Category Archives: Marine

Colossians 1:10 – A standard for marine research?

We often don’t think that the Bible has something to say about research. Of course, the issue of scientific research isn’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. After all, what we call science came to be much later. However, we do know that the Bible can be applied to all aspects of our lives and that includes our vocations. So while there isn’t such thing as a Christian transect (a field technique used in much of ecology), the Bible can give us principles to apply to the process of collecting field data.

I have been reading through Colossians during my stay here at Mwamba, A Rocha Kenya’s field study centre. This book of the Bible is one of Paul’s letters to churches of the time. There is so much that could be said, but for brevity, I want to just focus on one verse that struck me as particularly applicable to how we on the marine team aspire to conduct our research. I have been reading from a Gideons New Testament that was on the bookshelf, so I will give it here in the New King James Version as I read it:

“That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

The context is the beginning of the letter to the Church at Colosse. Paul is greeting them and praying for them. The focus is on encouraging them in their faith and he prays the above four things (among others) for them.

So what does this have to do with research? I think each point is something that I want to aspire to as I set out each day here as I go out and collect data, interact with people, and plan my work. Firstly, Paul prays that they “may walk worthy of the Lord.” He is talking about Christ, of course. This statement points to integrity in all we do. We can’t just do shoddy research in order to get by, but should aspire to the highest possible standards. We need to do the background work of reading the scientific literature on our topic, know the current field methods, their biases and how to adjust for them. We should feel confident, that to the best of our ability, we have done everything reasonably possible to collect information that reflects what is really there.

“Fully pleasing Him.” This says to me that our hearts are important. Why are we doing this research? Certainly it is great fun to go out onto what has been labelled Africa’s second-most beautiful beach, spend the day snorkeling on a reef or meandering through the rockpools. We also love our neighbours – those who depend on these resources for their livelihoods and our conservation partners whom we want to serve with information that can be used to better protect this beautiful place. But we also want to please God. Our heart’s desire is to hear God say – “Well done!” We do all this as unto the Lord, not trying to please people, but the one to whom we are ultimately responsible. As Colossians 3:17 says “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

The A Rocha Kenya Marine Team also wants to collect data in a way that it is “fruitful in every good work.” The team found a rare coral in our rockpool research. What are we doing to make that known? To help others to appreciate it and want to protect it? Do we just write a scientific paper, publish it in a journal that few will read and notch up another line in our CV? We need to get better at publicizing our findings. I don’t think our lack of publicity is out of some sort of notion of humility, though I, for one, don’t like “tooting my own horn.” I think there is just so much that can be done and, frankly, it is more fun to go out to ocean to collect some more data than to sit and write something that can be posted about what we found. The Marine Team has to get better about communicating so that we can bear more fruit with the work we are doing.

God reveals Himself primarily in His word, but Scripture itself teaches us that the world around us points us to God. We see tangible glimpses of His beauty and creativity in the intricate web of life found on a coral reef. I felt his power in being pummeled by the waves on the reef crest while trying to get a glimpse of a stocky hawkfish found only in the surf zone. I feel His peace sitting contented after a dive, warming in the sun while sitting on the boat gazing out at the Indian Ocean. The list could go on. My research helps me to be “increasing in the knowledge of God” as I learn more about His world.

There is more that I aspire to as a marine researcher and conservationist. But Colossians 1:10 has challenged me to not be satisfied with where I am at and has put some focus into this intense few weeks of research here in Kenya.

Robert Sluka, Ph.D.
Director, A Rocha Kenya Marine Conservation and Research Programme

Hawkfish and Sandperch!!

Many of us may have had or still do have aquariums in our houses or in our work places. Hawkfish are one of the groups which are collected for such tanks despite their slightly aggressive, territorial behaviour. Other than the details of keeping the species in an aquarium, not much is known about them. Hawkfish and Sandperch families are currently being assessed for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List categorises each species depending on their threats, habitat and ecology and geographical range. Each species is then placed on a scale ranging from Least Concern to Extinct.
The A Rocha Kenya marine team are conducting field work to determine each species abundance and distribution across the Watamu Marine National Park which will contribute to this assessment. Additional research into habitat association of hawkfish will be conducted by one of the current marine volunteers, Hannah, as part of her Batchelor thesis.
Hawkfish and Sandperch

Glowing Coral!

