Dolphin Operators in Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve called on to find a solution during calving season.

Dolphin Operators in Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve called on to find a solution  during calving season.


Image: Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin named Bo with one of her calves in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve.

Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique – The first official dedicated marine mammal operators meeting took place at the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) offices on the 6th October 2017.

The meeting was requested and presented by Miguel Goncalves – the newly appointed warden of the Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve. Vincent Matsimbe was present as second in command and will be operators go to man for issues arising within the marine mammal/megafauna tourism sector. 

The meeting was attended by representatives of The White Pearl, Malongane Dive Camp, (Somente Aqua) Dolphin Centre and Dolphin Encountours Research Center – the four official permit holders between Ponta do Ouro and Mamoli. 

Marine Mammal tourism has grown exponentially over the past two decades and as new research emerges we are discovering that activities designed to get tourists close to dolphins and whales do indeed have a large negative impact. A booming ocean safari trade, fishing charters and boats together with fishing jetskis (personal powered water craft) means its busy seas for the local bottlenose dolphins and marine mammals living in and frequenting the reserve’s waters. 

Mozambican biologist Diana Rocha has been monitoring the local dolphins since 2010 and looked at data collected between 2006/12. She identified 46 females with offspring over 6 calving seasons. The 2009/10 season saw a 38.9% mortality rate with predation, natural causes and human impact being listed as probable culprits. Pods with newborns were found to be larger than those without and change of direction increased on approach of the boat, indicating disturbance.

A major concern is that during the summer months of  December and January the local dolphins calve. This coincides with the busiest time of the year making dolphins frequenting the area vulnerable to disturbance by increased boat traffic, noise pollution and harassment. On a good weather day commercial dolphin swim operators and ocean safari tours start at sunrise and run throughout the day. If we take the two dedicated dolphin centers in Ponta do Ouro, as well as the water-sports and adventure centers in Mamoli and Malongane, we can safely say that the dolphins will be afforded little rest or quiet time during the busy times.

It is now clear that the amount of operators is too many and that the recommendations of one permit holder per 20km made by Dr Almeida Guissamulo from the Museu de Historia Natural, Maputo should have been considered when concerns were submitted to governmental departments before the reserve was proclaimed. 

It is within the Reserves Mandate to protect the local dolphins who live in the coastal shallows of the Lubumbo Transfrontier Conservation Area and they have requested operators who have a vested interest in the well being of the local dolphins to urgently address the problems and come up with solutions. 

The harsh truth lies in the consequence of operators not making a plan. With discussions from a complete ban, as is the case in South Africa to the concessioning out of one operator per permitted area, operators will have to look at reducing the amount of time spent with dolphins; the amount of in-water attempts; rest time in between visits; creating further sanctuary zone’s and implementing stricter controls for in-water encounters. 

In July of this year the World Whale Conference  & Whale Heritage Sites (WHS) Summit in Durban was represented by Mozambique with owner-operators Ilha Blue Island Safaris from Ilha de Moçambique and Dolphin Encountours Research Center from Ponta do Ouro. The 5 day conference/summit was arranged by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) and followed the theme of working towards sustainable tourism for cetaceans [dolphins and whales] and whale heritage site initiatives. In a survey undertaken by WCA, thirty three area’s of interest in twenty two countries were surveyed as possible whale heritage sites, most individual replies listed locations in South Africa, with Mozambique receiving the highest nomination. With both populations of wild dolphins and humpback whales that navigate these waters from June to December every year, the  Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve is of great importance for the protection of these species.  

A second meeting has been agreed upon by Marine Mammal Operators before presenting solutions to the reserve. 

 If you would like more information please contact:

Angie Gullan

DolphinCareAfrica t/a DERC

+258 84 330 3859

angie@dolphincare.org

Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

One of the most fascinating things about my work with the wild #dolphinsofponta  is being able to create a safe space were humans are able to observe this special species in their own environment.

Over the past couple of years I have filmed numerous events of a vocalisation I called tok, toking….Popping, a term coined by Richard C. Connor and Rachel A. Smolker in their article entitled ‘Pop’ goes the Dolphin, is of of those vocalisations that normally stops me mid swim! It’s done by the big boys and is sometimes followed by aggressive behaviours such as mock charges and open jaws!

