September 29, 2009

Sea|mester Teams Unite in Malaysia for Tioman Surveys


By Sea|mester’s Jessica Fry

Sea|mester delivers unique educational journeys where students spend their entire semester at sea, sailing between islands, countries and even continents. They have been Reef Check partners since 2005.

On August 11th, the crew of S/Y Argo teamed up with the Blue Ventures Malaysia Expedition team to conduct Reef Check (RC) surveys around Pulau Tioman, Malaysia. The Sea|mester crew had joined S/Y Argo in Jomtien Beach, Thailand about 1 month earlier for a 1,200nm adventure south to Singapore.  The Blue Ventures Malaysia volunteers had been working hard to monitor and survey the reefs around Tioman, and contributing to local community and education projects.

At the beginning of the voyage, the Sea|mester students worked on mastering the skills of scuba diving. As we headed south everyone began developing their fish and invertebrate identification skills alongside learning to sail and taking classes in Oceanography. Our diving in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea focused on preparing for RC surveys and the culmination of the Oceanography course was the RC surveys planned for Tioman. 

Upon arrival in Tioman, both teams welcomed the new faces and were keen to see “the other side” of two different expeditions. We spent the first day training; above and below the water. Blue Ventures Malaysia volunteers buddied up with the Sea|mester crew to teach them some local knowledge of the marine life. We dove a beautiful site called Renggis, just east of Tekek Village. Here we were greeted with our first sea turtle sighting of the trip – although he was too busy eating to notice us! In the afternoon we dove the house reef, just offshore from the Blue Ventures Base and the Tioman Dive Centre. Here we completed a practice survey to be sure we were all set on procedures for the following day.

The next day all teams assembled at Labas ready to begin their surveys. Our original plan was to dive Sepoi, but this was called off due to a jellyfish invasion! Labas is a great site, with many rocky swim-throughs, caves, and nudibranchs on the rocks. After lunch we headed to Batu Malang to carry out our second survey. Again more beautiful nudibranchs, blue spotted ribbon-tail rays, and clownfish filled our views. The reefs of Tioman are beautiful with so much coral cover that, in some places, I struggled to find a rock to tie the transect line onto.

In the evening back on the beach we entered our data and enjoyed a social evening together; we had done our part to contribute to the Reef Check Surveys. The following day we explored the interior of Tioman; it is a beautiful island. The lush rainforest is home to many animals, but among the highlights seen on our hike to Juara were the Kecka monkeys, snakes and giant squirrels.