Successful coral growth in 2015

Bottle reefs with healthy growing acropora coral on a barren
reef crest areas
 At the end of 2015, it is very gratifying to look back at the corals we planted this year.  The reefs all over Pom Pom island are looking awesome, with healthy coral, lots of fish and amazing biodiversity.

Stylophora colonies  growing on bottle reef,
The house reef is where we concentrated lots of effort this year,  We need the reef to grow, interlock and become a wave break to stop beach erosion during the summer storms.  If the beach erodes it affects turtle nesting and we don't want that.

We know that sea level is rising and stoms are becoming stronger so repairing the damage done to the reef by blast fishing makes lots of sense.  A healthy reef is wave and storm resistant and grows dense coral which causes the waves to break before they reach the sand beach.

Our ribbon reef is growing and has lots of healthy acropora coral which is interlocking to stabilise both the coral and the skeleton bottle reefs.  Fingers crossed that the growth will be strong enough to resist the SW monsoon storms next year.

Thanks to all the great volunteers who created some fantastic reefs in 2015.

 Become a volunteer in 2016 here
Branching staghorn coral growing around a bottle reef

Conservation activites

Fish population growth     Video
Rescued sharks
Turtle volunteer surveys

Conservation projects 2016

More about our reefs

Reef restoration
Coral nursery
Step reefs on the slope
Soft coral nets

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc.org
Check out our posts on our activities
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or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram

Thanks to our sponsors #GEF #sgp (the small grants programme of the GEF), as well as Ocean planet #oceanplanet and Coral care #coralcare

This work is a team effort so thanks to all our staff and volunteers.


Best Marine Science Student in the world

Tom making a close study
of the marine environment.
Congratulations to Tom Gibson who was the best marine science student in the world in 2015.

We knew our Cambridge CIE Marine Science 9693 Students were an awesome bunch with great results but to have the highest scoring student in the world is still an honour.

Dedication, hard work and serious immersion in his subject pays off.

 Very well done Tom

For more information about the TRACC Marine Science A level please click here


A typical day as a turtle volunteer

Since 2011, TRACC volunteers have been working to protect green and hawksbill turtles in the NE Semporna islands from our base on Pom Pom Island that is one of the most important hawksbill nesting sites in the Celebes sea. Hawksbill and Green nesting was nearly wiped out by decades of extensive harvesting of eggs for food and shell for the international tortoiseshell trade. However, TRACC's sustained presence has greatly reduced poaching and other threats, and fewer nests are disturbed each season.

There are turtles in the water all year but the numbers
increase in the summer as more nesting females arrive.
The tides largely determine how the day of a turtle volunteer will be spent but a standard day will include at least 2 snorkels at high and low tide which are around 1km long and we use any current to make the swim as easy as possible. On this snorkel you will look for green and hawksbill turtles and will keep a tally of how many males and females you see and what size they are.  The TRACC science staff will teach about identifying turtle sex and species. 

Many of the NE Semporna islands have nesting turtle populations
and TRACC turtle snorkellers help monitor populations
by surveying several different islands

Between snorkel surveys there will be opportunities to help construct artificial reef, to learn to identify the numerous different fish on the Pom Pom island, take part in beach clean ups to keep the beach clean and clear for the nesting turtles or you can relax on the beach and have some fun snorkels.

Once the sun sets hourly night patrols of the beach commence to look for turtle tracks and nesting turtles, these can continue through the night depending on tides and season.  Sitting on a desert island beach listening to the lapping of gentle waves and watching shooting stars is part of a turtle volunteers job.  On the beach behind the turtle continues to crash through the undergrowth as it looks for a suitable nesting site.  After suitable training you will be conducting impromptu lectures to teach the tourists about turtle biology and conservation.

If a nesting turtle is discovered you will be trained to carefully remove her eggs from her nest as she lays them and will learn how to recreate her nest to transplant the eggs in the islands secure hatchery. There is no sensation in the world that matches holding a freshly laid turtle egg in your hand.
The other great experience is for those lucky enough to be on the island on a hatching day - we release hatchlings at sunset and they scramble down the beach and then get their swimming going as they swim off at high speed towards deepwater.