Did you know that some corals GLOW under ultra-violet light? Well they do! And last night some of us at A Rocha Kenya set out to see the amazing phenomenon for ourselves.

 

Conditions were perfect for some late-night rock pooling, so we headed out to the pools we knew had a lot of coral, and armed with torches and a small UV light. We were not disappointed! The corals glowed spectacularly, and we even saw some moray eels and a Spanish Dancer nudibranch as well!

glowing coral 1   glowing coral 2   glowing coral 3

 

To be truly accurate, it’s not actually the coral itself that is fluorescing (giving off light), it is the zooxanthellae living IN the coral! Tiny little algae live with coral and give it its color during the day, and some re-emit light to get spectacular displays like this. The coral and the zooxanthellae rely on each other to live: essentially, the zooxanthellae provides food and the coral provides shelter. Without that relationship, we wouldn’t have beautiful coral reefs, or nighttime displays like this!

 

People don’t know exactly why this “glowing coral” phenomenon happens, but there are a lot of interesting theories. One theory is that the fluorescent molecules work sort of like sunscreen!

 

Whatever the reason, we certainly are lucky at Mwamba that all of this is right in our own back yard.

 

A Day in the Life

Ever wondered what it’s like to be on the Marine Team at A Rocha Kenya? Well here’s how I spent one day last week here at Mwamba:

7:00 – Wake up to monkeys jumping on my roof, always entertaining
7:30 – Breakfast
8:15 – Data sheet prep: I filled up my old sheet yesterday, so I have to make another one
8:45 – Collect gear for rock pooling fieldwork: I’m looking for Anomastrea irregularis, and rare coral, and Hannah is looking at ghost crabs on the beach
9:00 – Walk down to the south end of the park to collect data on rock pool corals and ghost crabs

Anomastrea

10:10 – Caught in a rainstorm: Luckily, since we study the ocean, our data sheets are waterproof!
11:30 – Back to Mwamba loaded with lots of good data and plans to head back to the site another day
12:00 – Quick swim to cool off before lunch, and the water is beautiful, as always
13:00 – Lunch at Mwamba, delicious!
14:00 – Data entry
15:30 – 18:00 – Coral photo analysis: hopefully soon we’ll have a complete list of coral species present in the rock pools

coral again

18:00 – Break before dinner
19:00 – Dinner at Mwamba: six different countries represented!
21:00 – Late night rock pooling to look at glowing coral under the UV light: magical
23:30 – BED TIME. FINALLY.

And there you have it, an “average” day! Stay tuned for more updates on our marine research and everything else happening at A Rocha Kenya!

-Cassie

Studying the Ocean using Craft Supplies

Something you might not expect would be helpful in marine research: Plaster of Paris. Believe it or not, this craft supply can be used to analyze currents and water flow in the ocean. Here at A Rocha, we on the marine team worked to place multiple plaster of Paris “cakes” at different patch reefs around the marine park.

 

Creating multiple plates of the same size and consistency is not as easy as you might think. First, we tried mixing a large tub of plaster of Paris and pouring it into muffin tins, but it hardened much too quickly (it also resulted in plaster of Paris all over the wet lab, in what was dubbed “The Plaster of Paris Catastrophe of 2013). Eventually, after many attempts, we hit upon mixing precise measurements of plaster of Paris and water in the muffin tins on a liner of aluminum foil (for easy removal from the pan).

 

Before 2

Benjo with all of our “craft supplies”

 

Once the plaster of Paris set, the “cakes” were baked in the oven to remove all excess moisture before weighing.

 

After

Cassie with the finished cakes

 

The next day, the whole team set out to place the “cakes” on the reef. After remaining there for 24 hours, the cakes were collected, dried, baked, and weighed again. By looking at the weight change, we can compare the differences in water movement between the various reefs. Essentially, more current = more erosion = more change in weight. It should be very interesting to see the results, so keep an eye out!

