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Dahab, Ägypten, 27.9.11 – 9.10.11

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Winners of the picture contest

8th of October 2011

Air temperature: so very hot…

Time flies. Two weeks are already over, and we did spend our last day not under water, but in one of the driest places on earth, the desert. We arrived in the middle of nowhere and climbed on the camels already parked at the side of the road. After a short ride, we left them behind and scaled down the steep entry into the White Canyon feeling like Indiana Jones.

Following the narrow path between sandstone cliffs, we finally reached a small and astonishingly green oasis where we had lunch and a rest. Afterwards, we followed the ‘path of the Bedouins’ having no choice but leaving the commando to our graceful mounts. At the time our bumps started to hurt, we arrived at an amazingly beautiful place next to a sand dune where the Bedouins already lit the fires.

Enjoying the golden evening light and the sunset from the top of the sandstone formations we wished we could sleep under the stars in this silent place which was much more comforting than we ever thought a desert could be…
The fun time in Dahab and the 30 °C less in Germany make it hard to leave Egypt, but we are grateful for the scientific experience we gained and the nice moments we shared…

Ella El Lekaa…

7th of October 2011

Air temperature: 33°C, water temperature 28°C

Today was our “Dream Dive Day”! Due to the successfully finished project work we were supposed to have two fun dives at a spot of our choice. Unfortunately we were not as lucky with the weather as the last days lead to a limited selection of dive spots. After checking a first dive spot further south we ended up at Golden Blocks, experiencing a drift dive along the fore reef carrying us to another reef further south.

The highlight of that scenery was an impressive, about two meters high Gorgonian coral at 20m depth. Watching it we were accompanied by a big swarm of fusilier fishes making the view even more picturesque. In the afternoon we chose Bells to become our final dive experience for this excursion. Being aware of the fact that this dive will be probably the last one in the near future for most of us we extended it as long as we could and enjoyed the beautiful underwater surrounding.

In the evening we had a little photo competition out of the best of underwater and on land, people underwater, vertebrates and invertebrates and Tubularia shots, which was a nice review of the whole impressions we all got here.

6th of October 2011

Air temperature: 33°C, water temperature 28°C

Exited and exhausted from the unique diving experience in Ras Mohammed, our evening ended earlier than usual. Well rested and motivated we went on with our projects the next day. After the morning meeting where we discussed our strategy for the transect work we got ready for the last and northernmost spot, the Blue Hole. As we are already trained teams all the work worked out perfectly without any problems. Back home all groups were quite busy with processing the data we had collected over the last days and the presentations were followed by an interesting discussion bringing all together….

5th of October 2011

Temperature: 30 °C, water temperature: 27 °C

After getting up early to see the sunrise at 5.30 am, we started our long-awaited trip to Ras Mohamed National Park at the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Two hours of bus drive through the desert brought us to one of the Top 10 dive spots in the world. Ras Mohamed is the first and only Egyptian National Park with 480 km2 of marine and terrestrial area. It is famous for its fossil coral platforms on land and its pristine and biodiverse reefs below the water surface.

During our first dive at “Shark Reef”, we did unluckily not encounter sharks, but were impressed by large swarms of snappers, jacks and batfishes. Strong currents and masses of snorkeling tourists kept us busy navigating along the drop-off wall, reaching straigth down to 800 m depth. On our way back to Yolanda Bay, we passed “Anemone city”, an area inhabited by anemones, fire corals and clown fishes. For lunch, we enjoyed a local bedouin meal: rice, pasta, vegetables and chicken. Our second dive led us to the “Shark Observatory”. We just let us carry from the (this time milder) current along the wall with gorgonians, soft corals and fussiliers.

The bedouins planned to pick us up 2 km further north from our starting point...just that we got out at the wrong bay and found ourselves at a lonely beach with nothing than our diving gear at our hands. The drivers managed to find us nevertheless and we headed back to Dahab in the buses, the first ones falling soundly asleep before we reached the National Park border. What an amazing dive trip!

4th of October 2011

Temperature: 31°C, water temperature: 28°C

Our day started with a sweet surprise: for breakfast we got cream cakes from the hotel to celebrate two birthdays in our excursion team. Strengthened by several layers of coconut, raisins and whipped cream, we continued our project work at a new diving site. We laid out the transect tapes at the “Lighthouse” reef, located at the main tourist beach of Dahab.

Altogether, we investigated an area of 300 m2 around the transect in 7 m depth. As this is a higly frequented spot, we had to cope not only with windsurfers racing over our heads but also with curious other divers. Some of the latter ones seemed to be interested in our work, but their persistent approaches disturbed our data collection several times. During the evening meeting we exchanged details of our observations. Although not all data sets were complete yet, we could already find differences in species composition and abundance, compared to the site of “Three Pools” further south of Dahab.

3rd of October 2011

This time our destination was not below the water surface but 2285 meters above sea level. A two hours bus trip led us to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a multi-religion holy site situated in the gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai. Built in the 6th century it is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries of the world. After visiting the ancient building and the adjacent garden together with bus-loads of orthodox pilgrims and tourists, we made our first of 6666 steps on the stairway to the top of the mountain on which Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The exhausting ascent was rewarded by a picturesque sunset over the surrounding mountain panorama of Sinai. Driven by cold and fading light we descended the historic camel path beneath the impressive night sky full of stars and ended the trip with a drive back home.

2nd of October 2011

Temperature Dahab: 34°C, Temperature water: 28°C

After Pepe Bastian´s presentation about the socio-ecologic evaluation of coral reef ecosystems and their generated goods and services on the previous evening, we proceeded with our four group projects at the already well known dive site “Three Pools”.