We are very lucky at TRACC on Pom Pom Island that there are no significant predators of turtle eggs or hatchlings. Nothing except humans digs up nests and we have a hatchery to eliminate egg poaching.  Forget the National Geographic images - you won't see lots of hatchlings die at the water edge from birds or crabs.  There is almost no mortality of hatchlings on the island and since they are well dispersed they have a great chance of avoiding any reef based fish on their way to the safety of open water. 

The TRACC turtle volunteers have released nearly 10,000 hatchlings over the past 4 years. With an estimated global adult population of green turtles between 85,000 and 90,000 nesting females our tiny island is producing a significant number of these severely endangered species.

Reviews about TRACC

More about Turtles  -   Booking a Turtle conservation trip

More turtle science  -  General information on Hawksbill turtles  or Green Turtles


Help - divers or snorkellers wanted

cheap diving at tracc semporna sabah
TRACC is offering really cheap diving or snorkelling for Sept- Nov 2015 only.  WE need help :-) with marine conservation on our beautiful tropical island near Sipadan in Sabah, Malaysia.

TRACC has received a grant to plant coral THIS YEAR. It must be done before we begin our larval fish project in 2016. We need to get a LOT of coral planted and we don't have anywhere near the time or people to do it.

Since the grant is covering the "construction", we are offering stays at TRACC at 50% of our normal fees. This is literally what it costs us to feed people and run boats so that we can get this done.

We can teach people to dive if needs be, but honestly, that takes the boat away from the work.

£255 1 week, no dive courses.
£510 2 weeks, no dive courses.
£670 2 weeks, 1 dive course (obviously I can't discount what we pay to qualify you).

Arrivals between now and November 16th. Snorkelling spouses and children welcome.

Please share this amongst your diving friends, it really, really is an amazing offer and with some help we can do some great reef restoration and conservation between now and December.

Remember this is for unlimited diving, we normally do 3-4 dives each day with about half work dives and half photography/ biodiversity surveys. Coral reef restoration is not exactly hard work but it will use diving skills you don't have yet!!!!

Pom Pom island is in the coral triangle and has warm clear water and amazing biodiversity.

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
Check out our posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
on twitter tracc_borneo
on google + tracc

or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram


Coral planting on reef crest undergraduate project

TRACC is learning how to improve our conservation efforts. Every year we have undergraduates come to us in order to conduct undergraduate projects. At TRACC, we have marine biologists, divemasters and volunteers all keen to help with scientific investigation, making it a great place to conduct a project.

Planting coral on a damaged reef crest.
We recently hosted two students from the University of Swansea; Dan Stevens and Jack Gourlay who worked on reef crest restoration and artificial reef fish assemblage respectively. This blog post is a brief summary of Dan's project.

One of the main conservation activities at TRACC is replanting hard corals to restore 3D structure and biodiversity to severely degraded reefs. Reef crest restoration is something we aspire to become extremely efficient at as without a healthy reef crest entire islands can change shape and even slowly erode away. Dan chose to conduct a project to determine which restoration methodology is best at reintroducing hard coral to reef crests.  
Two sites were selected upon the TRACC crest reef approximately 100 meters apart. Two areas of 2 x 10 meters were marked out upon the reef crest and then sub divided into three 2 x 2 meter experimental quadrats with two 1 x 2 meter control patches between. In each of the larger squares one treatment was added as shown below. The red crosses represent controls i.e areas of the reef crest with no treatment given.

Plan of experimental layout

For each treatment, 63 Acropora pieces were labeled using coloured beads and a cable tie. These pieces were then placed evenly apart and there movement and health were monitored. In addition to this 3 surveys were continuously conducted as follows;

Dive Reef crest surveys – The entire reef crest area where the experiment was conducted was split into 5 different 50 meter sections. The survey would involve 2 divers drifting and tallying all the fish in each section. The aim of this survey was to see whether there is a movement of fish from the already restored area to the newly restored sites. These surveys were conducted twice daily.