In the coastal shallows of Shark Bay W.Australia three adult males were observed between 1987-88 in the company of one single female at a time. Over the period the female was seen to turn in towards the males and the authors concluded that popping is a threat vocalisation telling the female to stay close.

The series of low frequency pulse sounds are very distinctive and always accompanied by a series of bubbles. Through our in-water recordings in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique we are able to associate the popping with the bubbles and the individuals – and guess what – they are all males too!

Since 2008 we have recorded some 30 events of popping. Interestingly enough though, most of our events included large nursery pods with adult male escorts. It seems that popping is also used on this side of the globe to keep the girls together.

On the 27th September I filmed an event with RemmyBoy and two other same age males together with a juvenile male who were in pursuit of Maria a young female.  It did look like the young boy was getting a lesson in popping and herding – with Maria being the consort this time! The adult males however this time slowed for a bit of circle swimming and conscious interaction with me before heading off in pursuit of Maria once more.

The #dolphinsofponta are part of a longterm monitoring project that was started in 1997 by DolphinCareAfrica; the research & conservation arm of the Dolphin Encountours Research Center in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique.

 

Reference: Connor, Richard & Smolker, Rachel. (1996). ‘Pop’ Goes the Dolphin: a Vocalization Male Bottlenose Dolphins Produce During Consortships. Behaviour. 133. 643-662. 10.1163/156853996X00404. 

Project Humpback Whale

Project Humpback Whale

A new project out of Ponta do Ouro is creating a baseline of data on the humpback whales that migrate north into the Indian Ocean along the of Mozambique and South Africa. On the tail end of the annual winter migration, Clare Keating Daly caught up with the project’s founder, Jenny Stromvoll.

By Clare Keating Daly

“The moment a book doesn’t satisfy my need to answer questions, I feel like I need to go find the answer out myself,” says Jenny Stromvoll of Ponta do Ouro. Jenny has lots of questions. Recently, her questions have focused on the humpback whales that migrate up and down the eastern coast of southern Africa during the winter months. What feeding grounds do they come from? How many pass through the PPMR? And what’s happening in terms of group dynamics, songs and behaviour as the whales move north and southbound?

“I read up a little bit and realised there is no on going humpback whale research happening here so that makes me feel like, well, I can do something,” she says. Jenny is Swedish born but moved to Ponta do Ouro in 2010 and is co-owner of Back to Basics Adventures, a dive charter. “I have realised that within the oceans there are so many things unknown and there are very few people that are fortunate enough to work with the ocean everyday, like myself, so I feel like I can contribute to various conservation efforts and research by simply sharing and collecting data.”


“It’s easy to write things down and store them in a box, but we want to get the information out there, in papers, on the web,” Jenny says. In a recent interview, and with follow-ups over email, Jenny shared the fundamentals and passion that form the new project:Jenny, along with researcher and fellow Ponta do Ouro resident Diana Rocha, recently started Project Humpback Whale within the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) in southern Mozambique to do just that. The two are hoping to create a lasting project that contributes to the world of humpback whale research.

What is the inspiration behind Project Humpback Whale?

You know that feeling, of always wanting to know more? It started there. My friend Yara Tibiriçá [President of the Association of Coastal Conservation of Mozambiuqe and founder of the Zavora Marine Lab] was visiting, looking at the nudibranchs. We did a lot of nudibranch diving, but then we had a dwarf minke whale on our deco stop. That’s where the conversations started. Yara’s passion is nudibranchs, but she also keeps a whale catalogue because no one else does up in Zavora. She asked why I didn’t just collect data here [in the PPMR] and said I could share my data with her. So then I started thinking, what is actually done here? I started reading up, getting articles, online and from Yara. But I wanted to do it right. Yara helped me with the original proposal for the project. Very basic.

So where did the proposal go from there?

Well, I went to Miguel [the manager of the PPMR] and asked him what was going on here and how I could get involved. Then I started chatting with Diana [Rocha] over a braai and asking her about the whales because she’s done a lot with the dolphins [with Dolphin Encountours]. I said, this is that I want to do: I don’t have anything else but my drive but I can see clearly that this needs to be done here. She was really inspired and we decided to take the project on together and do the formal proposal. And you know, Miguel was really supportive of research on the area, research that’s valuable for the region. So we got the research permit and started data collection in August.

