Coconut Crab Surprise

Coconut crab on Pom Pom Island
     After completing four marvellous dives and watching the sun set with a cup of tea in hand, it was time to make a quick change of clothes before dinner. While near my tent sanctuary I caught a glimpse of coconut crab walking proudly across the grass. Instantly I noticed this crab's unique shell and knew it must be photographed. I then let him on his way as I was lured back towards the resort by the smell of Malaysian cooking. 

   At the dinner table I showed the infamous Steve Oakley the pictured of the crab I named MacGyver. Steve's excitement surprised me, as it seems hard to surprise a man with a such a large knowledge of marine life. But, it just so happens coconut crabs were thought to be absent from the island of Pom Pom, and these two pictures proved that theory incorrect. The lesson here is to always keep your eyes open, as every moment in nature has potential to be a discovery.

  The next task is to strategically place small bits of food around the island in hopes of attracting more coconut crabs for surveying and tracking. Results to follow!

Janaye Williamson                            
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Pom Pom Turtle island

Pom Pom should have been called turtle island, from the moment I arrived I saw turtle after turtle swimming around in the ocean. I got so excited at seeing these beautiful creatures in the flesh that I couldn’t help but swim after each one, tiring myself out within a short space of time of racing up and down the reef! The turtles would either be resting on coral or just merrily swimming around, some were 1m plus and some smaller but each one was as graceful as the next and just as exciting to see. 
green turtle laying eggs

On my fifth night here I got to see a turtle nesting!!! It was an amazing experience a huge 1m female laid 101 eggs and I got to share in this beautiful moment. 
Steve was briefing the guests on turtle ‘antics’ (he is pretty much a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to marine life) and I was getting slowly more and more annoyed with my camera as it was brand new and I hadn’t yet worked out how to use the night vision and film settings. I was silently going mental at the fact that I couldn’t capture this rare moment, but luckily managed to get a few good shots in the end.   

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Masters Project On Pom Pom Island

Pom Pom Island, there is only one word to describe it....paradise. I arrived here on Pom Pom  on the 18th of April 2012 and literally felt like I had stepped into paradise. The view of the island from the boat was just breathtaking, turquoise water, white sands. I was overwhelmed with excitement at the fact that I was going to stay in this beautiful place for my masters project! As I got off the boat I was greeted so nicely by all the staff and instantly felt at home. Something told me this was going to be a good three months.
The beautiful island of Pom Pom

My time here will be devoted to conducting fieldwork for my Msc project with Professor Steve Oakley as my mentor, on the soft coral Parerythropodium fulvum fulvum. Yes, I know it is a mouthful hence Steve  named it ‘the yellow triffid’ due to its fast growth rate and ability to grow over a lot of coral and substrate. I will be looking specifically at this growth rate and how it is affected by depth, current and location which is something that has not been looked at before with regards to this species thus will be answering numerous ecological and biological questions with regards to this species.

Parerythropodium fulvum fulvum.  ‘the yellow triffid’
After growing the yellow triffid in the coral nursery at depths of 3-5m (we went to Pandanan Island to collect a surplus of yellow triffid and then placed fragments of it on 15×15cm concrete blocks and letting it grow for two weeks) we  plan to go to 6 different locations (regional island reefs varying by current intensity and ecology) and place the coral at varying depths of 5,10,15,20,25 m along a transect and recording the growth rate at 2 week intervals. This will be done by photographing each block of yellow triffid and working out the increase in horizontal growth using a design software programme called AutoCAD. This is easily feasible due to the fast growth rates observed by this species.

If I have time I will try and also look at what might be predating on the yellow triffid as it has been observed that colonies of yellow triffid in the wild only increase upto a certain size. Thus something very obsecure and not obvious has to be predating on it, as it has yet to be seen. I would also like to look at competition of yellow triffid with numerous aggressive hard corals as I have observed it growing over only some species of hard coral in the wild and it has not been able to grow over other species. Determination of these specific species would increase knowledge of this species of soft coral has not been studied in great depth.

