Friday
Oct172014

Having a whale of a time!

After an eventful weekend where a joyful mix of Frontier volunteers and staff spent their afternoon speeding across the Indian ocean to find some whale sharks, and had the privilege of seeing these amazing creatures, I thought I would share some things you may not know about the world’s largest fish. 

So, first of all, whale sharks are endangered and sadly this is due to human activity. They have been recorded up to 15 meters in length, making them one of the biggest shark species known to man. They spend most their time at great depths in the tropics at an average of 400 meters which is part of the reason why there is a lack in the scientific research available on these sharks. The times they do venture to the surface is mainly for foraging purposes and if you are ever lucky enough to go out on a whale shark spotting trip, the way the guide will find these out in the ocean is by looking for tell-tale signs in the distance. These can be a number of things, such as fish jumping out of the water or birds being present circling in the air.

Whale sharks are solitary animals and the only reason why they may be seen in groups is due to anthropogenic reasons. A good example of this would be in the Philippines where locals have quickly realised the money they can make from tourists by feeding the sharks from their boats which then draws in countless whale sharks to one area. Luckily not all tourist operators are quite so damaging in the way they organize their trips, as they will usually have guidelines in place to minimize disturbance to the sharks. The main one would be not to touch their skin and there is a very good reason for this as they have a fine layer of mucus on their skin that aids in protecting them from parasites, which remain their main predator… apart from humans of course.

As I mentioned earlier there is little scientific research gathered on these animals and as of yet they have never been observed giving birth or mating so they are assumed to do this at depths where researchers are unable to reach. A method of tracking individuals has been developed where researchers take a photo of the left side of its flank behind the pectoral fin and this aids in identifying individuals because each whale shark holds a unique pattern, which alters for each and every one.

There is so much more which can be learnt about these amazing animals. With continued research, conservation and education efforts we really hope that a future can be secured for this beautiful and incredible species.

By Kelly, Conservation Apprentice 

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Friday
Oct172014

A feast in the forest

When I first went into the forest on Nosy Be, you could hear crickets, birds, the grunting or screeching of lemurs and at night the calls of frogs. Now, one and a half months later, it’s filled with a cacophony of thousands of thousands of cicadas which sound like miniature high-pitched chainsaws. I first noticed something different 3 weeks ago when in the process of measuring our new transects I found the empty shell of a cicada nymph.

It was a week after I had seen the moulted nymph shell that the next noticeable indicator that the cicadas where here happened. We were on a walk on the border of Lokobe National Park when we heard a wave of loud shrill buzzing approaching us. As we looked around we were surrounded by the sound and saw cicadas flying around us landing on every branch and tree trunk in sight!

Cicadas form a very interesting family of true bugs. After the adult females lay their eggs and they hatch, the Nymphs then burrow underground. Different species of cicadas spend varying amounts of time underground. Some will stay beneath the soil for months and sometimes even many years feeding on roots and tubers. Adult cicadas are usually around 3 inches in length. The males make the noise by contracting a round muscle on their abdomen at high frequencies. One male starting to call is an invite for the rest of the males as each individual tries to attract a female. On subsequent surveys we noticed that the cicadas started to spread outwards from primary forest and into surrounding areas. Everywhere was quickly filled by the cicadas singing competitions.

We went back to the site where we first heard them a few days later, but this time it was night. At night the forest goes quiet again which is a welcomed break from the incredible noise during the day. I soon saw a cicada nymph that was starting to moult and thought it was quite a rare occurrence to see it, but as we kept walking we saw at least ten more that were doing the same thing. We soon noticed them immerging everywhere we looked.

When the cicadas crawl out, the forest has a feast. Ants swarm as unfortunate cicadas land on the ground. Any spider brave enough to take on the huge bugs will wait and strike during the moulting. Drongos dive and swoop to intercept them in the air and lemurs lunge from branches to catch them. We even saw the children in the village collecting them. We aren’t completely sure why but have been told they can be prepared in a food dish!

For the two months that they hatch and populate the forest in such large numbers, they become the centre of attention of all life around them.

