Our 16th Annual Coral Monitoring Project!

Ok – time to get yourself in gear! The 2012 Coral Monitoring survey period (annual since 1996) will be October 6 – October 18.

With a Saturday arrival, we generally plan on acclimation and jet lag recovery Saturday, land based training on Sunday and Monday we DIVE!

The Monday dives are check-out dives and more hands on training, lots of coral, fish and critter ID as well as how to deploy transect tapes underwater and collect environmental information.

Now you will know for sure if that was really 200 foot visability!

Depending on how it goes, we might keep the data and photos from the training session or with the Tuesday session.

Generally, we have enough time so that we can do one working dive and one “exploratory” dive each diving day (Shhh, don’t tell anyone) – as far as they are concerned you are slaving away – in 150+ foot vis, in 84 f. degree water, with turtles, barracuda, rare tropicals and rainbow runners dancing around you. maybe some mermaids or mantas…

Sigh – it’s a rough life…

On the (more) serious side, the collected data will be submitted to the Kosrae Island Resource Management Agency (a Kosrae State agency) for their use in managing the essential reef resource and to the regional coral database being organized by the Micronesia Conservation Trust. Usually the KIRMA staff and staff from the Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization, our local conservation NGO, who are highly trained local scientists, will work and dive with us.

In case you are wondering, yes, scientists and others put our data to good use. Coral Monitoring data was used as the basis for declaring the Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) or “komokut” as it is known locally, a protected species in Kosraean waters in 2008.

What do you need to know in order to join the survey team?? You must be dive certified. Good buoyancy is needed too, if you are feeling a little shaky we’ll help you work on your skills. We’ll teach you the rest! If you are not nitrox certified, we have a nitrox orientation class that will allow you to use nitrox while diving with us, the orientation is provided at no cost to the volunteers.

If you have an underwater camera or are an underwater photographer, that is a plus! In 2011 we modified some of our protocols to use photographs of invertebrates and any coral damage found on our trancets. Then we review the photos each night, discuss what we found (sometimes new species for our area!) and update the database.

So – JOIN US! Dive, have fun, learn something AND make a contribution to the continuing health of our ocean.

OceanEarth a 501(c)3 corporation, is an essential partner for our Reef Protection Projects.

Assisting with logistical support for the coral monitoring and mooring buoy programs since 1996, their site has a great deal of information on past projects.

Dr. Steven Smith provides the pre program training and informational materials for the volunteers and, as he is located on the US West coast, is available for telephone questions from the North American volunteers.

The monitoring team members are all self-funded. The 2012 on island costs are being subsidized by Kosrae Village so we can offer volunteers a package price of $1850 per person which includes 13 nights lodging while on Kosrae, Kosrae State lodging taxes, nitrox and all other diving related expenses.

If you have questions please email me! Photos and data collected by previous teams can be found on the OceanEarth site at http://www.oceanearth.org.

One of our 2010 volunteers, Seth Greenspan, is a talented videographer and has published a series of videos documenting our coral monitoring project on Vimeo.com.

Here is the first in the series of three videos.

Kosrae’s Protected Places

Trochus Sanctuary

The trochus sanctuary was one of the first protected areas on Kosrae. Set up originally as a reserve to provide a protected place for the introduced trochus snail to grow and reproduce, it has been tentatively identified as an important spawning ground for a number of reef fish.

Blue Hole Clam Sanctuary

This area on the reef and several other sites were established as protected areas for the Tridacna species of giant clams.

Utwe – Walung Marine Park

Utwe Walung Marine Park Entrance Sign

The Marine Park grew out of the landowners desire to develop sustainable income generating methods for their land.

The primary idea has been to focus on ecotourism, including education on the mangrove and reef ecosystems and their importance to the island and the community.

Activities such as hiking, kayaking, walking tours and outrigger canoe tours were established. This area includes the excellent snorkeling areas on both sides of the Utwe harbor and the site of the wreck of the Bully Hayes ship, the Lenore.

Picnic Huts at Utwe Marine ParkBay Facing UWMP Visitors CenterUtwe Channel Entrance Kristin Richards Photos

Utwe – Walung Biosphere Reserve

Utwe Walung Biosphere Sign

It has become increasingly obvious that these mangroves provide critical habitat for spawning fish and their juvenile stages. As a result the community decided to set aside an area within the Marine Park as a no take zone. The Biosphere pilot project was established in 2005 and it is too soon to determine the results.

