Phase one complete

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Port Sudan - 04/11/2012 – written by Steven Kessel

I am writing from a hotel in Port Sudan. We travelled back today from Mohammed Qol after completing the phase one of the research trip – the manta rays of Dungonab. Yesterday we dedicated to trying to increase the size of our genetic database. Two boats headed out each armed with a biopsy tip to try to take tissue samples from the feeding mantas. One crew went out early consisting on Graham, Ben, Joey, Cam and Sparky. We had to hang back as there was not enough fuel for both boats. Once the fuel arrived, Nige, Claudio, Mohammed Younis and myself set sail in the other boat. Unfortunately I think our driver could sense that the project was pretty over as he seemed a lot more interested in trolling the reefs for jacks that helping us find the mantas. It was very frustrating as it was a constant battle to get him to go anywhere fast. I think Nige and I both nearly lost it at different time and both did well to keep our cool.

We rendezvoused with the other boat and they had already managed to get three genetic samples. We split up to look for more mantas. We found a very large group in excess of 30 mantas. We tried sampling from the water to not cause too much disturbance to the group. This was quite effective and we had no problem getting in position to take the sample. Unfortunately the tips were not as effective as we had hope and thus we did not get a very high strike to sample rate. Still we managed to get three samples and the other crew got another two, so we had eight to show for the day. Not too bad overall.

The journey back to the camp signaled the official end to phase one of the project. We can safely say that it was a great success. Eight days in when we hadn’t even seen a manta I was starting to get worried. But essential in an intensive week of field work we managed to achieve all our goals. Incredible really if you truly knew what we have been through (over the course of this trip and the last five years of preparations) to get to this point. No we are in Port Sudan in preparation for the second phase of the trip – the offshore reefs. Tomorrow we embark the vessel ‘Elegante’ and set sail for the pristine off shore reef of Sudan. The vessel itself will be a great step up in luxury compared to the camp (even the flushing toilet in the hotel seems like amazing technology). Our goals are to place acoustic monitors on five of the offshore reefs. These will listen for the tagged mantas and we will also aim to tag grey reef sharks to provide data on their residence and movements between the reefs. The genetics team will also sample more reef fish for comparison to those inside Dungonab Bay.

During our weeks trip on the vessel we will have no Internet, so this will be the last update until we are back in port. We will continue to write updates and store them in the outbox, so look forward to an overload of exploits from our adventure when we are back in Internet contact.

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