Generating first data was accomplished using 20 to 50m transect lines, dependent on the respective project, which were carefully positioned on the coral reef surface. During the second dive of the day, an interested octopus attracted our attention. Showing his frequently changing coloration, he seemed to be quite curious about the abundance of the new non-aquatic species around him.

The daily evening meeting was started by Wiebke Ullmann´s interesting presentation about coral diseases. A dynamic discussion about this topic was followed by a first evaluation of results and their relation in coral reefs. Furthermore, suggestions for improvements of our working methods under water were developed.

1st of October 2011

Air temperature: 32°C, water temperature: 25°C

As one of the aims of this excursion is the compilation of a species list including fish and invertebrates we identified during our dives, we spent this morning with computer work and studying. In the afternoon, we started our second-week underwater projects including benthic as well as pelagic line transects, cryptic species identification and a coral mucus release study. It’s not easy to be a scientist….

30th of September 2011

Air temperature: 33 °C, water temperature: 24.5°C

Coral reefs are not the only interesting and ecologically important marine ecosystems. After Carolin Hauer’s talk about Reef Zonation and a night dive where we could observe majestic basket stars, hunting snake eels, roving octopuses and other nocturnal animals, we started this morning to explore the mangroves in Nabq National Park.

This unique landscape which is located 35 km north of Sharm el Sheikh, is inhabited by 134 plant species, various mammals as well as many reptiles, birds and insects. After a long and bumpy bus ride through the Wadi Kid, we waded through the shallow water to find mangrove associated animals like Cassiopea, the upside-down jellyfish, and tried to catch fiddler crabs on the tidal flats around the aerial roots of Avicennia marina. Before snorkeling in a shallow lagoon nearby, we enjoyed a meal of grilled reef fish and other specialties freshly prepared by our Bedouin guides. Our way back was sweetened by a beautiful sunset behind the desert mountains.

29th of September 2011

Air temperature:31°C, water temperature:28°C

Today, we had the opportunity to see different gorgonian species at the famous local dive spot called “Blue Hole”. Watching a hawksbill turtle diving down along the fore-reef, we enjoyed the majestic blue and wideness of the ocean. Using an underwater identification chart, we were also able to differentiate between the diversity of fish species. During lunch we visited fossil coral reefs, some meters above sea level, for a journey back in time and we had a look at some coral polyps in the “Magic Microscope” - CellScope. The following dive led us down into the blue hole, covered with a colorful selection of the marine fauna.

28th of September 2011

Air temperature:31°C, water temperature:28°C

Yesterday, inspired by an interesting talk about the diversity of coral reef fishes given by Sebastian Ferse and the following invitation to a typical Bedouin barbecue, we had a controversial discussion about the personal responsibility regarding the sustainable use of coral reef fish. In the morning, around 10:30am we had a trip to the location called “Lighthouse” in the north of Dahab. Expecting to see some sea horses, we discovered a rare cryptic frog fish, a sea moth and many unicorn fishes among others.

During our lunch break, we had time to investigate local invertebrate species, such as hermit crabs, brittle stars, abalones and sea urchins, which were collected from the reef flat in front of our accommodation. The end of the day was highlighted by a dusk dive, which was a first time experience for many of us. Afterwards, Anika Guse, a molecular cell biologist from Stanford University, told us more about an innovative technology in coral reef research, named “CellScope”, combining high resolution bright-field microscopy with a cell phone camera.


27th of September 2011

Dahab, 27.09.11, Air temperature day 30°C, night 26°C, water temperature 28°C.

Marhaba – Welcome to Egypt!

After 4 hours of flight we arrived safely at the Airport of Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula. Luckily, all 17 members of the excursion and the approximately 25 suitcases arrived without any loss. Excursion leader Prof. Christian Wild from the ZMT chose the small city of Dahab, located at the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, for the two-week research trip with his ten students from the Marine Biology MSc program at the University of Bremen. We were also joined by guest researchers from LMU Munich and Stanford University as well as a guest student from Rostock University. The Middle East welcomed us with 33 °C at 22 h and small buses that transferred us through the desert to Dahab.

The maximum water depth of the Gulf of Aqaba is 1,850 m, and its maximum North-South extension is 160 km. With an average water temperature of 28 °C and a salinity above 40 ‰, the Gulf of Aqaba is one of the saltiest water bodies in the world and the northernmost place with coral-favourable conditions. Typical for the Gulf are the narrow fringing reefs followed by a steep drop-off.

Our home base for the duration of the expedition is the INMO Diving Hotel, which has direct beach access and an Arabic-style dome architecture.

Dahab is a popular diving location and famous for its richness in coral species and other marine biodiversity. The goals of the excursion are primarily species identification of marine taxa in the first week and selected research projects in the second week. The program also further extends into the evening, with regular lectures about taxonomy of reef organisms and ecological questions along with student presentations about actual reef topics.

Our first trips at the Southern locations “Moray Cave” and “Three Pools” today and yesterday have already given us a great impression of the local biodiversity, and we are looking forward to discover more and share our experiences with the readers. Our co-students will continue to report about this trip in regular intervals.

Salam Aleikum !

Lisa Mertens, Sören Häfker, Carolin Hauer, Kati Michalek, Wiebke Ullmann, Sandra Maier, Ines Stuhldreier, Artur Fink, Pepe Bastian, Christopher Gross - Ms students

Supervisors:
Prof. Dr. Christian Wild, Department of Ecology, ZMT and Faculty of Biology/Chemistry, University of Bremen
Dr. Malik Naumann, Dr. Sebastian Ferse, Dr. Claire Reymond, ZMT