Even though fishing is not allowed, recreational and educational activities are permitted, so it is possible to explore this amazing ecosystem by kayak or canoe.

Kayakers Enter the Utwe Walung Marine Park Biosphere

Reading the Utwe Walung Marine Park Biosphere Sign
Kayakers entering the Marine Park Biosphere at low tide and pausing to read the sign.

Lelu Awane Marine Park

Awane Marine Park Picnic Hut

A small reclaimed area bordering the Lelu Marina and Lelu Harbor, it was originally seen as an area where habitat could be established for juvenile fish. With a number of small picnic huts, complete with barbeque pits, the Marine Park has become an extremely popular venue for family parties and picnics. The small use fee goes toward facility maintenance.

Yela Forest

Yela Forest has not yet been declared a protected area. The Yela Forest area includes the only intact stand of Ka trees (Terminalia carolinensis) in the world. The landowners are developing a management plan for the area and have recently opened the site visitors. As you can see from Kristin Richard’s photos, the adventure includes massive quantities of mud, but the spectacular forest makes the journey worth the cleanup!

Yela Valley Entrance
Crossing Mud Field
Yela Forest Edge
A Forest Giant
Another Forest Inhabtitant
Massive Ka Dominate the Forest

The Terminalia are the trees traditionally used for ceremonial outrigger racing canoes. They thrive in the freshwater swamp at the foot of the mountain that borders on the mangrove swamp protecting the coast. The water exchange between the forests is essential to the health of both. There is the possibility of a road going through this area, which threatens both the mangrove and terminalia.

Developing Projects

Tafunsak Village has recently declared the Okat Channel as a pilot Marine Protected Area. This area, rich in juvenile fish habitat is a popular snorkeling site.

Lelu Village is considering additional areas that should be protected in the harbor and near shore areas.

Malem Village is also investigating the need to protect some of their reef and watershed.

Exploring Kosrae Underwater Archeological Sites

Although my first love is the reef and the wonderful creatures that live there, I had an opportunity to join Bruce and one of his tec students, Bob Swanson, on a survey of the Lelu Harbor wrecks. Bob lives on Kwajalein and was able to bring his side scan sonar with him as luggage. We had a day and a half to take sonar images in the harbor and dive the most intriguing sites. Here are some photos of the set up and operation of the side scan sonar.

Side Scan Sonar Fish
Sonar Fish Deployed
Monitoring the Sonar Image

First we located the wrecks that we knew, the PBM and the freighter. Here are their sonar images, the yellow arrows and circles should help you pick out the images. Sort of like sonograms, huh?

PBM Plane S Side Lelu Harbor
Japanese WWII Freighter

This plane use to be relatively intact with the nose and one wing resting at about 35 feet against the reef face and the tail at about 70 feet. I took an advanced class there a few months ago and found that the waves generated by the king tides last December had battered the PBM and moved the plane a bit deeper. This plane is still in better shape than the other two. Follow this link for more information on the Martin PBM Mariner plane.

Next we started looking for a plane that we know should be there, but that we hadn’t seen before. Found it! The second plane, possibly another PBM, is on the north side of the Lelu harbor near the entrance. It is upside down and sits in about 60 feet of water. Here is a sonar image and some photos.

Plane S Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor
Plane N Side Lelu Harbor

Finally we started investigating sonar images that were new. One was the old whaling ship which we knew, but didn’t have coordinates for, and one is apparently a completely new discovery. Another plane!

We didn’t have time to finish exploring and I think that there are more to find.

As you can see the harbor has really terrible visibility, maybe 10 – 20 feet on a good day and some of the sites we attempted had “elbow” or “wrist” visibility. Here are the sonar images of the wooden whaler and the new plane.

Wooden Whaler
 New Plane Wreck

The new plane has been tentatively identified as either a PBY or an Albatross. It looks like the plane went nose first into the water (the other two crashed on takeoff).

The plane is right side up but the nose is bent and one wing is folded back over the cabin which is totally crushed.

The plane is deep, at about 90 feet, so dive time is limited even with Nitrox.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a marine animal person and not that interested in wrecks – but it is a real thrill to find one! Here are some photos of the plane.

New Plane Wreck
New Plane Wreck
New Plane Wreck
Plane Wreck w/ Ben at Tail
New Plane Wreck
Plane Tail
Spadefish Juv at Plane Wreck

The whaler, which sank in the 1800’s, has deteriorated badly over the past few years.

