Divemaster :Moyo (I Made Sudirata), Captain Wayan Yapta. Made Dharma Jaya (from CI) Brett with a lovely young lady (Miss Marina Hobson), and Manager of Bali Diving Academy Lembongan Sven Fautz. (Front row L to R):Iwan Dewantama (CI), Tierney Thys.

(Back row L to R):Divemaster :Moyo (I Made Sudirata), Captain Wayan Yapta. (Middle row L to R):I Made Dharma Jaya (from CI) Brett with a lovely young lady (Miss Marina Hobson), and Manager of Bali Diving Academy Lembongan Sven Fautz. (Front row L to R):Iwan Dewantama (CI), Tierney Thys.

This October, the mola team headed East–far East. We enthusiastically accepted an invitation from marine conservationist Dr. Mark Erdmann to join Conservation InternationaI, Indonesia and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in conducting a Rapid Biological Assessment (RAP)* for the Nusa Penida area. This region is a beautiful three island archipelago off the southeast corner of Bali. We were solicited to join this particular RAP team since ocean sunfish are a star attraction in these waters and between July and October comprise a large part of the tourist draw–perhaps too large.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing hordes of overly enthusiastic SCUBA divers are perturbing the giant ocean sunfishes in Bali–causing them to alter their behavior and avoid their traditional cleaning stations. Cleaning stations are where large pelagic fish like sunfish, sharks, groupers and the like, assume non-threatening poses and solicit the parasite-preening services of smaller fishes like butterfly fish, angel fish and wrasses. (For more information on this behavior see: Adult Emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator ) clean Giant sunfishes (Mola mola) at Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia, Coral Reefs (2006) 25: 208) PDF

Tagging boat

Tagging boat

Ocean sunfish support an impressive load of parasites–some 50 species from 40 different genera have been reported to occur in and/or on the thick-skinned bodies of the molas (Molidae Parasites PDF). So partaking of regular piscine spa treatments is of vital importance to the wellbeing of these fishes. Bali, and particularly the waters around the islands of Nusa Lembogan and Nusa Penida, provide just the right combination of ocean conditions to create the ultimate sunfish resort spa. We’re hoping our work can help keep it that way.

Indonesian mola

Indonesian mola

Our research here has several aims: to document and protect the preferred habitats of mola; to educate the public about this valuable marine asset and; to engage in discussions with commercial dive operators and government officials regarding how best to protect this resource by instituting a voluntary code of conduct PDF for all dive guides and diving tourists. We are working closely with Michael Cortenbach and his team from Bali Diving Academy. Our research is also working to establish a marine protected area here along with the tireless efforts of Conservation International Indonesia’s staff including Mark Erdmann, Ketut Putra, Iwan Dewantama, Laure Katz and more.

Brett approaches sunfish...

Brett approaches sunfish…

and inserts tag.

and inserts tag.

The last time we visited these waters was in 2004 when, after much searching, we placed two pop-off archival satellite tags on molas. We only received back a small amount of data from those tags however. (See Indonesia 2004 Expedition) So this time, we refined our tag attachment technique and with our tags programmed to release in 6 months on April 15th 2009 we hope for a much more comprehensive look into the lives of Indonesian molas. We also had a much easier time finding animals to tag this time around! In fact on Oct 9th two hours before low tide, we tagged an animal on our very first dive.

Within 8 minutes of entering the water at Blue Corner–a popular dive spot off Nusa Lembogan–Brett Hobson deployed the tag. The 1 m TL sunfish was being cleaned at 25-30m depth in 22 C water, below the 26 C surface waters. Brett inserted tag #08A0768 89297 into the animal’s right side behind and below the dorsal fin. Then on October 11th, 4 dives later, Brett tagged our second mola (1 m TL) at Crystal Bay off Nusa Penida at 20 meters in 26 C water. This animal was also being cleaned, relaxing in the calm waters one hour after high tide. Brett inserted tag #08A0782 89298 on the left side of the animal.

While we await the tags release date in April next year, we have asked all divers here to keep an eye out for these tagged animals and send their sightings to Iwan Dewantama i.dewantama@conservation.orgClick here for the request poster.PDF

Made Suarnatha, Ketut S. Putra, Tierney Thys, Yos Amerta

(L to R) Made Suarnatha, Ketut S. Putra, Tierney Thys, Yos Amerta

With our tagging completed we returned to the mainland and on October 17th, team leader, Dr. Tierney Thys delivered an informational keynote lecture to a large group of commercial dive operators and Balinese government officials. This meeting was organized by Conservation International Indonesia. In Bali alone, there are more than 100 commercial dive operators and at least 30 different outfits that just service the Nusa Penida area alone. The informational meeting proved very encouraging and all parties seemed amenable to working together to conserve the unique marine treasures of Nusa Penida.

Also during this trip Dr. Thys was invited to give two lectures at the innovative new Green School of Bali located up in Ubud–one hour inland from the coast. This inspired preK through 8th grade school is built entirely from sustainable bamboo and teaches an integrated green curriculum. It is the brainchild of longtime Bali residents and visionaries, John and Cynthia Hardy. To see a snippet of the talk click here. For more on the Green School visit www.greenschool.org.

* Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) was created in 1990 to quickly provide the biological information necessary to catalyze conservation action and improve biodiversity protection. During RAP expeditions, which typically last three to four weeks, teams of tropical field biologists conduct rapid, first-cut assessments of the biological value of selected geographic areas. RAP scientists collect and analyze the diversity of selected groups of organisms and use this information to produce conservation recommendations for managers and decision-makers. All findings from RAP expeditions are made available to the public in the RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment series. These reports consist of species lists, analyses of biodiversity data and patterns, and conservation recommendations. http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/