Sailing in the search of marine forest species

During the past months, The Ocean Mapping Expedition has been sailing in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

Image

We left The Great Barrier Reef at the end of June and the winds pushed us towards PNG. We have visited just a small part of PNG but what we have seen so far was just amazing. Places full of nature and wilderness. Places where the people live in small houses done with vegetal materials, where the electricity is almost nonexistent and internet access is something that happens few times in their lives. The ocean has a dark blue color but once you are at shallower waters the color start to change to crystal blue. In all the islands we visited the coral reefs are presents and the communities depend directly on them, is the place where coastal fishing takes part; they fish with lines and hooks, with nets but also with spears. They also fish in the open ocean with their canoes; they fish big fishes as tuna.

In almost all the bays seagrasses and algaes are present, the big meadows are in shallow waters (from almost 0 meters to 10 meters deep, depending the place), the substrate of these meadows is fine sand and normally you find a mix of seagrasses with some species of Caulerpa. In this kind of ecosystems you can find Cymodocea serrulata, Enhalus acoroides and/or Halophila ovalis mixed with some species of Caulerpa as Caulerpa taxifolia or Caulerpa racemosa. We also found species of seagrasses and caulerpa in the coral reef, their distribution is more segregated and the species that dominate are from the genus Caulerpa among other species of algaes. The seagrass Enhalus acoroides was present sometimes between some big potatoes of coral.

Image

In general the areas that we studied were in a very good conservation state, we observe some interactions with the presence of humans, many of the meadows we have studied used to be at the shore of the villages, they could have a small impact due to the canoes and the effect of the human activity but was nothing really important.

We arrived to Solomon Islands on July 19th; we entered the country from the north, arriving to Gizo, the second biggest city of Solomon. Then we moved to Kolombongara Island, after that we sailed around New Georgia Islands, sailing through the shallow Vonavona Lagoon, visiting different Islands as Kohingo or Lola Island. After that we sailed towards Noro, one of the biggest cities in Solomon for after changing the province towards Choiseul, then Russel Islands and at the end Guadalcanal Island.

Image

In Solomon Islands we have found also a lot of wilderness, nature and very interesting communities. We have found also a bigger footprint of occidentals (cars, roads, houses build with metal or even concrete). In Solomon Islands we have found a problem of plastic pollution. In some places we have visited the beaches and the underwater world was polluted by big to very small plastics. Plastic material is something new for Solomon people and they are starting to face the problem of plastic pollution and rubbish management. Therefore some sampling sites were polluted.

In Solomon Islands corals are very present and almost all the Islands hold a coral reef. Sadly we observed that many coral reef we have studied were death or with a big part death. That situation was caused by a strong tsunami that took place in 2007 and that affected strongly all the marine ecosystems in Solomon.

Similar than in PNG, the biggest meadows we have found were in coastal waters with fine sand substrate. Because we spent more time in Solomon we could observe in more detail the habitats where algaes and seagrasses occur. We observed that Seagrasess meadows and Caulerpa species were highly present in Mangrove areas and in sand banks. In areas where the coral reef was in good health conditions the diversity of algaes species was higher. In some areas we could find more than five species of Caulerpa and four varieties of Caulerpa racemosa. The most common seagrasses were Enhalus acoroides, Cymodocea serrulata and Halophila ovalis. But other species of seagrasses were observed.

In Solomon Islands the population eats algaes, mainly Caulerpa racemosa and Caulerpa lentillifera, the exploitation of these algaes can be a pressure in the distribution of these species, but we cannot a conclusion on that. The aim with this project was to study the distribution of seagrasses and algaes along The Ocean Mapping Expedition jorneys. We aimed to involve the teenagers that were on board in this study, the situation on board was pretty good with them but was very difficult to motivate them to observe algaes and seagrasses (in most of the cases in these kind of habitats corals are not present and sample there was not very attractive for them). Even though they were interested and at the end of their trip some of them were familiar with the species.

The sampling of specimens for genetic analysis was not possible because it took a lot of time to get the research permits. In some occasions the sampling was not possible because we were in areas of crocodiles. Personally, it has been a great experience to study these habitats in Solomon and PNG, compare them with the seagrasses habitats of the Mediterranean and Atlantic. And most of all it has been an amazing opportunity to study places that maybe no body studied before. Our next destination is Marovo Lagoon, one of the finest lagoons in the world, where we expect to take samples of seagrasses and Caulerpa (now that we have the scientific permits for it!). And in mid-September we are planning to sail towards PNG. We keep on studying the habitats, observing, educating, we keep with Marine Forests and The Ocean Mapping Expedition.

Yaiza Santana Bernaldo de Q.

Add records