Monday, 25 August 2008

Scientific Expedition to Pulau Aur 17 Aug - 22 Aug


It has been a tired week, last week. Had been on a scientific expedition to Pulau Aur, organized by Institute of Oceanography and Earth Sciences, University of Malaya. This expedition, was also known in short as SESMA in its third edition. But this is not the end, there are more to come in future. It was really a great experience.

The expedition started off with an early bus ride to mersing, took us bout 5 hours. Then we had to take a boat to reach at Pulau Aur. However, the journey was not easy. At first, we're on a comfortable ferry..but not even a quarter of our journey, we have to change boat (just like changing bus on land). This was due to the tide that affects the journey of different sizes of boats. For the first time, i experienced changing boats. Our luggage (not to forget this is a scientific expedition, so equipments were included) had to be shifted as well. There were not just bags, but instead there were plenty of boxes, traps, chemicals and etc. Shifting the stuff were hell of a work.

It took almost 3 hours before reachin Pulau Aur. The sea was calm, but there were bit of waves causing the boat to rock. Well, we definitely can't run away from the unpredicted condition of south china sea. Fortunately, after a rocky ride, we reached our destination safely.

The whole expedition was a great experience. I was assigned to help out in geological work, scuba diving to study the profile of the reef. At the same time, I was assigned to also collect seaweeds and seagrass as well. By the first dive, i was stunned to look at how diverse the marine life forms there. It was very beautiful and a good place for research. The high diversity and clear zonation of the different reef systems makes it an interesting place to look at. But the massive algal cover that seemed to overcrowd the corals shows that the waters are too high in nutrients. It could due to the burnt soils by the locals, whom practices nomad style of agriculture. Amazingly, there were a lot of coconut trees on the island. It seemed like there were more coconut trees than jungle. Pulau Aur also have big boulder rocks, all over the island. It was really an amazing island.

Underwater sceneries were even more amazing. First site was at Pantai Teluran, was juz amazing. However, there were no sightings of sea urchins, or algal eating inverts to control the overcrowding algae. As for the fishes, there were no big sized fishes. All are just normal and small sized fishes. The next site, in Atlantis Bay was even more breath-taking. Massive corals were found almost everywhere. It was amazing to see the white beaches, and slightly blue water (instead of greenish). The profile of the area was also unbelievable. It was rather flat, before a sudden slop right down to 20 meters...and could reach more than 40! The locals reported that whale shark were seen before pass by the island. How true, i'm not sure as there no justified evidence.

We also managed night dive. Surprisingly, just when we descend, hardly even 1 minute, we managed to spot a big cuttle fish and a long trumpet fish. As usual, for night dive, we'll be able to see sleeping fishes and active invertebrates. A lot of shy shrimps were out feeding and being active. During 2 of the night dives, managed to catch glimpse of snake eel, octopus, nudibranches. Oh, can't miss another camouflage fish, known as flounder. This expedition, managed to spot turtle, bumphead parrot fish, a large potato grouper, nudibranches. There were also plenty and massive diversity of seaweeds (now waiting for the official count of species, coz still processing in the lab). Not to forget, my interest on corals, which are very diverse. However, cant really identify to species level yet but i know that it's high in diversity.

This trip also included terrestrial biologists, which found a number of birds species, mammals, insects and also dragonflies...not to forget mushrooms and fungi. Even mushrooms are quite diverse with monkey head fungi was found in the wild. But that's not all, there are still lots more to be discovered. I hope that the natural environment will be sustainable for as long as earth lives.

This trip also given me rare experience, as i managed to spot hurricane in the sea. We managed to capture glimpse of the hurricane with cameras. Its really rare but we were able to see how the hurricane suck up water as well. The shape also changes accordingly. It's really a rare occasion. By the time we are leaving back to KL, it was already night time. For the first time I get to travel across sea at night. It was really scary but when i looked at the skies, millions of stars brighten up the dark. On the long journey back to mainland, i felt happy and excited for being able to be part of the experience. But i'm glad to say, this is what i love to do...and i'm still doing it!

*i would like to acknowledge that some of the pictures above were taken by Khaira Ismail, Azi and Dr. Azhar.

Thank kew 4 sarpoting ah, come again oh!

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