 

Cakes

Andrew helping to put cakes on the reef

 

-The Marine Team

Rocky Platform research

A Rocha Kenya’s marine programme have been focusing recently on rocky platforms along the shoreline of Watamu Marine National Park. Robert Sluka, Director of the Marine Conservation and Research Programme recently presented a poster on our research at The Oxford University Biodiversity Institute’s Biosymposium 2013. We worked in collaboration with Senior Coastal Scientist Dr. O.S. Mohamed of Kenya Wildlife Service. Thanks go to ARK co-authors Benjamin Cowburn, Benjamin Vanbaelenberghe, Chloe Naylor, and Victoria Sindorf.

Oxford Biodiversity Symposium poster

Abstract

Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya is renowned for its beautiful beach and nearby coral reefs. In addition, visitors to this national park are often observed exploring rockpools at low tide and an unofficial guide trade has developed around this activity. With the exception of some historical literature, little to no research has been completed in these rockpools and so there has been no assessment of conservation needs. A project was started in December 2012 to study the biodiversity of these rockpools, identify threats, suggest possible conservation interventions, and begin developing education products for use in the local community to raise awareness of these habitats.

The initial phase of the project, completed in February 2013, focused on major taxonomic categories of organisms. Biodiversity included all three major algal phyla, lower animal forms such as sponges and corals and higher animal forms such as echinoderms and vertebrates. An educational package was developed and tested with both adult NGO workers and a group of 50 primary school students and their teachers. A guide to these major taxonomic groups was produced as well as presentation resources. Phase 2 of the project focuses on quantifying the abundance and biodiversity of these major taxonomic groups and is currently focusing on corals, fishes (both resident and juvenile reef fish), and echinoderms. Coral studies have identified a population of Anomastraea irregularis, an EDGE coral species. Potential threats to rockpool biodiversity include overuse by tourists, runoff from land-based development, and poaching. Conservation activities include quantifying the full range of biodiversity, monitoring changes spatially and temporally, and continuing education of guides, tourists, and the local community.

The Marine Research Programme Has Expanded!

Above: Doro getting really excited about this particular mat of seagrass!, left: Benjo, Peter and Hannah (left to right) and Cassie (right) on the boat, off on a snorkelling trip :D, we found loads of fish!! ... and seagrass and seeweed too!

Above: Doro getting really excited about this particular mat of seagrass!, left: Benjo, Peter and Hannah (left to right) and Cassie (right) on the boat, off on a snorkelling trip :D, we found loads of fish!! … and seagrass and seeweed too!

Over the last 6 months many volunteers have joined the A Rocha Kenya (ARK) marine team, researching a variety of different species and topics. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are partnering with ARK in order to provide the volunteer’s access to the Watamu Marine National Park and KWS with data for management and reports. This provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to study their particular and hopefully produce peer review papers within the conservation, wildlife and marine sectors.

The main topics are Benjo’s work on coral cover, the impact of tourists on the coral reef and reef resilience and Peter’s joint work with Sophie on the fish  associated with two different genus’ of coral.

Past volunteers have been researching: fishing communities and their livelihoods, intertidal pool fish and echinoderms (meaning spiky skin in Latin, including: sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers), shallow water corals and fish predation on juvenile corals.

 

The latest batch of volunteers and their projects are…

- Cassie, from US, Environmental Science (BA) graduate here to gain more practical experience, before further study – looking at a species of rock pool coral (Anomastrea irregularis) distribution and abundance

- Doro, from Germany, PhD student, here to gain hands on experience with A Rocha’s work and to add the botanical aspect to the marine programme – seagrass and seaweed biodiversity, distribution and possible threats

- Hannah, from UK, undergraduate student on a placement year – hawkfish, sandperch and ghost crab abundance and diversity

So be on the lookout for more posts about: corals, seagrass, seaweeds, hawkfish, sandperch and ghost crabs!

 

 

 

 

 

Community Rockpooling

Over the past week our marine team has been spending quite a lot of time around our various rockpool areas. These little windows to the sea are a great way to introduce people to marine life, as well as fascinating, understudied habitats.

Untitled 5

Saturday, June 8th, we celebrated World Ocean’s Day by getting all of our volunteers together and hosting a rockpooling party in front of the Turtle Bay Beach Club. Several local people saw advertisements on facebook and around town and came to join in the fun, along with guests at the various resorts and many beach operators. Everyone had a great time exploring the pools and learning about sea urchins, corals, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, starfish, crabs, sponges, etc. It was particularly rewarding  to see the amount of interest many of the beach operators had in learning proper names and asking intelligent questions about the ecology of various organisms. It was a very rewarding, enjoyable trip and on top of it all, we added two new fish species to our park list!

