The biodiversity of coral reefs is largely due to the complex interactions between fish and their habitat, interactions that include specific behaviours that decrease the risk of mortality through predation. Many species of fish live within the colonies of branching and tabulate corals. These fish, often belonging to the damselfish family, commonly live in large groups and seek refuge within the complex structures provided by these colonies. Such colonies, most often belonging to the genus Acropora are vulnerable to thermal events, sedimentation and turbidity. There is a need to understand the specific relationship between corals and their resident fish, in particular how environmental conditions influence coral colony morphology and how this influences the resident fish assemblage. Many species that inhabit coral colonies are juvenile or sub-adults, whilst other species inhabit colonies throughout all life stages. Different behavioural traits have been observed within different life stages of fish as it concerns use of corals for refuge from predators. Group behaviour appears to be common amongst juvenile fish whereas adult fish appear to have a more individual response to risk threat. The success of group behaviour across juvenile fish could be examined experimentally by determining the flight response time of juvenile fish in different group sizes, the flight response being elicited by presence of artificial predators (decoys). Perceived threat may also vary with life stage of resident fish and may well influence the speed at which fish retreat into the colony, the distance the threat needs to be before the flight response is provoked or the time it takes fish to re-merge from the colony once the thereat has been removed. This project offers a unique opportunity to examine specific behavioural traits, how they vary across species and life stages and to examine the unique and complex interactions between fish and reef building corals on the most biodiverse reef system in the world.
There is a triangle of reefs in Eastern Indonesia that have the highest diversity of hard coral genera, the proxy commonly used to assess overall diversity of coral reefs anywhere in the world. Both the marine research stations being used by the Opwall teams are in the centre of this triangle. The South Buton Marine Training and Research Centre has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the surrounding small islands, with the objective being to use the data to develop plans for conserving these reefs. The Hoga Island Marine Research Station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years, a series of scientists have been based at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and as a result, this is now the most published site in the Coral Triangle. For the last 14 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for macroinvertebrates, fish communities, coral cover and community structure. The 2019 season will complete this monitoring plus some additional research projects.
The South Buton marine research centre opened in 2013 and has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the adjacent islands. These are being monitored annually and it is hoped to use the data to demonstrate that a number of the reefs in this area are of high conservation value. Preliminary social studies have commenced as of 2017, involving interviewing fishermen and other local stakeholders to gauge areas of high fishing pressure and the preferred catch methods. The next step is then to begin implementing some conservation management strategies involving all of the local stakeholders in the near future. There is also a small team at this site working in collaboration with the Global Fin Print Project, which monitors shark and ray populations through the use of baited remote underwater video systems.
The Hoga Island marine research station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years a series of scientists have been based at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and have built up the publications emanating from the site to a level which is unsurpassed by any other marine research site in the Coral Triangle. These data and publications have been used to promote the biodiversity value of the Wakatobi, raise its profile internationally and in particular enable it to be designated as a Biosphere Reserve. For the last 12 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for fish communities, coral cover and community structure and macro-invertebrates. In addition annual fisheries monitoring is being completed to assess changes in the fisheries particularly as some of the management initiatives developed by Opwall (e.g. buy outs of fishing licences and carrageenan extraction) begin to hopefully have an impact. Alongside these long-term monitoring projects there are also newer projects such as a coral restoration program and seagrass monitoring to provide a wide range of opportunities to all.
At the marine sites during the day, the weather is normally sunny and warm (around 30 degrees Celsius), and the night temperatures drop to around 20-25 degrees Celsius. Being on the coast means there is often a pleasant breeze so it does not always feel this hot. It rains rarely, but when it does it tends to be very heavy for short periods of time.
Fitness level required
Low-Moderate. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities on Hoga are comfortable, but very basic – the site has shared huts with beds and mattresses and a mandi style bathroom (squat toilet and bucket shower) attached. There is very limited cell phone signal which can usually only be used with an Indonesian SIM card and no Wifi access.