This is a 4 week practical placement where volunteers get hands-on marine biology work experience by working in a marine research station that involves the local village boatmen in conducting daily surveys to better understand the problem and empower them to protect their own islands.
The corals in Malaysia are suffering largely from tourism due to increased pollution and physical damage from tourists.
This project is supported by the local villagers, the Perhentian Islands Operators Association, Reef Check Malaysia, Plymouth University and the University Malaysia Terengganu.
Volunteers assist with seagrass surveys and mapping, coral reef surveys and mapping or assessing the current artificial reefs around the islands.
This placement also includes a PADI Open Water / Advanced or Rescue Diving Course. Volunteers have 1 or 2 dives in the mornings with the afternoon clear for further dives or data input and analysis.
During 2017 and 2018 the project focused on creating a health map of the corals and seagrass in the Perhentian Islands. The map produced some interesting results, showing some key areas which need to be protected and others which are damaged. With the help of the map our conservation actions will be directed along with our involvement in the Perhentian Islands Management Action plan. In 2019 the focus will be on seagrass research twice a year and then focus on coral rehabilitation in damaged but suitable areas for growth and also conduct photo ID research into sea turtles, sharks and experimentally on other keystone species.
More information about the types of research carried out
Volunteers assessing seagrass
Seagrass mapping and Survey:
We will repeat the seagrass surveys twice a year. Once at the start of the season and again at the end of the season. The research station will focus 100% on these surveys during these periods and not offer the Conservation in Action programme. The programme is 4 weeks long for qualified divers, if unqualified then the students can conduct a PADI course in the week before making the experience a 5 week programme. In the first week the students will learn the history, methodology and practical training of Seagrass Watch. Seagrass watch is the globally recognised standardised survey for seagrass and will produce comparable data to other seagrass beds around the world and year on year. These surveys are very important as they allow us to assess the health of the seagrass beds and then compare the year on year results so we can see what conservation action may need to be taken.
Week 1 - Training for seagrass watch – combination of presentations, videos, worksheets and practical surveys.
Week 2-4 – Official Seagrass Watch surveys – 8 dives per week. These surveys will be used to submit to seagrass watch and for us to assess the health of the seagrass beds year on year. During the surveys some divers will be assessing the seagrass beds using quadrats whilst others will be mapping the outer boundary of the seagrass beds. Additionally any sharks, turtles and juvenile sea horses will be photographed and recorded for Photo ID purposes.
Volunteers conducting a reef survey
Conservation in Action
The main bulk of the diving season will be focused on conservation actions. In 2019 we will officially start our coral rehabilitation programme in conjunction with the marine parks and various dive centres around the islands. The method has been tested by the Marine parks staff and consists of attaching broken fragments of coral to a PVC frame. The coral fragments will then grow and together with new coral recruitments these will make small new coral reefs. Additionally, the growth rate of broken pieces of corals is 400 times faster than the established coral colonies. The purpose of the coral frames is to provide additional fish habitat as well as to allow otherwise broken coral fragments with a second chance. You maybe involved in setting up new frames, helping to clean and maintain established frames or collecting monitoring data. However no matter what you will learn about all the processes in theory.
During other dives you will be helping to contribute to the sea turtle photo ID database and establishing a new shark and seahorse photo ID database for the marine parks. We will also be testing other keystone species throughout the year. It’s important we conduct photo ID studies because it’s a cheap and effective way to identify individual animals as many have unique patterns to the individual, similar to humans thumb prints. Once we establish the databases we will be able to know how many individuals there are, where they are, where they move to etc etc. This is really important information and will contribute to improving the management of the marine park. An example of the outcome of this research is how our turtle photo ID programme has shown that the nesting turtles are not seen during the day in the marine parks but go somewhere else outside of the marine park. Therefore the next step to protect those nesting turtles is to gain funding to satellite track those nesting mothers to see where they go in between nesting (they nest between 6-10 times per year before migrating to other seagrass areas). Additionally the sea turtles that are seen eating seagrass in the islands are migratory turtles whom nest in locations in Vietnam, Philippines and other Malaysian Islands. Therefore collaborations between these countries and us are starting up as a result of our photo ID research.
Additionally if other actions are needed we will do these as and when needed. For example removing ghost nets, COT clean ups, underwater clean ups etc.
Artificial Reef Assessments
The marine parks sunk several structures on the boundaries of the marine park to act as new fishing grounds where the villagers can fish, reducing the pressures on the natural reefs where the villagers currently fish. These structures were sunk in 2013 and need to be assessed for fish quantities and health before they are opened for fishing. You will help to conduct fish counts and video transect surveys to help our researchers to assess the FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices).
Other Marine Biology Work Experience in Assessments
You may also be asked to help with collecting information on several other aspects such as collecting data loggers for sea temperature, water quality, turbidity, wave height, salinity etc. These factors are very important and will help us to better understand the abiotic factors impacting on the reefs and seagrass.
Week 1 and onwards:
3 dives coral nursery focused dives
3 photo ID focused dives
2 spare dives for ad hoc conservation action
Presentation training on - fish ID, coral ID and substrate ID.
Week 2 – is a repeat of week 1.
This is a fantastic way of gaining hands-on conservation and research experience to compliment your accredited Level 3 Diploma course.
Marine Biology Work Experience Project Requirements
1. Volunteers must be over 18 or over 16 with a parental consent form. You will need to have a positive attitude, medium fitness and willing to participate in all volunteer activities. It is also important to respect the local culture and traditions whilst living in the Malay village. Families with young children (6 and above) can participate. UK Visitors will receive a 90 day free tourist visa upon arrival.
2. Volunteers will need to provide evidence of the following vaccinations and medical tests: Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; typhoid; measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); tetanus-diphtheria
3. Volunteers will need to be able to speak English or Bahasa Malaysia to be able to communicate with the facilitator.
What does the 4 Week Marine Biology Work Experience in Research Placement Include?
Marine Park Fee
Mixed sex dormitory accommodation with western toilet