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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

ARCHIREEF'S BIOBLITZ

Congratulations to Archireef for assembling and managing an incredible two weeks for their BioBlitz campaign. They opened their project to volunteer citizen scientists, and those accepted into the programme – including some of our EDA Members – were all an incredible asset to the Archireef team and guest scientists.


Archireef’s mission was to discover and study the marine invertebrates found in the Arabian Sea in Abu Dhabi. They achieved their target of collecting over 1,000 specimens from both the sea and the mangroves, pushing marine conservation to the forefront with Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas as the support hosts.


Everyone worked from early mornings out in the field to late nights in the lab sorting all the specimens collected. There were unpredictable weather fronts postponing some of the dives, but they carried on and trudged through mangrove mud wasting no time getting all the DNA needed in the 2 week timeframe.


The opportunity given to make new discoveries, learn how to identify rare species, and document unique ecological interactions within our marine environment has been a wonderful experience for all the volunteers involved, and I want to thank Archireef for reaching out. There is still so much to look forward to once all their lab results come back. Here are the interviews all about the project.


The Archireef's BioBlitz Team

THE ARCHIREEF TEAM

Interview with Deniz Tekerek and Flo Janin

Ally Landes (AL): Hi Deniz, can you give us a breakdown of Archireef and what you guys do?

Deniz Tekerek (DK): Sure! I am the Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Archireef. Archireef is a nature tech company that’s focused on restoring marine ecosystems. Just over three years ago, we brought onto the market a proprietary product called Coral Reef Tiles, which are basically clay-made tiles about 50 centimetres in vertex, weighing about 12-13kg each. We place these Reef Tiles on the seabed and plant coral fragments onto them, thus helping corals access a substrate for a stronger foundation and better growth opportunities.


AL: Do you only do this in Abu Dhabi?


DK: We first deployed the solution in Hong Kong, just over three years ago, and have monitored it since. In that time, the Reef Tiles performed particularly well in coral survivorship. We have retained about 95% of the corals that we initially planted.


As a result of this success, we were approached by companies based in Abu Dhabi, which wanted to deploy our solution there. Since then, we’ve moved a sizeable part of our operations over to Abu Dhabi and continue to focus on Hong Kong and the UAE in particular.


AL: How long are you planning to be here?


DK: We are very much here for the long term in order to accelerate coral reef restoration in the Arabian Sea. There are a lot of opportunities to help restore coral reef populations across the region and we look forward to being a key player in this.


AL: Tell us about the BioBlitz.


DK: The BioBlitz is a citizen science experience in which we sample a lot of areas in and around the oceans that we want to monitor to better understand the baseline that we’re working with as far as marine species are concerned, as far as abundance is concerned, and as far as diversity is concerned. This is the cornerstone of a larger marine biodiversity project that we are working on with ADQ, as well as with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi. We will be creating the country’s first comprehensive database on marine species, focusing on those that are cryptic and a lot more inconspicuous than charismatic species such as dugongs, or dolphins.


We’ve brought over a set of volunteers to Sir Baniyas Island, and we selected 5-8 sites that we would travel to on a daily basis over a two week period. We collected different types of samples whether that was sediment, targeted species, water samples, dead corals, and more. The idea was for us to find as many species as possible. We’ve now processed over 1,000 samples. We’ve brought some of the US’s leading marine scientists over to Abu Dhabi from the University of Florida, and we’ve got a scientist here from the University of Guam. They are experts in their individual fields – crabs, as well as worms for example. And we’re looking at these inconspicuous species to understand the marine biodiversity of Abu Dhabi.


Archireef BioBlitz divers collecting underwater samples.
Archireef BioBlitz divers collecting underwater samples.

AL: How many volunteers have you had?

DK: We had an overwhelming response. More than 100 people applied, but we only had about 15 to 20 spots. It turned out that those that we ended up selecting were such great value in terms of going beyond the volunteer work, that we didn’t need any more than 15 at this point.


AL: Can you explain the volunteers’ roles in the project?


DK: The volunteers’ roles were to stay in the lab and help process samples. We set up a lab in one of the facilities here to simply sort out the specimens when they came in, and then to initially extract them, sort them, and to eventually pass them on to the scientists for taxonomic work. Finally, we took photos which will end up in a comprehensive database.