That’s great. So tell me a little about what’s already known about humpbacks. Are they endangered?

Humpback whales were one of the easiest whales to catch during the whaling years because they move close to shore and are easy to spot with their aerial surface behaviour. In the southern hemisphere, many baleen whales were driven close to extinction [during whaling years]. As far as I know, around 47,000 individual humpback whales were taken between Gabon to the west and Mozambique to the east. To put it in perspective, it is suggested that there were only 340 individual humpback whales left in the southwest Indian Ocean. In 1996, humpback whales were listed as endangered on the IUCN list but today they are listed as a least concern species. I have read in a paper that it’s estimated that the Southern Hemisphere humpback whales [population] are increasing around [the biological maximum rate of] 10% a year and this is great.

They’re cruising our coasts in winter, where are they in the summer?

Humpback whales undertake an extensive migration between their high latitude summer feeding grounds and tropical low latitude winter mating and calving grounds. So the southern hemisphere whales are feeding around 55° south, Antarctica, and winter grounds are around 20° south.

So what are the key questions of this project, in basic terms?

The main aim of this study is, on an annual or seasonal basis, to collect data on the humpback whale population that migrates to its breeding grounds north from the PPMR region. The specific questions are; one, what’s the abundance of humpback whales that pass by here during their migration and is there any rate increase; two, what is the distribution, behaviour, the sounds and group composition of the migrating population and is it different for the north and southbound journeys; three, what breeding stock do the whales passing by here come from and is there any breeding stock exchange; and four, what is the occurrence, prevalence and population distribution of a specific skin lesion observed frequently on the humpback whales passing through?

A skin lesion?

It’s not something I’ve observed myself but I’ve heard of it being seen on humpbacks in the area, kind of a scarring on their dorsal fins and always in about the same place on different individuals. One explanation is poor water quality or poor health of the individuals. We want to find out more about it.

That’s really interesting. How are you collecting the data on all of this?

We’re using land-based surveys and boat-based surveys along with ocean fix location and boat based transects. At each sighting at sea, when possible, we try to approach the individuals by boat at a steady reduced speed to obtain photo IDs and whatever detailed information we can. For all three different methodologies, the same data collection module is applied and a standard log sheet is filled in. Then once data is recorded, the boat goes back to the fixed point, or a commercial dolphin boat track or the track line of a transect and starts over. We’re keeping a photographic data catalogue with both dorsal fins, left and right sides, and flukes also.

Photographic data, does that mean that visitors in the PPMR and help with your project?

Anybody with a camera can contribute by taking photos that in turn helps us identify individual whales. The best way is to capture a photo of the whale’s fluke, their tail fin. The underside of the fluke has unique markings and what we do is build a library of the different whales passing us. It is not easy to capture a whale fluke, the best chance you have is when they dive for a longer period of time when they tend to arch their backs and show their flukes, or when they are tail slapping. And to give a good example of how citizens can help, there was a case in Madagascar where a Norwegian tourist took a photo of a whale fluke. Years later, the photo was posted on Flickr and a citizen scientist found the photo and matched the fluke to a whale that was seen off the shore of Brazil. This was an amazing discovery as it showed that one individual, thought only to migrate past Brazil, had changed his migratory route and came past east Africa. So everybody can make a difference and contribute to science and our knowledge of the ocean, humpback whales included.

Keep up with Project Humpback Whale at www.pontahumpbackwhales.com, the portal to sharing their research with the public and maintaining a meaningful and transparent project.

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

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I remember my first dive in Mozambique. The site was called Playground, off of Ponta Mamoli, and the dive lasted just over twenty minutes. The reef looked like a bunch of boulders strewn over sand and through my chattering teeth, I couldn’t grasp what the big deal was. This was supposed to be a great dive site.

Text and Images by Clare Keating-Daly

That was back in 2009. I was diving within the newly declared Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) that stretched from the border with South Africa north into Maputo Bay. My sorry 3mm excuse of a wetsuit didn’t stand a chance against the late winter water temperatures.