Snorkel reef crest surveys – Snorkelers would swim from one end of the reef flat to the other – a length of 250m. This was split into two separate zones. In each zone all individuals in the following groups were counted; Butterfly fish, Triggerfish and Sea Urchins plus any other interesting fish/turtles. These fish families were chosen as they are reef health indicator species.

reef crest corals after 2 years of growth.
Point count surveys – 2 divers swim over the sites counting all the fish which within the quadrats. Divers would then hover 3 meters away from the sites, tallying the fish which move into the sites.

Preliminary results show concrete wedging to be the most effective treatment for reef restoration.



Tracc is participating in INSTALLATION ART BY THE BAY @ KK 2015. we are building an art installation to demonstrate in a fun interactive way that the oceans are being abused, overfished especially for large sharks and polluted by plastic, which kills turtles.  Our art when it comes together emphasizing that there are an estimated 5,000,000,000,000 (5 trillion)  pieces of plastic in the worlds oceans and many of these have come together to create huge plastic concentrations.  The largest plastic island in the pacific is 10x the size of Sabah.

Biggest hammerhead shark in Borneo -
Sign in Malay says don't eat my fin!

As part of our GEF/SGP coral reef conservation project we are involving the local community in larger - global - issues to help thm understand that the protection they give to their reefs is only a part of a movement to help reverse environmental damage.  These pictures are the start of the construction process for the "biggest shark in Borneo".  Please follow the progress of this shark through our various social media.

Follow on Facebook, google+, twitter or instagram
simply search #tracc or #traccblog and let google do the work.
Dino and Shakirrah design the logo.
Khairul makes the head

Max and Miti Make the fin

Art requires serious concentration

Sign says Don't eat shark

International and local artists at work.

Yugen and lucas practice their skills.

Khairul makes the tail

Everyone had fun.

Making a shark makes a change from making a coral reef :-)


Turtle Walk Anyone?

Turtle hatched
During my internship at TRACC, I had the opportunity to save hundreds of turtles eggs  (Yes, you read that right!). These turtle eggs were saved from evil poachers who sell them for a profit despite the alarming decline of the population of turtles. The collected turtle eggs are safely kept at the Pom Pom Hatchery until they are hatched and released to the ocean. Side note: Did you know that the survival rate of turtles eggs is 0.1%? Yeah! That's crazy but true! That's why "turtle walks" are important at TRACC.

Tourist Swarming Over Turtle hatching

When I first heard about "turtle walk" , I thought it meant walking around the island with turtles. (I still think that would have been cool). In reality, turtle walk meant patrolling the island to spot turtle nests. Sometimes I get the late shift (we rotate) but it's really worth the effort if you actually  find a nest! Even better if you have the chance to witness a turtle hatch - when all the hatched turtles are released into the ocean.  Funny, but doing turtle walk helped me realize how fragile but beautiful life is. After conducting countless turtle walks during my internship, I've come to realize that I can actually spot turtles miles away (I wish I'm kidding). Even while I'm diving in the deep blue ocean, I can still spot turtles far away!  I wished more people had awareness about turtles. I still can't forget the time I saw my first dead turtle washed on the shore because of choking on plastic.

In case you're wondering how we do our turtle walks, well we take shifts during the week to walk around the island. Fear not, we usually do it in pairs to avoid loneliness!

At TRACC, you can get hands on experience doing conservation work. Where else can you actually be within metres of a turtle laying eggs? It's honestly an experience you can't replicate (also makes a really cool story). We are also provided enough briefing and training to understand the process. 

Go Little One!

Turtle walks have definitely changed me to be more aware of my actions and how it impacts the environment. I would definitely recommend turtle walk experience at TRACC to all my friends. For a cheap cost I not only get to save turtles but also dive multiple times a day. Food is actually good too! I can't wait to come back next year.

For a chance to help volunteer and conduct turtle walks yourself

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
Check out our posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
on twitter tracc_borneo
on google + tracc

or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram

Volunteering AND Making A Difference

Counting Corals underwater
At Pom Pom island, overfishing and fish bombing activities have caused unstable slopes and damaged reefs. If you ever have the chance to snorkel around Pom Pom, you’ll realize how there are many fragments of corals on the bottom. These corals will eventually die if they can’t find a spot to hold on to and grow. Here is where TRACC makes a difference. TRACC strives to produce around 1000 -2000 coral biscuits (from scratch) every year – some of which have now grown into big corals and help fishes!