Archireef BioBlitz volunteers in the lab.
Archireef staff in the lab.
Archireef staff in the lab.
Archireef BioBlitz volunteers in the lab.

AL: Flo, tell us about your role with Archireef.


Flo Janin (FJ): I joined as the Sustainability Communications Adviser at Archireef. I advise the team and our clients on alignment with global ESG frameworks and standards, including the emerging Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), and also look at blue finance to help accelerate our impact. I only joined the team in March. I was here attending a conference about sustainability in Dubai and I came across Archireef and their story really wowed me! I approached Deniz and we met in Abu Dhabi. As an ocean lover myself, I was very happy that I had done so as I then discovered the passion they have behind coral restoration, as well as their nature positive attitude which I also adhere to.


AL: Can you tell us more about your outlook on the ocean and coral reefs in particular?


FJ: Leading up to COP28, there are a lot of sustainability programmes focused on land, but we would like more to be done collectively about ocean protection and restoration, especially since we provide turnkey solutions for companies in order to get more easily involved.

We know that globally we’ve lost 50% of our coral already, but it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s about doing something about it with urgency. The way we are approaching this at Archireef is scientifically based, unlike some other organisations. We have spent years developing the world’s first 3D printed reef tiles, and are thrilled to have tangible proof to show that they are extremely successful in Hong Kong, and now in Abu Dhabi.


At Hook Island for example, we deployed 40 square metres of our Reef Tiles already and we can clearly see that the coral is thriving. We were on the site only recently and were able to witness the changes first-hand, with so many fish showing on the boat depth monitor. When we dove the site, we could clearly see that the fish had made this their home. Everywhere else was sand, there was nowhere to hide or settle, but our Reef Tiles were thriving as a new home for corals as well as a host of species, which was truly magical to witness and great news for the biodiversity of our waters.

AL: What is significant about Archireef’s move to Abu Dhabi?


FJ: For us to have expanded to Abu Dhabi so quickly after being established in Hong Kong has been a critical milestone towards achieving active coral reef restoration on a global scale. Our ultimate mission is to create coral highways and build a global network of substrates to help save and recover coral reefs around the world.


We have an incredible backing from ADQ and are also working closely with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi. I also want to take this opportunity to thank EDA for having been a big advocate for Archireef, and our BioBlitz in particular, because several of your volunteers actually came onboard and have been fantastic contributors.


AL: Can you explain how the 3D printing technology works?


FJ: That’s what is so different about what we do, and it’s very much a world first using 3D printing technologies, which is also very big in the Middle East in terms of solving design challenges through eco-engineering. It’s also a very sustainable way of doing it and we’re incredibly proud as we now have our own production facility in KEZAD where we’re able to print tiles on a daily basis. Now we’re building stock as we’re talking to clients across the UAE and the Middle East to deploy additional coral reef sites.


I think for us, the BioBlitz concept is a natural extension of what we do. With our Reef Tiles as our hero product, it allows us to really build scale in achieving our goal, recreating those corals that we’ve lost already, and reconnecting existing ecosystems with new sites.


We have also launched a climate literacy campaign specific to the ocean for the region. The UAE in particular is going big on this and has actually mandated that kids learn about the ocean in schools. We have a dedicated team that’s being put together to actually deliver this. Deniz can talk a little more about the work that we’re doing on that side.


DK: In Hong Kong, for example, we already work with 6-12 year olds on the general topic of ocean literacy. We’ve gone through hundreds of students at this stage, and we walk them through longer programmes or individual workshops that help them develop a much better understanding as to the value the ocean holds, and how we need to protect and preserve it. This is something that we’re now bringing to Abu Dhabi with our partners as well. Starting from August, we are running regular workshops with the purpose of getting the local youth on their ocean journey, to give them a better understanding of what can be done to preserve the value of the Arabian Gulf and the seas. In this context, the connection with EDA is important because someone at a young age who develops a passion for the oceans will probably, eventually want to become a diver, and a young diver might want to develop a better understanding of the oceans.