Before coming to Mozambique, I’d been teaching diving in Southeast Asia, Thailand and the Philippines, and travelling to dive in Indonesia and Malaysia. Before that, I’d done my dive master training in Honduras. Not counting the sites affected by dynamite fishing, the reefs in Southeast Asia were stunning – they looked like something out of a glossy travel magazine. The crystalline waters of the Caribbean were taken straight from a tropical daydream. Divers, myself included, thought they were wonderful because of this, because we’d been taught what reefs are supposed to look like.

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Five years ago, on my first dive in Mozambique, I wasn’t impressed because the reef didn’t look like my idea of a classic reef. Where were the colonies of branching coral? Where were the layers of plate coral, and domes of brain coral? And what was with the water temperature? Where was my stereotypical reef? But today, the reefs of Southern Mozambique are, in my mind, some of the best in the world.

So what changed? Anyone can dive a tropical coral reef – they’re basically fool proof and you’re bound to be impressed. But it takes a little more finesse to dive sub-tropical reefs. In short, I was doing it wrong. Once I changed the way I dived (and got a 5mm wetsuit), I never wanted my dives to end; I learned how to dive the reefs of Ponta. In doing so, I have had some of the most remarkable dives of my life.

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If you’ve dived anywhere in the PPMR, that is, in the bays of Ponta do Ouro, Ponta Malongane, Ponta Mamoli, Ponta Techobanine or north, you’ve dived some world class sites. But you probably already know that. If you disagree, or if you’ve never dived the PPMR, maybe you need a little insider knowledge before your next trip.

In this two part series, we’ll start with five open water dives (18m and shallower) this issue and five advanced dives (+20m) in the first issue next year. Yes, we’re going against the rules of diving and doing the shallower dives first. Of the shallower dives, four are in Ponta bay and one is in Malongane bay. While there are some spectacular dives further north (Playground off of Mamoli being one of them) we’re sticking to the reefs you can reasonably request most dive operators to take you to. Diving reefs further north often takes a bit more organising. So, without further ado, here we go.

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Crèche
Ponta do Ouro, 10-12 metres
The story here is that Crèche is known for its abundance and variety of juvenile fishes here, that is, many species of sub-adult fish. However, you’re just as likely to see juvenile fishes on one healthy reef as another, which means there must be something else drawing divers back to this shallow reef again and again. Crèche is a favourite spot for new divers; a patchy reef with plenty of sand means that student divers or divers that haven’t blown bubbles for a while can settle, adjust their buoyancy, relax and generally stay off the reef. When relaxed, you use less air and at this depth, using less air means you could be in for a very long dive – the no decompression limit at 12m is 147 minutes! And, juvenile fishes aside, there is plenty to see on this reef. For me, the best part of Crèche is the cryptic stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) found on the reef. It takes a trained eye to spot these masters of disguise, even if they’re right out in the open. Not to be confused with false stonefish or scorpionfish, these guys are the real deal. They can reach up to 40cm but are more typically around 27cm. But don’t get too caught up looking only at the reef. Dolphins often swim along this shallow line of reef, cruising in to investigate divers. Crèche is also known for its schools of crescent-tail bigeye and as a treasure trove of masks and snorkels dropped by student divers.

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Dive it right: Don’t touch the reef! Although they’re not common, there are stonefish on this reef. Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, not the best thing to run into on a dive holiday.

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Blacks
Ponta do Ouro, 15-18m
Take a look at your hand. Spread your fingers out. See that? That’s what Black’s is like, only bigger, about 40 metres wide. The main reef, your palm, bulges up from the sand punctured with little overhangs and covered with corals, some sea grass and sponges. From that about five thin fingers trail off in a southerly direction. While its possible to craft some good wide angle shots on Blacks, it’s structure and primary residents are better suited for macro photography. Be ready to get up close and personal with this reef, scouring it for the small stuff: frogfish, sea moths, long nosed pipefish, Durban dancing shrimp, paperfish, feather star shrimp. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for the scattered shrimp cleaning stations and cheeky black cheek moray eels. Because this small reef is surrounded by sand, it generally isn’t at its peak in large swell and in heavy current you’re quickly swept off of it.

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Dive it right: Take your time on this dive – it’s a small site but holds countless cryptic and camouflaged species. But be careful where you stick your nose, black cheek moray eels are notorious for biting divers on this reef. If you put a finger or two down to steady yourself, always look then look again!

