Last year I had the chance to visit Atauro Island during the 2014 XL Catlin Seaview Survey expedition to East Timor, and this year I have had the chance to return, in order to assist my fellow peer Catherine Kim with her PhD research in East Timor. The SVII surveys from Atauro can now be found on the XL Catlin Global Reef Record, where the stunning reefs can be enjoyed virtually though 360 degree high resolution imagery.
Catherine’s site of interest on Atauro is in front of the township of Beloi on the Eastern side of the island. I drove the SVII camera over this reef last year and was excited to return to get a little more up close and personal with the corals on the reef slope. Craig Heatherington and I have been assisting Catherine by completing line-intercept transects at 5 and 10 metres (m), where we record the different types of coral and benthic flora/fauna found along a 15m linear transect. We have also been collecting water, sediment, and algae samples in order to record nutrients, heavy metals, and bacterial community composition in each sample. This information will be used to see if human populations and associated pollutants are playing a role in the benthic composition and coral health of coral reefs in East Timor.
The reef was as spectacular as I remembered it from last year, with beautiful large Acropora sp table corals terracing down the slope from approximately 8-15m. The reef at 5m on the reef flat comprised of more massive coral bommies but was equally as impressive. Despite being relatively pristine, there were signs of white syndrome coral disease on the large table corals. Coral disease is a naturally occurring part of a healthy coral reef ecosystem. However, it is important to monitor and document outbreaks of disease during times of environmental stress, which could include high temperature, wind/wave disturbance, sedimentation or other marine pollutants.
Each day after we finished diving we had the chance to step onto the island and visit Barry’s Place for lunch. Barry’s place is an eco-resort in Beloi which supports ethical tourism and various community projects on the island. With a beautiful beach and the Beloi barrier reef at its door step, it seems like the perfect place for a “digital detox” as described by the owner Barry. At the end of the day we would head back to Dili on the Island Lady which is run by Compass Charters who have been accommodating us and assisting with our diving operations and research here in East Timor.