By Arjun, Research Assistant

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Friday
Oct172014

Volunteer blog: Kate

During their first week, the new Beach Conservation Volunteers participated in a walk to Atafondro to search for seagrass off the coast of the village. Successfully, several species of seagrass were identified in a narrow meadow. Thus, the volunteers will carry out surveys throughout the remainder of their stay to aid in the mapping of the ecosystem and measuring features of the meadow including canopy height and epiphyte coverage. This will allow results to be compared to other meadows including those at Turtle Towers and Amphasapoey found in the previous week. 

Figure 1. Protoreaster Lincki in the seagrass meadow at Atafondro 

Invertebrates were discovered within the seagrass including Protoreaster lincki (Figure 1) and Holothuria edulus. A lecture on the invertebrates found in the coastal ecosystems at Nosy Be was given to initiate learning the species. Therefore, the new volunteers can then participate in invertebrate surveys in coastal environments to identify changes in biodiversity along the south east coast of Nosy Be.

Currently, due to the spring tides, Home Reef becomes partially exposed at low tide. As a result, locals fish the reef for invertebrates including those that reside in both coral and seagrass ecosystems. As a result it is predicted that this reef will have a lower diversity in invertebrate species compared to those that remain fully submerged at low tide. Witnessing the fishing also indicated the need and importance to educate locals on the necessity to conserve biodiversity on the reef to ensure that the ecosystem remains stable and undamaged. Hopefully this can be achieved in future Environmental Awareness Days and through Beach Club.

By Kate, Beach Conservation Volunteer

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Monday
Oct132014

Vlog: Alfie 

Madagascar is home to some of the world's more rare species, a country covered in greenery with the sounds of strange creatures - in other words: The perfect place for wildlife lovers! Watch our latest video blog and hear all about the project!

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Wednesday
Oct082014

Staff blog: Mangroves - The ecosystem is under threat

Mangroves are found in intertidal environments and exist where there is: 

- adequate light
- sediment deposition 
- shallow water above 5°C
- high air temperature
- high rainfall
Due to this specific habitat, the associated fauna and flora has a low diversity. Despite this, mangroves still offer many uses. They provide a nursery environment for many juvenile fish as they act as protection from predators, offer an abundance of food and act as a shelter from destructive waves and strong currents. Thus, these nursery grounds enable both local and regional fisheries to be maintained. 
The ecosystem also acts as coastal protection against natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes. Finally, the tree foliage is physiologically active all year round so acts as a significant carbon sink. Hence they are hugely beneficial and conservation is essential. However, the ecosystem is under threat. Pressures include habitat destruction and fragmentation for agriculture, logging, and urban development. These have resulted in a decline in 5 million ha of mangroves since 1980. 
 

The tidal regime creates a harsh environment. Immersion limits oxygen exchange and high detrital input from plants leads to high bacterial mineralization rates triggering anoxic sediments. To aid their persistence in this ecosystem, mangroves have adapted 4 root forms: pneumatophores, prop roots, kneed roots and plank roots. The zonation of mangrove species throughout a forest is a function of tolerance to this tidal regime, salinity, anoxic sediments and stability. Therefore, in Madagascar, A. marinina is found to be the most dominant inland, followed by R. mucronata, and lastly by S. alba being found most seaward. 
Around the south of Nosy Be, mangrove transects at different locations have been carried out as part of the Beach Conservation Program. Repeat transects were initiated this week, to allow statistical tests to be carried out on results and changes (if any) in the ecosystem over time can be identified in the future. Dominant species were recorded every 5 m of each transect that extended for 50 m into the ecosystem. S. alba, appeared dominant throughout all transect lengths. Thus, the typical zonation that was expected was difficult to identify. However sparser mangrove communities displayed a greater variety of species. This would suggest that in dense forests, S. alba outcompetes other species that may not grow as well at lower light intensities. 
Quadrats were placed along transects to observe root health, macrofauna abundance, and sediment type. All of these characteristics are important when assessing the state of the mangroves and a better understanding of them from this research will aid their conservation in the future. 

 

By Kate, Conservation Apprentice

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