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Mohammed Qol - 26/10/2012 - written by Steven Kessel

Yesterday we finally got out on the water and after a week of meetings, logistic, shopping and prepping the camp, it was an absolute joy to be out on the reefs. We survived the storm, as did my computer, and the crew arrived safely, sound and not drenched (the weather had missed them). In the morning we discussed the fieldwork for a bit then headed out to try to find some mantas. For the wildlife officer it was his first time on a boat and he was clearly excited by the event. We headed out to the reefs and small islands where the mantas are usually found, but had no luck. Yesterday the Asiab stopped and the light east winds returned. We think that the mantas movements around the marine reserve may be somewhat driven by the winds, thus we hypothesize that they may have been in transition. We were not able to search for too long as our boat driver had misunderstood our intentions and not brought enough fuel. However on the way back we got him to stop at one of our intended monitor sites. I brought some of the sand anchors to see if the sand was deep enough for them to be affective. It has been weighing on my mind that it might not be, but it screwed right in which was a big relief.

Today, Rebecca, Graham and Ben went out in the boat to conduct some reef surveys. These were repeats of surveys Rebecca had conducted in 2002 to assess the change in the reef ecosystem over time. Incredibly they managed to find the original survey pegs after 10 years of being in the sea, they even said that there was very little growth on them. This was great news as it meant they were able to assess the exact same areas of the reef for direct comparison. They had a very productive day out on the water with the boat driver and officer from the Wildlife Administration, teaching them English and how to navigate with a hand held GPS unit.

Nigel, Mohammed Younis and I headed back to the fishing village of Dungonab to speak with Isa, our source of local knowledge. We spent around four hours talking to him about the places he sees manta rays while fishing in the local area. It was extremely helpful and we were able to use this information to redesign our acoustic array for maximum detection efficiency. We had a lunch of fish and rice with him and then went to see the chief of the village. He recognized Mohammed Younis instantly and was very pleased to see him. He then invited us in for Sudanese coffee and showed us the great hospitality that is indicative of this region. Isa will be working with us for nine days starting Friday to tag as many manta rays as we can when we are here. We are confident that he will deliver.

Today for the first time I drank camels milk for the first time, both fresh and sour. The fresh milk tasted very much like cow’s milk. The sour milk is preferred by the locals, it tasted like unsweetened yogurt….and sour milk, was not a huge fan. Mohammed Younis then informed me that if you are not used to it, it can have a strong laxative effect, awesome news when there is no functional toilet here. However, so far so good, we will see what the night brings. Tomorrow we are heading out at the crack of dawn to search for manta rays for genetic samples and if we fail to find them Rebecca, Graham and Ben are heading back to conduct more reef surveys. Fingers crossed we will be surrounded by manta rays.

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