GESA Marine biology Internship Maldives (1) portrait

A warm hello from our Marine Discovery Centre at Landaa Giraavaru

GESA Marine biology Internship Maldives (4) coral monitoring

Monitoring our Reefscapers coral frames

What a month it has been! The past few weeks have been full-on, but also extremely rewarding. While the first part of my internship  (Chapter 1) focused on training in all areas of the Marine Discovery Centre, I can now independently and confidently complete many of the daily activities and tasks around here.

This past month, I spent most of my time in the water, with hardly a moment in the office. I enjoy taking on more responsibility, so I have been busy monitoring hundreds of coral frames around the island, leading snorkel trips with guests, collecting coral fragments, and checking for signs of coral spawning in the evenings.

Speaking of coral spawning, this topic has been taking up all our headspace for the past six weeks! Gamete checks, tagging colonies, checking for signs of bundling, and literature research on spawning cues (tide, sunset time, moonrise, temperature, ocean currents, wind, rain… it seems impossible to fully understand underlying patterns!). And then finally… the spawning events themselves!

The weather conditions around the October full moon were stormy and less than ideal for spawning, but we got in the water anyway to check a few species with mature eggs. To our surprise, a few of our tagged colonies actually spawned, despite the wind and choppy waves, and so I got to experience my very first coral spawning. It was the perfect training, to learn how to place the nets, identify bundling, collect and process the eggs.

By the end of October, we observed mature eggs in both frame and wild colonies of different Acropora species. As expected, the days around the new moon and full moon were hectic, starting with the morning retrieval of our spawning nets from the water. We then continued with our usual monitoring, guest excursions, and frame-building activities during the day, replacing the collection nets in the afternoon, and then checking for signs of bundling around sunset time.

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA

Sunset snorkel, looking for signs of coral spawning

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA coral fragments

Harvested coral fragments to transplant onto Reefscapers coral frames

Effective monitoring of coral spawning certainly requires dedication and patience, but the November mass spawning event here at Landaa was also an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience. On several days, we stayed up until the early morning hours, to track embryogenesis in the Lab. On the other days, we recorded bundling and spawning times for the different species, and also enjoyed simply watching this unique event unfold. It was a tiring week, but I learned so much, following the full process from white, immature eggs to pigmented eggs, through bundling and spawning, to collecting eggs, and then going through the fertilisation and settlement process.

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA coral eggs

Quantifying the density of Acropora coral eggs

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA coral reproduction
Observing the different phases of embryogenesis

In the midst of all of this, I managed to squeeze in three days on the research boat with the Manta Trust team, which was such an exciting opportunity for me to learn more about their work. I loved spending the day out on the boat, surveying different cleaning stations around Baa Atoll, and practising my freediving to take ID shots of the spot patterns that are unique to each manta ray.

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA Manta Trust boat

On the Manta Trust reseach boat, with new friends

Marine Biology internship Maldives GESA mantas

Taking Manta ID shots – the belly spot pattern is unique

After three months filled with such a wide range of experiences and activities, it’s time to leave Reefscapers and the island. Luckily, the marine conservation world is a small one, so this is a ‘see you soon’ and not a ‘goodbye’. 

See you soon