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Doodles
Ponta do Ouro, 16-18m
Doodles may be the ‘house reef’ for Ponta do Ouro, it’s less than ten minutes from the boat launch, but it’s one of the greatest dives in the area. It acts as a sort of oasis in Ponta Bay with a diverse range of fish. Patrolled by resident potato bass, it runs about 200 metres long and on average it is about 20 metres wide. Close to the northern section of the reef is a cave system that is generally the hub of activity. This area is great for wide-angle photography. Don’t forget to check out the sand patches. Potato bass and at least four species of ray mosey around the sand near the cave area and easily photographed if approached cautiously. All of Doodles is well worth your bottom time. The usual algal reef suspects can all be found here, but Doodles often surprises with unexpected visitors like a weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa), the odd thorny seahorse, thistle cowries, as well as numerous species of nudibranch – a macro photographer’s dream.

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Dive it right: Never pass up the opportunity to dive Doodles, even if you’ve feel like you’ve squeezed everything you can from it. You never know what you’re going to find on this reef, it can change day to day. Don’t get stuck looking down, manta rays, yellowfin tuna, bull sharks, whale sharks and other nomadic species are often spotted here.

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Drop Zone
Malongane Bay, 10-16m
There are some spectacular reefs in Malongane Bay and Drop Zone is one of them. This site, like some of the deeper sites in Malongane Bay that we’ll cover in the next issue, has some serious structure. Pitted with potholes and with gullies galore, the topography of this reef is stunning and a great option for those days when the current is cranking – the reef seems to never end. If you’re debating between macro and wide angle equipment for this dive, start with the wide angle. With schools of bluefin trevallies patrolling the ledges, potato bass lurking in backlit overhangs, and numerous cleaning stations with rubber lips queuing for service, there’s a lot of big picture kind of action on Drop Zone. But on that second dive, because you’ll have to come back, shoot macro. I’ve counted fourteen different species of nudibranch on this site – look close, it’s definitely possible to beat my record with all the Halgerda species slugging along. The leopard blenny are particularly friendly here as well.

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Dive it right: Something about Drop Zone makes it a hot spot for green turtles. They’re frequently sighted here, sleeping in a crevice, feeding on the algae and seaweed or dropping in for a shell deep clean from schools of butterfly fish fluttering for a snack. All sea turtles are endangered species, making the treat of seeing one that much more special.

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Steps
Ponta do Ouro Bay, 14-16m
Like the other reefs in Ponta Bay, Steps is patchy reef. The step-like ledges that give this reef its name hide reams of paperfish and their more cryptic cousins, frogfish. Camouflaged crocodile fish tend to hang out on the sandy inshore side of this reef, their mesmerising eyes certainly seeing you before you see them. For macro photography, scan the whip coral for tiny whip goby. Watch for busybody mantis shrimp clearing out their burrows and distressed damselfish defending their nests. Schools of larger reef fish congregate around the central cave area of this site and make great photography subjects. The topography around this area is also very rewarding for wide-angle enthusiasts. And be sure to check the sandy offshore areas of this reef. Giant guitar sharks are often, albeit briefly, spotted here. The length of Steps along with its north-south orientation makes it the place to dive when the current is cranking in either direction. On days like this, be sure to ask your divemaster if it’s possible to foray over to Steve’s Ledge, Steps’ southerly neighbour and another excellent dive site in the bay.

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Dive it right: Just because Steps is a long reef, doesn’t mean you need to try to cover it all in one dive. With all these reefs, you’ll get the most out of them if you take your time, but with all of Steps’ ledges and pockets, you’ll likely be rewarded for looking a little closer rather than trying to cover more ground.

The reefs in the PPMR don’t look like the reefs out of your average glossy travel magazine. On first glance, you may be disappointed. I was. But now that you have the insider information necessary to make your next Ponta dives your best Ponta dives, I bet you’ll start to see things a bit differently.

In the next issue, we’ll go deeper with five more PPMR dive sites. Check back here for insider knowledge on Pinnacles, Atlantis, Aquarium, Three Sisters and Kev’s Ledge all accompanied by plenty more on site pictures to whet your diving appetite.

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