Expedition Journal – Benjamin Cowburn
18 September 2014
I am currently writing from the good ship “Deli” anchored in waters off Djibouti, a small East African country at the mouth of the Red Sea. I am one of a team of six, from CORDIO and the Cousteau Society, here to assess the habitats and biodiversity in the shallow warm seas around the coast. The survey is one component of a bigger initiative being carried out by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to better document and highlight conservation priorities in the East African biodiversity ‘hotspot’.
The team has just finished surveying Musha island in the middle of the Gulf of Tadjourah. This small uninhabitated island is surrounded by coral reef, influenced by both the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, creating a rich mix of species for us to work on. The reefs here are in relatively good condition, and the different aspects of the island have created a wide range of different coral habitats, from exposed current swept banks to sheltered patch reefs on white sandy bottoms.
So far, the most exciting finds include a potential spawning aggregation of the endangered Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) and six species of Red Sea endemic butterflyfish. The invertebrate community is more cryptic, staying hidden within the reef structure much of the time, but the most interesting finds were the numerous Christmas Tree Worms found on the current-swept Ankali banks. The coral cover is very good in many areas, with 100% coverage in localised spots and is evidently quite resilient to climate change, with over 2m wide table corals (Acropora cytherea and A. downingi) that have regrown after dying back in a mass coral bleaching event in 1998.
Tomorrow at 5:30am we set sail for Obock, on the northern shore of the Gulf of Tadjoura, in order to be on our first dive by 8 am. Our surveys will take us around the entire Gulf, which makes up a large portion of Djibouti’s coastline. This will take us the next two weeks, before heading to our various home destinations, to analyse the data and report on our findings.