Monday, June 20, 2011

Looking back on the expedition it’s been tough work of long days in the field and long nights processing samples, but it has been immensely satisfying. We will return home with a computer full of data!

We’re very grateful to the great team at the TNC research station and at Papua Diving. They supported us in many ways and it was so nice to see how everybody got completely involved in the project – it clearly was not only an adventure for us, everybody got a kick out of discovering new lakes in islands that none of us had been to before!

If you’re coming to this blog for the first time and want to read the entries in chronological order, you’ll have to start at the bottom.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

TNC Misool Station

overview of lakes

The expedition has been a great success, we located over 40 marine lakes new to science!

Some lakes turned out to be impossible for us to reach due to treacherous cliffs surrounding the lakes. If we had real rock-climbing equipment we would possibly have been able to do it, but even then there’s little way of climbing razorsharp yet brittle karst cliffs that go straight up at a 90 degree angle…..

The diversity of lakes that we did get to survey is immense. Different colors, different depths, salinities, shaped, sizes, and lots of different organisms. On the whole sponges, algae and mussels were the most dominant groups.

Video from inside a lake of cliff and jungle surroundings

Marine lakes represent a geomorphological gradient of highly connected lakes to highly isolated lakes. The highly connected lakes contain water that is similar to the reefs and house mostly species from reefflats, sometimes even stony coral.

Video of coral in a more connected marine lake

The more isolated the lake is, the lower the salinity typically is and the more unique species it contains. In the isolated lakes of Misool we have found many rare species that are only known from a few isolated lakes in the world. Additionally we have collected at least 10 species new to science.

Video of sampling among mangroves in a highly isolated marine lake

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Video climbing through jungle to marine lake

Friday, June 17, 2011

not so undiscovered

The isolated water bodies of marine lakes are, like island systems, extremely vulnerable to threats from human activities. Particularly the highly isolated lakes could be irreversibly damaged. Some of the lakes near villages or the ‘resorts’ (camp accommodations north of Panah Panah for pearl farm workers) contained floating devices with cages. These were used to temporarily store recently caught fish. The introduction of fish or any other non-native marine species can radically change the diversity within the lakes. Introduced species can become invasive and dominant which could ultimately cause endemic lake species to go extinct. This actually also applies to us, so we always rinse all our gear in the evenings to make certain we do not unintentially bring in propagules of alien species.

Within Misool the most extreme form of exploitation was in a lake on the island Karwop. The whole lake had been transformed into an aquaculture containing fish such as tilapia. The density of fish was so high that the turbid water was literally bubbling with fish. The limestone rocks surrounding all lakes in Misool are porous and allow exchange of water with the adjacent waters. This means that the water from the aquaculture containing high nutrient concentrations and possible bacteria is a likely seeping to the surroundings, possibly causing harm to the coral reefs. It is a rather destructive practice that is also used in lakes of Vietnam; we sincerely hope it does not become common practice in Misool.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


On nice days we would select one of the many uninhabited islands with Bounty-advertisement-beauty as our lunch location. If we were lucky Romel had caught some fish while we were working in the lake. Grilled fish over a fire, add some rice and coconuts and life is good.

However this trip was characterized by rain, so soaked rice was more often than not the motto.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

shivering in the tropics

Ok, so you think about the tropics and most of you will think HEAT. And this is true. In part atleast. Yes the air temperature ranges between 35-40C and the sea between 28-30C. Yet for many a marine biologist doing fieldwork in the tropics means a lot of shivering cold. We spend most of the day on boats, exposed to all the elements, so no shortage of getting soaked by (cooler) rain and then being blown about for hours while remaining damp. Allright that may not be much of a convincer to some. The major source of shivering comes from the ages we spend under the water. 30C is pretty warm for seawater, yet it is still a good 7C lower than body temperature. When you spend 2 hrs diving, barely moving while you are recording data, even with a 5mm wetsuit, you can come up shivering. Well we do at least. If it’s sunny the shivering can subside soon enough, however we’ve had mostly rainy days so that meant quite continuous shivering. Sometimes I think I’ve never felt so cold as in the tropics….

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

shopping village

The winds have been extremely strong. This means that we’ve had some days that the waves were raging so fiercely that we could not go to sea. It also has meant that the shipment of food and drinking water has not been able to come to our station for over a week. Luckily Yellu is nearby, a relatively large village with a large green mosque and an equally impressive telephone mast. The village predominantly houses workers from the nearby pearl farm. The income of most people in this area appears to be from the pearl farms that stretch over kms. of sea. Yellu is where all the passing ships and boats stop to get supplies – and it’s amazing what you can get here in this middle of nowhere place. We would often stop by on our way back home mostly to pick up some water, some Oreos and mobile phone credit. SO everything is available, except fruit and vegetables and nothing is in definite supply. One day we went by to find that all stores were out of water, not a bottle to be found – a couple of big boats had just come by an hour before and cleaned them out….

When the boat from Sorong finally did come containing our order of freshness, we were thrilled with happiness. After ten days of Indo-Mie, rice and salty dried fish for every meal, vegetables and fruit never tasted so good!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Just got back from Misool and once again within the reaches of the internet. We've put up some posts about the fieldwork and will add more in the next weeks when we have a better connection.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

lake entries

Equipped with coordinates and distant aerial pictures, we never quite know what to expect when rounding the last corner before the estimated entry point of an unexplored lake. More often than not, after gliding over gorgeous shallow water coral reefs, our boat comes to a halt in front of a seemingly impenetrable wall of sharp limestone covered in thick rainforest. Undeterred, our trusted guides Jams, Ali and Hassan go out to scout the area first, machete in hand, to find out how realistic it is to access the lake, having gained a good impression of what we ladies are capable of. After anything from a few minutes to almost an hour, they suddenly resurface out of the jungle. The ensuing conversations usually consist of a variation on the following themes:

  • “bisa?” “bisa!” (can? can!)
  • “bisa?” “tidak bisa... too high!” (can? can’t... too steep!)
  • “bisa?” “mungkin bisa. jau sekhali... setengah mati!!” (can? maybe can. very far... half dead!!)
  • “bisa?” “bisa... tapi air tawar.” (can? can... but it’s fresh water.)

Once it has been established that a lake is accessible and marine, we start our ascent into the unknown. Each lake entry is a different adventure with its own character and challenges. Some come with muddy slopes or sharp lose rocks, others require advanced climbing skills, some make us feel like Tarzan’s Jane as we swing from one tree to the next, while others have us mildly worried about the diseases we might be exposing ourselves to while wading through smelly swamps.

But as the lakes come into view we are always rewarded with magical sceneries, each lake beautiful and peaceful yet unique. In some cases we are probably the very first people to set our eyes on a particular lake, and this knowledge raises a strange feeling, suddenly being struck again by how privileged we are to be out here.

Our scientific instincts soon take over, and we start scanning the edges to determine what type of fauna and flora dominate the lake. This includes critically examining every log-like object from a distance, and hoping that everyone agrees that it is “kayu” (wood) and not “buaya” (crocodile). Indeed, although we have been made aware of emergency procedures in the not completely unlikely event of a crocodile attack (they like hanging out in brackish waters), we would rather not find out whether we are any good at hitting a crocodile on the nose with a miniature rake, poking a dive knife into its eye or even safer hopping onto its back.

Once we are confident enough that the coast is clear, we slowly slide into the water in order not to stir up the sediment. Each of us will spend the next few hours completing their part of the lake survey, such as tracking its shape and dimensions, performing sponge community surveys or recording water parameters. More on this in another blog entry.

Lisa and Cat