When I first heard the term “coral biscuits”, I thought it was a food? (Maybe I was hungry when I had that thought). But when I took my first dive and saw a couple of them on the sea bed, I was amazed. There were massive amounts of coral biscuits around TRACC’s nursery points. Before you go finding for them at Pom Pom, beware that they are actually very fragile. A slight impact could break them! Imagine how I felt when illegal fisherman bombed a huge site filled with coral biscuits?!

Coral biscuits are made by putting small amounts of cement in a plastic pot and adding coral fragments onto it. I’d like to imagine it being a playground for fishes (no see saws though)

I’ve been long enough at TRACC to call it my second home. It has all kinds of fishes, artificial corals, and cool people. I’m reflecting back on my experience at TRACC and it has been nothing but great! It’s one of those rare places where people truly feel welcomed even though that’s your first time stepping into TRACC. I’ve been inspired in some sense to further TRACC’s mission to preserve the ocean and coral reefs. Maybe I’ll get to have my own center one day?

If you’re interested in coral reef conservation, TRACC would be a good place to do this. Not only do you get hands on experience on it but also get to be a part of a community where you learn about conservation. I’m not just saying that I really mean it!

To volunteer and help with coral reef restoration

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
Check out our posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
on twitter tracc_borneo
on google + tracc

or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram

Reflection: Building Artificial Reefs

Step Reefs

My experience at TRACC revolved around building step reefs which is a type of artificial reefs. Step reefs are placed on the slope of the ocean bed to serve as wave barrier.( If you're confused don't worry! I was too when I first started. But you'll pick up things easily at TRACC)

It's funny when I first heard the term "step reef".  I thought it was a square reefs just like steps of a stairs. I had a lot of questions playing through my mind. Was it big? Was it small? Was it square? Only later did I realize it was simply a square with glass bottles attached to it. If I had the time, I would have spent it trying to play around with the materials used in building the step reef such as steel or twigs. (Maybe I'll come back next year!)

Making a step reef is not as complicated as it seems. The main material used are cements and bottles. You mix the cements on a crate and add the bottles to it. It's simple! Of course, it's going to take some hardwork such as working in the sun and able to dive a couple of times a day to plant the reefs underwater. Sometimes, I get exhausted but then I realize how much impact I get to make to the environment and that motivates me a lot.

Hardworking :)

TRACC provides training and a place to make your artificial reefs. In fact, I wouldn't have even learned most of the things I have without training. My experience at TRACC will help my goal to pursue my education in marine biology which is something I'm deeply passionate about. More than that, I gained valuable experience as an intern here - how often does anyone get to say they've had hands on experience building coral reefs!

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
Check out our posts on our activities
on fb tracc.borneo
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on google + tracc

or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram


Ten facts to know about becoming a marine biologist

how to beome a marine biologist
Dive surveys
Ten facts you need to overcome to plan a career as a marine biologist. 
Start with more info - if you are still at school or pre U or working on a career change then a marine science course will help test your desires before you spend 3-4 years at Uni or college.

Becoming a marine biologist is fantastic in many ways but it is a hard choice.  Jobs are few.  From 10 people with PhD degrees only 1 will be working in their chosen field by the time they are 40 years old. Many more will work in the dive tourism industry.

Most marine biologists are part-time, they have careers in other fields. Sometimes teaching, sometimes aquaculture, sometimes fisheries, sometimes in aquariums. Not many get to be "Marine Biologists". The smartest people can work in Universities doing experiments, a few lucky people (like me) make marine biology part of another career (tourism management) and get to spend some days each month in the field.  To succeed you need brains, hardwork, determination and luck (IMHO).

1 Not all your work will be glamourous,  autopsy on turtles killed by plastic (conservation), measuring and gutting fish (fisheries) or working with sick, dying fish (aquaculture) will test your gag reflex and resolve.

measuring sharks
Measuring sharks
2 It is not well paid and the career prospects are low. Jobs are hard to find - start as an intern.  Biotechnology is a much better career choice or Fisheries or Aquaculture.

