Week one of my time spent at Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, originally written for FiNS Online:
This is the first of the weekly blogs that I plan to write during my eight-week stay at Wakatobi Dive Resort.
I am here studying the area’s pygmy seahorses, focusing on their behaviour and ecology. Wakatobi’s House Reef, which is easily accessible from the shore, accommodates four species of these tiny fish, including the two gorgonian-associated species, Hippocampus denise and H. bargibanti, as well as the recently named and described free-living species, H. severnsi and H. pontohi. This will be the location for the bulk of my study, but I will also be travelling out to the other sites to conduct further research.
It has been a year since I was here last to conduct my research, and it is great to be back diving the amazing House Reef that is bustling with life, and most importantly for me, pygmy seahorses! I have already found a group to observe, which in fact inhabit the same fan that was the home of a group I was following two years ago. I spent 45 hours watching that group, so I obviously became very familiar with the surrounding reef and its inhabitants.
It has been very interesting to go back to this same area to observe a new group, as many of the reef features are exactly as they were two years ago. I can remember the Leander plumosus shrimp that came out at dusk every evening, the large paddle-tail snapper that made the overhang its home, and I also remember the sponges, soft corals and other invertebrates that lived in the immediate area. Although it has been well established that many of the reefs inhabitants are long-lived, seeing the sponges and corals exactly as they were has really brought this home. Many have hardly grown in this time.
For me this really puts into perspective the irreparable damage that occurs when reefs are affected by destructive fishing techniques, anchor damage or even coral bleaching. Due to the lack of major growth many of the corals have undergone in my study site, I would estimate them to be decades old. This demonstrates that reefs can’t recover overnight, and preventing degradation before it happens must be our priority.
Luckily Wakatobi Resort has worked with local communities from the outset, and this has kept the are reefs in a pristine condition. The resort goes to great lengths to ensure that the reefs stay healthy by using money brought in by tourism to police the reefs against destructive fishing, provide an alternative income through employment and also with their reef lease program that creates no-takes zones covering 20km of reef where no fishing is allowed.
I will be updating my website gallery regularly with images, and updating the Wakatobi site with updates of my study, so check these sites out!