Diving might be regarded as exclusive and limited to a few. Doing the BioBlitz, and doing it in collaboration with EDA members has shown us how we can enhance the experience of diving to deliver something that goes beyond the sport. I think it’s something you guys already do with Reef Check for instance, you could see this BioBlitz as something that is an additional enhancer or an additional supplement to having a more comprehensive experience that isn’t diving alone, but it’s diving and knowledge combined and I think this combination works really, really well.


AL: I also wanted to ask what corals you work with on your Reef Tiles?


DK: It just depends on the region that we’re in. So the tiles themselves are designed after a Platygyra coral which is very good at dealing with sedimentation stress. In the actual deployment, we select a variety of corals from nurseries we partner with. This might include Porites or Acropora, for example. It just depends on the region and the availability of the corals in that region and which ones make sense locally. We slightly adjust the designs according to the local conditions whether there is more salinity, whether the pH levels are different, or the temperatures are different, etc. We will then change the design, or the algorithm input into our 3D-printer according to that data and then that will create the right type of space for the right type of corals.

FJ: Something else I wanted to mention is that we are in discussions with several large UAE entities both Abu Dhabi and Dubai based on their COP28 strategies which we really feel a connection to being based in Abu Dhabi, and contributing to the UAE sustainability agenda. It’s very important for us to have a voice together with our partner, ADQ. We’re currently working on our presence and also working with other entities that are looking to elevate their voice in the field of sustainability. A lot of them do some really, really good things, but when it comes to the ocean, they sometimes don’t really know where to start because it’s not an easy thing to do.

Planting trees seems easier and more accessible than restoring the ocean, which is something else entirely. We’re talking to them because we have turnkey solutions, we’re able to take it from its starting point, to its actual deployment and maintenance. We’re working hand in hand with a team that is actually really involved with us, which we love. For example, ADQ was here at the deployment earlier this year, they were here again with us for the BioBlitz, and we want this to be a story that they bring home to their colleagues and families. They bring this to life.


We’re also developing a VR technology that allows us to bring this to non-divers to take this amazing story of how coral life is developing on our tiles back to their offices, or back to an exhibition space such as COP28.


Something that’s also really important for us, is that the COPs have been talked about as a great place for discussions, but for us it’s also really important to see action. We really want COP28 to be a big legacy for the UAE, and we’re hoping that with our discussions – with our clients – that we are able to physically leave a footprint of new coral reef deployments, pre, during, and also long after COP28.


We’re also very thankful to have had Hub71’s support since we landed in Abu Dhabi, and also for taking us to Vision Golfe and VivaTech 2023 in Paris. We saw that NatureTech Startups are really rising and everybody’s embracing it. Large companies realise that it’s important to look towards startups for innovation, and they’re very much embracing these conversations. The community itself is also growing for climate tech startups with everyone supporting each other. We’re even talking about trying to form a consortium to approach banks so we can actually scale up our actions much faster with a new type of bond. It’s an exciting time to be in this space, and I think it’s one to watch out for with Archireef in the future.

DK: I think one aspect of that is also how critical it is. I don’t know if you’ve been in startups before, but I think startups in themselves have a very high mountain to climb. It’s not an easy thing to create a startup, let alone to grow one. But I think it’s even more difficult in nature tech or in the space that we’re in, because it’s so nascent. There’s a limited understanding of how nature tech should be monetised, for example. Thankfully, we’ve been able to develop some impactful public-private partnerships, and that has helped kickstart Archireef.

The industry that we’re in doesn’t really have legs unless groups come together. As I mentioned earlier, the EDA connection is a very interesting one for us, even if it initially seems slightly blurry. But when you really dig into it, and the people that actually were EDA members that came on site, the amount of conversations I’ve personally had with them, shows that there’s a depth of interest that goes beyond the basics. With that being the case, it creates a great community appeal. That’s something that’s critical not just to the survival, but to the growth of companies like ours. We don’t see any point in being brash, or being loud about what we do by ourselves, but I think it needs to be something that’s driven through these public-private partnerships. I think in Abu Dhabi in particular, we’ve been able to establish that. We can see a lot of benefit in creating these sorts of dynamics between ourselves and organisations like yours.