When I first dove on it about 10 – 12 years ago the outline of the hull was still clear, as was some of the equipment left on the boat, perhaps if we could remove the silt… It is in about 60 – 70 feet of water.

Here are some photos as it is today.

Wooden Whaler
Wooden Whaler
Wooden Whaler
Wooden Whaler

Probably the most well known wreck on Kosrae is the Lenore in Utwe Harbor on the south side of Kosrae.

The Lenore is a wooden ship that sunk in the 1800’s during a storm that caught her in the harbor and pushed her into the reef. She was a “pirate” ship as she was owned by Bully Hayes, a notorious bad guy in Micronesia.

There is very little left of the ship; some planks, ballast stones, metal sheeting from the hull and a large object that might be a water tank are usually visible.

Other items that look man made are covered in coral growth, so it is hard to know what they were.

The wreck site is in about 40 feet of water and subject to silting from a major mangrove system.

Big waves will occasionally wash away some silt and then more items become visible.

Although little is left, it is great to be able to say that you dove on a pirate ship! Here are some photos of the site and artifacts:

Lenore
Lenore
Lenore
Lenore

Remember that our wrecks are important artifacts and should not be disturbed.

Divers must be careful not touch any part of the wreck and may not remove anything from the wreck site.

All research must be approved by and coordinated with the Kosrae Department of Historic Preservation.

The Kosrae Village Ecolodge Reef Protection Projects

Kosrae Village was founded with conservation and environmental issues in mind. The 1994 – 95 construction of Kosrae Village was completed without the use of heavy equipment and without land filling.

This approach strengthened the traditional construction skills on the island, protected the fragile coastal ecosystem and prevented run off that would smother the pristine hard coral reef.

Septic systems with complex leach fields ensure that sewage will not spill on the reef, low suds detergents, biodegradable cleaners and avoidance of noxious chemicals are just a few of the many examples of environmental protection and sustainable operation built into the development and daily activities of Kosrae Village.

Kosrae Village opened for business in September 1995 and began the formal Reef Protection Project program in 1996.

That fall the first of the annual groups of volunteer sport divers joined Kosrae Village owners (Bruce Brandt, Madison Nena, Katrina Adams) and Kosrae Village staff in the very first coral monitoring session on Kosrae’s pristine reef utilizing sport divers.

Participating in coral monitoring surveys is a win – win situation for the divers, Kosrae Island and the global community. Divers are trained to collect and analyze data using a scientific protocol, gain a deeper appreciation for the reef ecosystem and strengthen their diving skills.

The resource managers on Kosrae Island receive additional scientific data for use in their management plans.

The global community receives data about the state of the reef systems that would be otherwise unavailable.

Mooring Buoys

Mooring Buoy Replacement

Kosrae Village was instrumental in the 1997 mooring buoy system installation (56 buoys on 43 miles of reef). This community project brought together fishermen, Kosrae State staff and dive operators to plan the installation, raise funds, acquire the equipment and install the buoys.

In addition to the buoy installation, an island wide awareness campaign, including school presentations, radio programs, community meetings, flyers and billboards, on the value of coral reefs and the importance of the buoy system was conducted.

The mooring system continues to grow with continued community and international support.

The Kosrae Reef Protection Community Action Committee (a coalition of diver operators, Kosrae State agencies and KCSO our local conservation NGO) raising funds and provides labor to expand and maintain the system.

Kosrae Reef Protection Community Action Committee

Feeling the need to more directly involve the community in reef protection activities Kosrae Village organized the “Kosrae Reef Protection Community Action Committee” in 2005.

There was an overwhelming response to the open invitation to all Kosraean residents interested in joining the discussion on the issues facing the reef resource.

In addition to the expected environmentalists, dive operators and resource managers, State legislators, community leaders and fishermen actively participated.

A number of methods of addressing threats to the continued health of the reef resource were selected during the meetings held in the legislative chambers. These include the establishment of marine protected areas as well as other corrective measures.

The details of the protected areas are being worked out by KCSO, KIRMA (the state Kosrae Island Resource Management Agency) and the communities involved. This community based outcome is a clear indication of the change that is occurring on this small and remote island.

The primary catalyst for this change has been Kosrae Village Ecolodge and the Reef Protection Projects.