During the expedition you will have the opportunity to become a fully certified Reef Check EcoDiver. With this certification you are also eligible to apply for PADI or NAUI Reef Check Speciality Course certification. All the course materials and the certification as a Reef Check EcoDiver are part of your expedition contribution.
Reef Check is the name of both the most widely used coral reef monitoring protocol and an international coral reef conservation programme. The Reef Check programme brings together community groups, government departments, academia and other partners to educate the public about the coral reef crisis and rehabilitate damaged reefs worldwide using ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions.
Aims & objectives
To monitor the health of the Musandam peninsula’s reefs, its fish and invertebrate communities so that informed management, education and conservation decisions can be made by the government and NGOs.
Although popular myth has Arabia down as a vast, flat and empty expanse of sand (and oil), Oman is quite different. In fact, there is a wide range of contrasting landscapes: high mountains, beaches, the desert landscapes of the Empty Quarter, coral reefs and even tropical habitats, where the monsoon touches Oman in the extreme south.
The 650 kilometre coastline of the Musandam peninsula is strewn with rocks and coves, gradual steps, steep rocky slopes and cliffs that plunge to great depths all over the fjord-like landscape. The coral reefs that grow along the margins of this stunning landscape are still relatively untouched as influences such as industrial-scale fishing, pearl or scallop extraction or large numbers of recreational divers have not wreaked their destructive influence there. The area is therefore a prime target for studying intact reef ecosystems, conserving them for future generations and using them in the education of people locally and all over the world.
Overall the scenery can only be described as spectacular with 1000 m high, solid rock peaks dropping straight into the sea. Below the water, coral reef development around the Musandam is one of the best in all of the north-western Indian Ocean. More than 100 species of hard corals form the framework of a complex coral community lining most of the rocky shores. Most coral communities are very diverse and show little signs of environmental stress. Some communities are dominated by branching hard corals, whereas in others, massive, slow growing colonies from the basis of the community.
The reefs are in excellent condition with percentage coral cover reaching the highest levels seen in the world (80-90%) with over 200 species present. They teem with large grouper, emperors, and schools of jacks, snapper and fusiliers. Turtles, lobster and sting rays can be seen with an occasional reef shark passing by. Colourful species endemic to the Indian Ocean and Oman are numerous. Blue and yellow Indian Ocean angelfish are so common that they form schools. The Arabian butterflyfish is everywhere and hard to miss due to its brilliant yellow-orange colour.
The dives range from walls to gentle rocky slopes covered by hard corals, with black coral and blue gorgonians common. All of our survey dives are to a maximum 20 metre depth.
A coral reef is composed of a myriad of species and it is impossible to name them all here. However, during our Reef Check surveys (see below for more information on Reef Check methodologies), we will be concentrating on a number of indicator organisms such as:
Grunts (a group of fish, belonging to a taxonomic family called the Haemulidae)
Sea whips (Gorgonacea)
Hard and soft corals
Other landmark species present:
Humpback, spinner & bottlenose dolphins
Hawksbill sea turtle
You will spend the first couple of days with training in and out of the water. The expedition leader and the local scientist will prepare you for your fieldwork tasks and explain the research methods and goals. Talks are organised to make you familiar with safety, the equipment, the research (and your part in it) and the area in which it will happen. Open water dives are organised so that everyone can get comfortable in the water again and put into action the fish, invertebrate and other ID skills taught before the actual survey work begins.
Once you are trained up, your tasks will be predominantly dive-based and consist of several distinct underwater activities with the team split into buddy pairs. Depending on what your assignment is on the day, you and your buddy will, for example, be recording fish or invertebrates along the transect, or recording what kind of substrate (hard or soft coral, sand, rock, etc.) covers the bottom along the transect. Covering a transect will take you about one hour and you will dive up to four transects per day. During the course of the expedition, you will be laying transects in different locations all over the reef.
The Musandam peninsula (sometimes also called the Norway of Arabia) is the northernmost part of Oman jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf. The province, or Governorate of Musandam as it is officially known, is separated from the rest of Oman by various parts of the United Arab Emirates including Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. The Musandam more or less begins where the mountains rise from the plains of Ras al Khaimah.
The remote and rugged mountains, which rise straight out of the sea creating fjords and stunning landscapes, have had isolated communities for centuries. Many coastal villages can be reached only by boat, as there are no roads on much of the peninsula. Pockets of flat land support subsistence agriculture. The population of approximately 29,000 is concentrated in the capital, Khasab (18,000 in 2004) in the north and Dibba (5,500) on the east coast. Fishing is the principal economic activity supported by employment in government jobs.
On this project Biosphere Expeditions is working with Reef Check, the Emirates Diving Association, local dive centres, businesses & resorts, the local community, Sultan Qaboos University, the Oman Ministry for Environment and Climate Affairs, the Oman Tourism Board, as well as the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN). Further support comes from a grant from the Waterloo Foundation.
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"We have been privileged to be on the expedition. This group has really worked well together and the boat crew have been really helpful and it has to be said that the food was the best I have ever had on a boat. You are in for a treat. Another great expedition – see you again."
Steve Tredwell, 52, UK.
"Oh what an expedition! Are they all like this? I feel lucky to have it as my first. SCUBA diving is a fantastic experience, but diving for the environment is another thing. Doing it in such a well-organised, task-oriented, yet friendly and harmonious way wherever we go was a delight. I am pleased to have made this step and look forward to repeating it again."
Adel Abu Haliqa, 38, Abu Dhabi.
"All credit to Matthias, Rita & crew. I have had a wonderful week, learnt so much. The expedition has helped me to understand the complex and frail reef environment and I hope to sign up again in the future."
Rob Beaumont, 40, Dubai & UK.
|Feedback from team members about their experiences and
reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).
"It was a great experience and I would like to come again. Thank youvery much for this week. I will recommend Biosphere Expeditions."
Lars Krüger, 39, Germany.
"Really enjoyable, good team, thank you!"
Gordon Thompson, 58, UK.
"Thankyou very much for providing me with the opportunity to join thisexpedition. I learnt so much and met great people I will stay in touchwith. Thanks again – I very much appreciate what Biosphere Expeditionsdoes."
Anke Hofmeister, 33, Malidves & Germany .
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Ken Atkinson, 40, Dubai & Australia.
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Dan Clements, 60, USA.
"Youhave created something big with Biosphere Expeditions and I wanted tothank you for letting me be part of it. My experience with you was notonly extraordinarily enriching and beautiful, but it has also put manywheels in motion in my life, amongst other things a new understandingof wildlife and nature, as well as a deep personal friendship. Myexpedition has been one of the most inspirational and formativeexperiences of my life. THANK YOU!”“This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and itfelt like a real privilege to wake up here and go out diving with thescientists.”
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“Congratulations for the Biosphere Expeditions idea and the way thestaff carries it through with their enthusiasm. I came across you onthe internet by chance and your information materials and the way myquestions were answered persuaded me to dare come on the expedition.Once in the field my expectations were more than fulfilled. The teamwas great, as was the food and I gained a real insight into howwildlife research and conservation works on the ground. I'll be back!”