I regard the BioBlitz in particular as a testament to the fact that, what we talk about in theory, we can also put into action via collaborations. I think us being here together and bringing this fairly large group of people together – over this period, we’ve probably had something like 50-60 people involved in all of this – that it’s actually putting words into action. That’s something that we really want to drive more and more of. It was eye opening to see how big the interest actually was and how many EDA members came to us and said, “what you guys are doing is amazing; and, make sure you let us know when you do it again.”

Funnily enough, we had almost all the elements covered in this BioBlitz. One EDA member got up at 6am and went to the beach with another volunteer, rather randomly and started collecting plastic. It’s just all encompassing, and that was something really surprising to me, but it just showed the power of community, and I think that, again, going back to what I said on public-private partnerships, I think they can only work if egos are left behind. People come together, and we then drive forward, together. We don’t even care if people talk about Archireef. They can just talk about the BioBlitz and that’s good enough. We don’t have to be mentioned front and centre.


What’s more, at the next MENA Oceans Summit, we can actually talk about what we have done, physically speaking. So that’s pretty exciting. If we talk about what we actually did together this year, that’s already an indicator to the audience to understand how they can get involved, given how often that question comes up – “How do I get involved?” – and I think this is a how!


Scientists and Volunteers in the lab.
One of the dive expeditions underway.
Gathering sample containers together for the dive.

Interview with Mohammad Younes

Ally Landes (AL): Hi Mohammad, tell us what your role is at Archireef.


Mohammad Younes (MY): I’m the Data Product Manager at Archireef. My main role is to understand how we can leverage data, especially the data we collect when monitoring our coral restorations. Ultimately, my goal at Archireef is to build software products that keep our clients connected to their marine restoration projects and give them a clear understanding of how it is progressing via an interactive bespoke dashboard, which can be integrated into their ESG reporting framework.


Mohammad Younes, Archireef's Data Product Manager (left) with his dive buddy.

This Archireef Marine Biodiversity Project is a project that I took on when I first joined the company given the huge data component, a marine invertebrate database which will include data on the types of species found during this BioBlitz, as well as other field surveys. The cloud-based platform will also include a genetic database where a DNA Barcode for each specimen will be recorded.


We also visited Oman to partake in a BioBlitz by Gustav Pauly, a world leading marine invertebrate taxonomist. We got first hand experience with him through the whole lab process. We took that knowledge and information and translated it for what we were doing here in the UAE, making it as streamlined and efficient as possible, and taking every opportunity to enhance the workflow for our project.


Before starting the project, we looked at the software requirements and designed bespoke cloud-based applications. The workflow was another really important aspect of this work to ensure we seamlessly transferred the data generated in the lab as well as the field onto our online database, also taking into account shareability with our stakeholders, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, and the universities involved in the project.


At the moment, we are building the backend applications for DNA Barcode data, once we have the DNA Barcodes ingested from the sequencing lab, it will go through Bioinformatic analysis to make sure the data is clean and suitable for further use.


I was deeply involved in preparing our BioBlitz, engaging with the scientists, securing the volunteers, and organising some of the operational aspects. It was really amazing seeing it all come together over the last two weeks so successfully.


AL: How important is the role of data processing for this biodiversity project?


MY: As a nature-tech startup, we are constantly exploring ways we can innovate and improve. One main focus we have for this year is to become a truly data-driven company. The fact that all our assets are marine-based, we face a significant challenge in having to translate physical, ecological parameters into digital information. For us, diver-based ecological surveys are not granular enough and not scalable. For that reason we are leveraging three core technologies that will enable us to extract high resolution ecological data on our artificial coral reefs.


First, we use Structure-from-Motion (SFM) Photogrammetry and Computer Vision to effectively visualise, classify and quantify the benthic organisms inhabiting our Reef Tiles. With this technology, we are able to produce stunning 3D and 2D “digital twins” of our restoration sites, then extract metrics such as coral cover and growth rate.


Although, coming up later in our roadmap, the second technology is Environmental DNA (eDNA). With eDNA we are able to detect a wide variety of marine taxa, not just charismatic organisms like turtles and dolphins, but small cryptic species like worms, shrimp, crabs and even nudibranchs. With such a granular overview of species composition, we can effectively understand the ecological functioning of coral reef restoration and determine how that progresses with time.