3 Lots of time is spent in the office writing reports, blogs or social media and lots more time is spent in meetings.

4 Studying, saving or simply managing any part of the planet is frustratingly slow, from species which need protection today to ecosystems that are changing slowly because of global climate change.

5 The weather is not always kind,  a beach survey in January at low tide (= dawn) anywhere in the world is hard but cold places have more jobs than warm places so chances are it will be snowing.

6 Do you get seasick?  Some of the best marine biologists avoid boats because of this. There are shore based jobs out there but there is more competition for jobs where you get to go home every day :-)

Pre dawn light on a rocky shore survey
7 Do you hate bugs?  From jellyfish and stonefish to mosquitos and ants there is always something trying to bite, sting or eat you.

8 Life on a tropical beach for months at a time when diving every day is hard on your body.  You need a strong immune system and a willingness to eat all the fruit and vegetables possible.  Finding enough protein as a vegetarian is extra hard so carnivores suffer less from infuriating illnesses.

9 Do you love study and reading.  The ocean is the underexplored 70% of the planet and we learn new things all the time.  Study and reading are part of the process.
10 Does a foreign culture excite you.  There are more jobs scattered around the world but to survive the culture shock you need to be able to accept hardship because chances are; that where-ever you get to work doesn't have familiar fast food or supermarkets.

Underwater work
If this has not put you off - the benefits to being a marine biologist are many.  Read what Natalie says about her Internship.
Read the 10 best reasons for studying marine science here.
or the 10 best ways to become a marine biologist here.
or How to get a job in Marine Conservation.

good luck
Lifting heavy objects - There are days when diving is just another job. 

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
Check out our posts on our activities
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on google + tracc

or simply #tracc or #traccblog on Google, Facebook, twitter or instagram


I got A* in Marine Science

Why Do Marine Science A level with TRACC 

  • Learning on location – first hand experience of the curriculum rather than reading from a book
  • Experienced teaching staff
  • Great opportunity to learn more about the marine environment whilst helping out on a conservation project
  • Good fun – interactive and practical methods of learning makes learning easier
  • Class in the morning and diving in the afternoon

This year I studied for my Cambridge International 9693 Marine Science A-level at TRACC. The experience of studying at TRACC was great. Firstly, TRACC’s location is perfect for the course – instead of staying in a stuffy classroom and reading from a book, many of the topics in the course were covered with practicals and first-hand experience.

 To learn about mangroves we spent the morning canoeing through the dense mangroves a short distance down the shore from camp, looking out for macaques and monitor lizards as we paddled. To learn about rocky shore zonation and unstable beach environments, we stepped out of our open air sea view classroom and straight onto the beach for an interactive lesson. We spent the morning learning about fish physiology and in the afternoon we went diving to see examples of what we had covered. Fish dissections and fish market surveys all helped consolidate what we learnt in the classroom. By having practical experience right on the classroom doorstep, it made studying much more interactive and interesting.

The experienced teaching staff at TRACC were great and knew how to explain complicated concepts and theories simply. They were always on hand to help and to make studying easier. Completing a 2 year course in 3 months may seem intimidating at first, but with TRACC’s staff full time support this was definitely doable and gave us plenty of time to enjoy ourselves whilst at it.

Studying fringing reefs from the top of a sinking volcano
makes the theory so much more understandable.
Marine science is an interdisciplinary science and this really shows in the curriculum. Topics range from plate tectonics to aquaculture to ecology and this keeps the course interesting and fresh from start to finish. The course goes hand-in-hand with diving and marine conservation - the amount I now know about the world around me while diving has increased dramatically. I’d recommend the course to all divers and volunteers who want to work with the ocean, gain an A level during a gap year or become more knowledgeable divers.
Of course the Marine Science A level also helps understand why TRACC is conserving coral reefs whilst learning more about the environment they are helping to conserve and want to increase their knowledge of the marine world in general. 

I got an A*
Tom Class of 2015