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The pom pom coral nursery in April 2012

 The previous post on coral planting described how we made the cement.  I am going to show what happened to the coral blocks underwater.
These pictures show the new hard coral blocks on the reef crest in early April 2012.  Look at the empty rubble areas between the corals we planted.
The corals are doing well apart from occasional crown of thorns starfish that try to eat the coral fragments.

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Coral planting or how to use cement!

Coral planting is actually quite a difficult and tiring thing to do, we soon realised this once we started the process. We were all reasonably confused when we were instructed to get the cement and start mixing. With none of us having any real experience with cement, and all thought we would just use a machine to mix it, it took a little while to make the first batch. Steve had to start off the mixing and then tried to show us what we had to do.  With more experience you could definitely tell the difference between each mass of cement that was produced. There as obviously a difference in the speed at which the cement as produced...we were a lot slower and less efficient then he had been and were quite amazed at how Steve was able to do it so fast.

There were however, definitely some of us which were more skilled at cement mixing. Although a gift, it could easily be said as a curse as the job of making the cement was more often than not, bestowed upon Nai.
Some may laugh but cement making is arguably an art, four shovels of sand, a bucket of both cement and water added at different intervals should make the perfect cement... most of the time. There were a few dogdy batches where we recieved some complaints about the consistency of the cement or the amount being produced. But all in all I think we actually gained some skill in the end.

This demonstration also involved a slight hilarity involving Steve and  rather unfortunate decision, after deciding to take a rest on a small, yellow bucket like the top instructor he is, the seat he chose was unfortunately not a wise one. Immediately after he sat down, the bucket then folded in on itself and he proceeded to fall over into the sand. We sat in silence for a few seconds half stunned and half not sure if it was okay to laugh at your supervisor falling over. Looking subtly at each other trying to contain the laughter, he then came out with a joke so we soon realised that he wouldn't mind if we cracked up with laughter. It was definitely the highlight of the task. Forget about planting the coral and the good that does, watching your supervisor falling off a yellow bucket after crushing it is absolutely hilarious! Obviously we were paying full attention to the task at hand, but it was nice to have bit of break and a giggle.

Whilst we were struggling to mix cement, the other half of the group was down in the water actually putting the coral into the pots of cement. I didn't really know what they were upto until I tried it, Steve made us swap over because it had seemed to turn out that each time the same groups were doing the same thing. Only then did I realised how difficult both tasks were, trying to keep the productive line and placing coral in cement is actually harder than it seems. There also seemed to be a lot of mucus from the coral...something which I did not expect. I was a little surprised when my gloves became soaked with the mucus the coral secreted. However cement mixing was definitely my preferred job rather than planting, I suppose I just don't have the talent for planting. It was also much nicer sitting on the beach in the sun rather then being a little chilly in the water. We have to admit that we did get pretty good at, we gained a bit of strength from not only using the shovel, but also from carrying all the buckets of cement and water back and forth...as well as the mixing board. We figured out by the third time we were mixing cement, that if three of us went to get the water we could carry two buckets between us and it was A LOT easier then trying to haul the buckets by ourself.

some of the coral we planted

At the end of the first day of mixing, the team we had, seemed to disperse all of a sudden, leaving the best one of us (Nai) and me to make the last few bits of cement. Unfortunately from all the hard work Nai started to feel a little ill...so she took a nap under the sun...I was left to scoop the cement into little pots by myself. Luckily for me there was only a small amount of cement left so it wasn't too hard. Plus on the bright side I realised that once you start and continue doing the same thing for about half an hour, you get into a pretty good rhythm.

After 6 days of working and working, we were able to make and plant around 1800 pots of coral. I think that's a pretty good achievement and i'm glad it all seemed to work out in the end. After the little glitch of realising that swapping the groups over wasn't the best idea, and that we should stick to what we are good at, we were able to achieve our goals for coral planting.

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