Last but not least, we utilise 360º videos to create immersive virtual reality environments which serve as a great visual tool to understand what’s living at our restoration sites. Our content development team works with marine ecologists to build an engaging and informative virtual reality environment for our clients and students. These environments include annotations and contextual information that explains the roles of key species inhabiting our restoration areas.


Personally I’m very excited to be building these solutions and to deliver this valuable data to our clients. At the moment, unlike Hong Kong, most of our current UAE restoration projects are over 150km away from Abu Dhabi, meaning that our clients may not be able to regularly engage with their own restoration sites. We however want to keep our clients constantly connected with the progress of the restoration, and we are able to achieve that with an interactive web dashboard. Through these applications, our clients will always have access to insightful data about their coral restoration sites available for their use at any time, whether it is to check in on the project or to consolidate key metrics for their ESG reporting frameworks.


SCIENTISTS:

Interview with Robert Lasley

Ally Landes (AL): Robert, tell us where you’re coming from and your role in the BioBlitz.

Robert Lasley (RL): I’m based at the University of Guam. I’m a curator of crustaceans there, and I just started the position in January. I’m interested in marine biodiversity in general. I work in a team with Abby and Mandy and several other people, all stemming from the Florida Museum. We do these biodiversity surveys in many places, and we’re interested in basic biodiversity, taxonomy, where things live, but also all the stuff that stems from that: conservation, and evolutionary studies. I’m particularly interested in crabs – crab classification (taxonomy), crab evolution, phylogenetics, and how different crab species are related. And then how they speciated, looking at geography and natural selection, and combining all of these things, using genetics to help taxonomy, but also understand evolutionary history.


Robert Lasley, a curator of crustaceans at the University of Guam.
Robert Lasley, a curator of crustaceans at the University of Guam.

I’m here trying to collect everything. I think it’s really important to get baseline data on where things live, what they are, especially now that we’re losing a lot of organisms due to what humans are up to. But again I’m particularly interested in crabs. Going forward, documenting new species and new records from these areas is what I’ll be doing first, and then I think a lot of these collections will end up in taxonomic works and evolutionary studies.


AL: How many crabs do you think you got on this BioBlitz?


RL: I don’t know. I get overwhelmed with all the diversity. Crabs here (in the sites we’ve sampled) are not that diverse, frankly. But I would imagine anywhere from 20 to 30, or maybe more species. Let’s say 20 to 40 species of crabs, and that’s true crabs. There are also things like porcelain crabs, and hermit crabs, that I’m not including in that count.


AL: Why aren’t they true crabs?


RL: They’re just not part of this evolutionary lineage which we consider, “true crabs”. Many of the crabs that we eat, like flower crabs, are true crabs. They have their own unique evolutionary history and morphology. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the walking legs. True crabs generally have four walking legs on either side – so four legs and then one claw – whereas things such as porcelain crabs (not a “true crab”) only have three walking legs and one claw. Hermit crabs (also not “true crabs”) are oddballs. They live inside of shells. And then there are other things like king crabs that we haven’t come across here. They’re different.


I’m interested in the true crabs – the scientific term is Brachyura. And it’s just a quirk of my personality and fate. I got interested in those a long time ago and ran with them. There are 7,000 species of those known, so I have my work cut out for me. Switching to other groups is not something I’m interested in at this stage. There’s plenty of work to be done in the true crab world.


AL: When you say flower crabs, is that another name for the blue crabs?


RL: I think the scientific name is Portunus segnis, but… colloquially, the term is blue crab or flower crab. In Singapore where I did my PhD, they say flower crab. In the US there’s a somewhat related species we call a blue crab. So it just depends on where you are.


Marine biodiversity is incredibly rich and complex. There are likely over 1 million species in the sea, and for most of them, we don’t even know their names – let alone their ecological roles. Given the danger marine ecosystems are facing from development, climate change, pollution, and ocean acidification, discovery and documenting baseline information is important. That is what we are doing. We are documenting where species live, discovering new species, recording ecological data, and preserving and disseminating this information to understand and protect our imperilled ecosystems. I am very grateful to be part of this Archireef’s BioBlitz and to work in this unique part of the world.


Interview with Mandy Bemis

Ally Landes (AL): Hi Mandy, tell us all about your work and your involvement in the BioBlitz.


