can go to see them. Manta rays are in the same family as Eagle rays (Myliobatidae) and they too will be seen gliding through the water rather than on the seabed. These rays are much larger in size than stingrays and eagle rays, reaching up to 4.5 metres diameter in the reef manta ray! It is possible to see these majestic rays by snorkeling, but you must be extremely lucky to encounter one, and almost always outside the lagoon, as they are not sighted around the shallow waters of Gili Lankanfushi or near the villas. For the best chance to see them, you have to visit special diving sites by SCUBA. They will often visit specific reefs to be cleaned by small cleaner wrasse or be seen scooping up the plankton soup with their specialized cephalic fins. Certain times of the year yield better chances of seeing them at different sites around the atolls, but for us, between May and October is best. During this period, it is also possible to see the mantas in large numbers at a place called Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll, where we have recently started running a trip. Although it's almost 3 hours away, the chance to see 100+ mantas in one aggregation is something that will stay with you for a lifetime. Ask about it next time you visit!

Mobula rays are very similar in form to manta rays, they are very closely related, both being in the Mobulidae family. Understandably they are often mistaken for their manta cousins but they are a much smaller species than mantas and also have certain morphological differences. Both manta and mobula rays are filter feeders which sets them apart from the stingrays and eagle rays that feed on small molluscs and crustaceans buried in the sand. They are also completely harmless with no stinging barb at all.These rays can be spotted in the shallow waters around Gili, but they are quite rare!
Three Short-fin Devil Rays (mobulas) gliding through the water . They will often be found in schools of between 3-20. Credit: Josie Chandler


Finally, this strange creature! Is it a shark? Is it a ray? Is it a plane? It is in fact... a ray! Also sometimes called 'shark rays', these guitarfish look like they are half of each, but a few characteristics like their ventrally located mouth and gills, classify them as rays in the Rajiformes order. This ray can reach up to 3 metres in length and has on occasion been spotted cruising by guest villas!

Hopefully now you can tell your mobulas from your guitarfish and your mantas from your stingrays. Remember to look out for body shape, colouration and general behaviour when you see them- happy spotting! 

Monday, June 8, 2015

One Nation Coral Revival

Over the past weekend we have been in Villingili, a beautiful local island close to Male, attending the ‘One Nation Coral Revival event. This environmental festival was organised by Save the Beach Villingili; a non governmental organisation which takes responsibility for the cleaning and protection of the beaches and reefs of Villingili island.
It was an event that we had been planning for and looking forward to for a long time, but as is typical for Hulhangu monsoon, the weekend was threatened by the huge storm which brewed overhead the night before! Nevertheless, we endured a bumpy crossing over to Male with all of our gear in the hope that it would still go ahead. The weather didn't let up that night, and despite the organisers’ hard work, they were forced to postpone the event as it was impossible to set the tents and stalls up in gale force winds! We received word that the event was being postponed to start a day later on Saturday- but at least it would still be going ahead!

Debs planting her coral frame
Saturday morning couldn’t have been more different from the days before, the wind had completely dropped and the sun was out: What a perfect day for the event! We arrived in Villingili bright and early and were impressed to see all the work that had obviously been put into organizing everything. A number of tents were spread out over the beach area, each housing a different environmental organisation, school group or company, all of whom had put great effort into decorating their tent and providing great activities for the visitors. In addition to this there was a Main Stage where musicians and dancers performed throughout the day; a special Awareness Tent for organisations to share their work; free watersports and diving; as well as coral planting, which was the main event! Corals had been taken from a land reclamation site, and visitors could use these to plant a coral frame which not only raises awareness, but also helps to rehabilitate degraded reefs around Villingili.

A whole range of people attended the event from local islanders and school children, to resort guests and journalists. Even the local TV crews were present to make a short except for the news! Officially opening the event was the Minister for Tourism who spent a couple of hours visiting each stall and speaking to various organisations and visitors. 

Debs, myself & Nat manning "Resort Environmental Initiatives"
Our tent was representing ‘Resort Environmental Projects’ and it was manned by myself and Debs for Gili Lankanfushi, along with the Marine Biologist from Cocoa Island, Nathaniel (Nat) Stephenson. We were showcasing some of the environmentally friendly initiatives currently going on within our resorts which are relatively easy to do, and make a big difference. Using various posters and props from around the resort, we were able to spread awareness and speak with a lot of people over the course of the festival regarding initiatives and projects like our environmental codes of conduct, Coral Lines Project, Gili Eco Centre, Swimsol solar panel, the importance of snorkel/dive briefings and so on. Debs and Nat also presented in the Awareness Tent on the subjects of ‘Coral Lines’ and ‘The COMO Approach’.
It was great to see so many organisations that we currently work with like Manta Trust, Olive Ridley Project, & Green Fins, but we also got the opportunity to meet some groups that we hadn’t worked with previously.
Debs describing the threats facing coral reefs
Showcasing our Eco-Centre
As well as being a great platform for us to raise awareness to the general public about the individual projects we run, it was also great opportunity for all the environmental groups from around the country to gather and speak about some of the issues that we are facing in the Maldives and share advice. We’ve come away feeling like we’ve shared a lot and learnt a lot too.
The event was a great success and we hope to return again next year to be part of an even bigger and better One Nation Coral Revival! 

Marine Biologists also live in colonies!