Carpe Diem: Dive with a Purpose 2018, with the 100 Island Challenge

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Scubaverse Contributor Yo-Han Cha reports from his recent liveaboard trip in the Maldives…

It’s been stunning out here in the Maldives. In the first two days we saw mantas and a whale shark – not a bad start to a week on a liveaboard, in fact it was beyond anything I expected. It was a dream start to the trip and Mother Nature and the Carpe Diem staff have certainly delivered.

But this trip wasn’t just about us having fun and enjoying the underwater wildlife of the Maldives, Carpe Diem had us diving with a purpose and we had Brian Zgliczynski and Clinton Edwards from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego who were here as part of their 100 Island Challenge campaign.

What is the 100 Island Challenge?

To quote Scripps:

No two coral reefs are the same, and no two reefs will face the future in the same way. This variability, however, can teach us lessons about how to manage coral reefs for the best future possible.”

The 100 Island Challenge is a five year campaign where they’ll aim to survey 100 islands and to resurvey them every two years to plot any changes. 81 islands have been surveyed so far with some of them have already had their two-year resurvey. The 100 Island Challenge team is aiming to complete 95 by the end of 2018.

One of their main methods of data collection is using photogrammetry to survey the reef – other methods being benthic and fish biomass assessments – but on this trip, there was a focus on the photogrammetry. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what it is, photogrammetry is where hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs are processed by computer software to produce a 3D model.

I had come across it before to survey wrecks but it’s not something I’d ever attempted before. This has proved to be an excellent tool for surveying coral reefs as they don’t move, and by surveying the same site over time, the Scripps team have been able to monitor, not just a single snapshot of coral population and distribution but the growth, death and regrowth of the exact same corals in a specific area of the reef.

Which brings us back to the Maldives, with Brian and Clinton here to firstly see if the Maldives was somewhere suitable for the 100 Island Challenge and to test their camera equipment. We, the non-scientist guests, were encouraged to take our cameras and with a brief instruction before the start of the dive, go survey a small coral for ourselves.

Brian and Clinton were using DSLRs and today they mounted two of them together (quite a sight!) in order to survey a section of the reef in a 5m x 5m grid. Nobody else on the trip had a DSLR to take underwater and none of were expected to do a grid survey, but four of us, with four different makes and models of camera, ranging from a simple compact to a mirrorless, went out, chose a coral and gave it a go, not really knowing what the end result would be.

Due to our different cameras, some of us had to approach it slightly differently. I shot in continuous mode and kept the trigger down whilst I swam steadily around my coral. After years of photography where I’ve been told to shoot into the blue for good negative space and to shoot up, the most difficult part of me was to go against my instincts and avoid having any blue in the shot and to shoot down! However, the award for having the most patience and diligence went to Daphne as she individually took over a hundred images of a coral with her compact.

The results for all four of us were in my opinion amazing and I’m not just saying so because one of them’s mine. Considering that due to time constraints Clint processed the images at a lower resolution than he would do normally (Scripps are going to process them at full resolution when they get back to San Diego) and that we were total novices to this, the results were a lot more detailed than I expected them to be, which is exciting in more than one way as it shows that this method of surveying is one that can be easily trained to others.

We’re now, sadly, just over halfway through our trip. The diving, the staff and the liveaboard have been excellent and it’s been exciting to learn how we, each in our small way, can make a difference.

For more information on the 100 Island Challenge click here.

For more information about Scripps Institution of Oceanography click here.

For more information about Carpe Diem click here.

Yo-Han Cha

Yo-Han Cha

Yo-Han Cha is a member of the Northern Underwater Photography Group and started taking underwater photos with a Canon Ixus 980 IS before upgrading to an Olympus OM-D EM-5 two years ago. He has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and works as a Network Engineer for a telecoms company, neither of which is relevant to his underwater photography. Well, the job pays for the kit and trips, so it’s kind of relevant. He learned to dive whilst backpacking in Australia as he thought it would be the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef, and when he got back, started diving in the UK as he wanted to dive with seals. He is a member of both Bolton Area Divers (PADI) and Manchester University Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) as he finds it difficult to turn down diving opportunities. He loves going diving and is usually at his happiest when either taking photographs of nudibranchs or of seals. He prefers scenic diving but concedes that wrecks make lovely artificial reefs.

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