Untitled 7Untitled 6 This week also brought quite a bit of rockpool field work as marine volunteer, Tori Sindorf, is working on putting together a fish biodiversity estimate for the rocky intertidal areas of the park. We enjoyed bringing various people out to act as scribes and get a feel for what we were doing, and were honoured to have national director, Raphael Magambo join us for one of the days.

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We ended the week of spring tides (times when the low tides are extra low) by taking a trip across the creek to Uyombo, to Chipande Primary School, to do some environmental education with the kiddos out there. It was great traipsing around intertidal areas with kids pointing excitedly to everything they saw, asking for an explanation, and trying to ID creatures with our tidepool field guide sheets. It was especially fun encouraging a group of girls to try gently touching sea cucumbers and sea urchins, watching them squeal with delight at the new sensations!

Untitled 2

 

 

 

Fisheries conservation and A Rocha Kenya

Many communities around Mwamba, our field studies centre in Watamu, are dependent to a large extent on fishing for food and income. So, over the past several months, we on the marine team have been working to learn if, and how, it may be worthwhile for A Rocha Kenya to become more involved in coastal fisheries conservation in the Watamu area. To this end, we have been reviewing the published scientific literature regarding Kenya’s coastal fisheries, meeting with larger-scale Kenya fisheries agencies, and talking with local fishers and organizations in the Watamu area. Combined with our continuing coral reef and rockpool ecology research, this work with local fishermen and women may be an incredible way to both learn more about God’s amazing marine creation and work to redeem the way we as people relate to this part of His world.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue to think and pray about this new potential project!

_PWS8601 A fisherman walking across the mud flats to his boat at Mida Creek

_PWS8641 Digging for bait

DCIM100GOPRO Returning from fishing in Mida Creek

GOPR0146-3 One days catch

The Watamu Triathlon 2013!

Mwamba needed a wet lab – but where would the funds come from? Ideas were discussed or how to raise money for this. Then, one day, an advertisement went up in Watamu – ‘Enter now for the Watamu Triathlon – 14th April’. Staff at A Rocha thought – what better way to raise money! Then the team had to be picked – a rigorous process. Benjo, Stanley and Jonathan all stepped up to the mark – all having trained throughout the year in their different areas. Being a marine researcher here, Benjo spends his life swimming around collecting data, so was a clear choice for the swim. Stanley has often cycled the 10km to A Rocha from his house, and back, so knows the roads well. And Jonathan is ‘the fittest at Mwamba’ – often doing long runs along the beach, so was pumped and ready to run for the race.

Then there was the important factor of fundraising. Seeing that A Rocha is a very international organisation, the best way seemed to be the World Wide Web – appealing to the ‘likers’ of the ‘A Rocha Kenya’ Facebook page.

The day was fast approaching, with all team members trying to train their very hardest, to be fit for the race. Stanley was struggling to find a bike that was suitable for the race, but eventually found one that he could borrow off Turtle Bay. So equipment was all ready – including Jonathan and Benjo’s British flag design skimpy swimming shorts!

Suddenly the day came. Benjo was at the start line at 6am, his eyes set on the water.  After a very quick and impressive 750m swim in the warm Indian Ocean, he tapped on to Stanley. Stanley started his 20km cycle, and came back in good time, in a great position to set Jonathan up for the run. Jonathan was extremely speedy, reaching finish line on the beach with arms in the air, embracing the atmosphere. The team ended within the top 10.

Although tired, all three team mates were proud of their achievement, and enjoyed a well-deserved free breakfast laid out for all competitors at Turtle Bay.

After the event, more donations continued to come. Benjo talked to his church in England about the event and cause, and raised some more money. The total amount came to £270, which was enough to confirm that a new Wet Lab will be built for Mwamba! Henry and others have already started work on the door, and we hope that soon it will be completed. The marine team are extremely grateful, and pleased that the much-needed lab has been given the ‘go-ahead’. It will greatly benefit the marine programme. Pictures of the lab will be put up when it is finished!

Robin Harris – volunteer