26 transects and 50km of coral reef surveys

Image: One of the field team encounters a camouflaged cuttlefish on the reefs of Timor Leste. 


The Catlin Seaview Survey Shallow Reef team has just anchored again in Dili which marks the end of our deployment in Timor Leste. The team covered approximately 500 nautical miles on the Sundancer NT, completing 26 transects and surveying nearly 50 kilometres of coral reef across 9 different regions. Highlights for the expedition team was working in the Oecusse region, the Timorese enclave nestled in between mountains of Indonesian West Timor, where we completed the first large scale benthic baseline coral reef study on the province facing future development. 


Recording waters prior to development

Oecusse yielded a mixture of microenvironments during even a single transect. Some transects were compeletely void of corals in sections - we'd survey across lengths of sand patches that were full of small garden eels, but then emerge from the sandy expamnse into an oasis of the most plentiful and healthy coral reefs in the region. These encouters remind us about the advantage of the extensive lengths that our surveys cover to determine community composition and habitat fragmentation of coral reefs. We were lucky enough to make it ashore, where large posters were displayed all over town with the proposed development plans for a new port, airport, resort, and golf course, making these surveys even more valuable in terms of establishing a baseline for monitoring coral reef  change over time.


Light loggers - a new survey tool

The Timor Leste expedition brought a new scientific component into use - light loggers. We utilized three loggers; one positioned at depth on SVII, one at the surface following on the tender, and one measuring constantly for the duration of the trip on the mothership. These instruments will help us determine the light attenuation at depth across kilometers of coral reef. This data has specific associations for the work I intend to complete in studying coral-alga interactions on the reefs throughout the Coral Triangle. This first implementation of these devices has been very effective, gathering even more data for the scientific component of our survey.


The work has only just begun

The team finished our final day surveying the reefs just outside of Dili, under the Christo Rei statue presiding over the city. The populated reefs inside Dili were clearly different from the coral reefs of Nino Konis Santana National Park and remote Oecusse, reminding us of the need to preserve these amazing reefs in the face of development and changing environments. We now need to get to work stitching all of this data so that we can share these dives virtually and make the full data set available through the Catlin Global Reef Record (globalreefrecord.org) to show both the public and scientific community the diverse reefs of Timor Leste. The success of this trip leaves us eager to deploy to our next location in the Coral Triangle, Indonesia.