Happy new years! I hope everyone had a wonderful 2015 and will have an even better 2016. This post is the continuation of my first BRUVS sampling trip in Malaysia. If you didn’t read part 1, catch up here.
We left off on the east coast of Borneo, about to start our next sampling location. We were still working with Scuba Junkie. For the north islands we stayed in their dive lodge in Semporna and for the southern islands we stayed at their island resort on Mabul. There was a bit of shuffling back and forth because of boat and staff availability, but not a hassle at all thanks again to the staff at Scuba Junkie who organized. For our northern islands we sampled at Mantabuan (gorgeous), Boheydulong (stunning), and Sibuan (paradise)! Each way you looked was an amazing view. If you’ve been following my blog since the first one, you’ll know that I had been here before and how much I love Malaysia. Well, that love has only grown and I’m still pinching myself that I was actually back at these gorgeous islands and doing research there! In the southern islands, we sampled at Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan, 3 of my favourite places to go diving in the world, and often in top 10 lists of best dive sites in the world.
Our first couple days were in the northern islands. Our captain Sammy and helper Nas not only knew the area like the back of their hands but also provided a lot of entertainment during our waiting time. Upon reviewing the footage from the north, we found a lot of rays but no sharks so far. They don’t see sharks too often at these islands, so this was an expected result. There was also a definite pattern forming with our ray sightings. The bluespotted ribbontailed rays were mainly seen on videos at the reef or right next to the reef, whereas the bluespotted stingrays were mainly seen on sandy bottoms. This was what we expected to see, so that made me quite happy!
The place we knew we would see sharks was Sipadan! Our first day at Sipadan was spent with Scubazoo, a film company based in Kota Kinabalu. They sent Christian to film our research for an upcoming episode of ‘Borneo From Below.’ Unfortunately, they were unaware that we needed an entire boat to ourselves for all of our equipment to get our work done so we were on a boat with divers. We only brought one of our BRUVS and a small amount of kit in order for Christian to get the footage he needed. We finished up the filming the next day with some interviews and shots he was missing. This time, he joined our usual boat and saw why we needed all the space we could get.
We continued our sampling in the southern islands with captain Yulo. We saw similar patterns to the northern islands with the 2 species of bluespotted rays. Videos from Mabul and Kapalai were similar to the north with the lack of sharks present, but we did see a 3rd ray species: a Cowtail stingray. There were also huge schools of red toothed triggerfish that would swoop down on our bait bags and finish every last bite, even the fish bones, without damaging the actual bait bag at all. The first time we pulled up an empty bag that was completely intact we were very confused, but it soon became a normal site.
We finished up our sampling by going to Sipadan with Cat. Cat and her partner Dave are both marine biologists employed by Scuba Junkie. They were very enthusiastic to see what we were up to and helped us out with the best locations to set the BRUVS and other insider info. Dave had already joined us on a sampling day at Mabul and Kapalai so Cat got to come to Sipadan! We left very early in the morning to try and beat most of the dive boats. The island was a tricky one to sample at because it is mainly steep walls that go to depths of 600m and there are many dive boats that visit each day. We got our first set of 6 BRUVS in the water and out before the first divers were in the water, score! Our next 3 sets were placed as far from divers as we could and we were able to find enough ledges on the walls to place our BRUVS above 40m. After checking the footage, we got sharks at Sipadan!!! Grey reef and whitetip reef sharks, yay!
Once all our sampling was done, we had a couple days to relax and organize for heading back to Australia! For me, relaxing meant diving and I had some amazing dives with even better people! Mabul never fails to impress with it’s diversity and unique species. We were also lucky enough to be on Mabul when a green sea turtle nest hatched from the Scuba Junkie hatchery (videos here, here, and here)! Both Steve and I adopted and released baby turtles: Kelso and Fillycakes. In addition to diving and baby turtles, there was more time to chat with Dave and Cat about what they usually see in the area. Dave had over 5 years of data from Sipadan and, having only briefly looked at it, there are already some interesting patterns that can be seen. I feel privileged to have met people that have such passion for conservation and research in Malaysia and look forward to working with them further to explore the data! It’s not just Dave and Cat that have such an interest though, all the staff were keen to hear what we had been doing and what we had seen. It all stems from the owners, Ric and Tino. Both Ric and Tino are enthusiastic conservationists and ensure their staff have similar values. It's why they are ranked #2 in the world by Green Fins, an organisation that assesses dive shops on their eco-friendliness. The people were all so much fun and only add to my list of reasons to get back to Mabul soon!
So that was a recap of our first BRUVS trip for the Global FinPrint project. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Right now I am in Canada visiting friends and family in the snow! I will be back in Australia soon and will update with other PhD related news in about a month. Thank you for reading, as always feel free to share, comment, and ask questions!