Friday, August 30, 2013

Found a Seahorse!

The island is great and I'm having an awesome time. There are around 30 volunteers + staff, with many of the volunteers still taking dive courses to learn more skills. That leaves about 10 of us who are qualified and certified to do dive surveys (we try to get 4 per day, but due to rain we often manage only 1-2). We set out two 50 meter lines that are 5 meters apart, and four people survey around them. Two people survey between the lines (each person goes out 2.5 meters toward the center) and the other two people go 2.5 meters away from the survey area. In total, we survey 500 m² each time we go out. If we find one seahorse in that entire area, it's a good day.
Hauling tanks
Lying transects in the sand (all the seagrass has been trawled out by fishing boats)
Pregnant male seahorse! You can see the red pouch showing where the eggs are held.
According to some divers who have been around Cambodia for at least a decade, you used to find 30 or more seahorses per dive.  As of five or six years ago, you could find easily 6-10 seahorses of many different species. Now, we're lucky to find one or two on a dive. The seahorses are caught and sold to the Chinese medicine market (over 100 million are used each year at minimum, and the real number is probably much higher) and for the aquarium trade. MCC has a partner organization in England that successfully breeds seahorses in captivity, which appears to be the only solution to fulfilling international demand. However, the marine protected area recently established in Cambodia may help seahorses recover locally, so MCC is studying the seahorse population to see how it recovers now that trawling and international boats have been outlawed.  

I used my dive knife probably 2 times before I got to Cambodia, but now I use it almost every dive to cut fishing line. Sad...
Sandy substrate is really common because boats have torn up the seagrass and corals
Fish cages
Abandoned fishing line can kill the most innocent sea creatures :(
Moving beyond the politics, the diving itself has been really enjoyable. I missed scientific diving, and it's fun to have lots of equipment and underwater slates and dive with a purpose. The group is from all over Europe and America and ages range from 17-35. It's been a wonderful learning experience thus far.


Giant clams

Beautiful sunsets on the island

Our captain doesn't like to get wet on the trip to the boat

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