Mandy Bemis (MB): I work at the Florida Museum of Natural History as one of the collection managers of invertebrate zoology there. We manage the state invertebrate collection for the state of Florida. I’m here as one of the taxonomists/science team that was invited to help assess the biodiversity. We find lots of critters, pretty much anything without a backbone, and take a clip for DNA, voucher the specimen, they’re pretty rudimentary IDs in the field, but we’ll take them back and get a better idea of the diversity out there.


Mandy Bemis is a collection manager of invertebrate zoology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Mandy Bemis is a collection manager of invertebrate zoology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

AL: What is vouchering?

MB: A voucher specimen is the museum catalogued specimen that is available for scientists and researchers to study and verify. For most of these specimens there will exist a voucher, a tissue subsample, and a photo. In some cases – if the specimen is very tiny for example, we will have only a subsample or only a voucher. But even for the tiny things, if we get enough samples we can still have all three for a given species, just maybe not for every individual of that species.

AL: So will you guys take all the specimens back to the US for the study?


MB: No, not all of it. The tissues and the DNA work will be done here.


Pretty much anything you want to do, whether it’s conservation or sustainable harvest or management, or control – whatever you want to do – having an idea of what’s there is the most basic first step. Unless you know what everything is, you can’t manage it or you can’t conserve it, you can’t control it, whatever your goal is. This is foundational for anything going forward. We have a lot of projects in this region, in the Red Sea, and then all of Oman’s coastline.


AL: How does it look here compared to the Red Sea?


MB: I wasn’t actually on the Red Sea trip, those were other people in the lab so it’s just, the things we find here, and the things we don’t find also. It’s surprising that we haven’t found very many sea cucumbers, and not a lot of flat worms, usually we don’t find a lot, but more flat worms than sea cucumbers? That’s crazy! We’ve been surprised to not find more of those. Usually the findings in the Red Sea and Oman – we’ve been back over three or four years to those places – Oman happened in the middle of COVID so there was one year where we didn’t go, but we have a lot more specimens from those places and this is the first one in the UAE.

Every year we go and find something new. I’m sure there’s stuff out there that we still haven’t found. Especially with invertebrates, you think oh, we’ve got it, and then you just keep finding more and more. Even today, being the last day of the project, some of the stuff we have, a lot of that is duplicates that we’ve already found before, but when I’m going through them, even then, there’s still new stuff we’re discovering.


Some of the BioBlitz samples all packed for research.

Interview with Abby Uehling

Ally Landes (AL): Hey Abby, what’s your role in all of this?


Abby Uehling (AU): I’m a PhD student at the University of Florida at the Natural History Museum, so I’m in the same collection as Mandy.


I first met some of the Archireef team in Oman because they came to watch the BioBlitz we were doing there. I was introduced to them, and then they asked Mandy and I to come and participate to help out in the process here. I’m part of the research team that has experience in this whole process, and the taxonomic sides of it as well.


Abby Uehling is a PhD student at the University of Florida at the Natural History Museum.
Abby Uehling is a PhD student at the University of Florida at the Natural History Museum.

AL: How is this different from what you’ve done in Oman?


AU: The whole process is very similar, but a lot of that has been exploratory so you don’t quite know what to expect, especially in the diving. Sometimes we don’t know what’s here at all, so we have to hop in and see before we really know, just because there hasn’t been a lot of diving in some of these areas. So the aspect is similar, but I would say Oman was a lot colder.


I was there for six weeks during January and February 2022. And then again in November and December of last year, so the water was definitely colder that time of year. Oman has such a long coastline with different conditions, and very different habitats. It’s less reefy in the south where they get the seasonal upwellings, and there are more patchy coral communities.


A lot of my dissertation work is focused around the Arabian Peninsula, but there’s always a lot of interesting questions everywhere to find answers to.

AL: What do you specialise in?


AU: Sea Stars.


AL: How many do you think you’ve collected?


AU: I think at this point, about three species, maybe more. We found a load of the genus I study here, so that has been really exciting. And they’re a very cryptic species, which means they’re hard to ID because they have very subtle differences in morphology. There’s at least two, but there might be more!


Sea Stars

EDA VOLUNTEERS:

Interview with Gordon T. Smith

Ally Landes (AL): Gordon, how did you find out about the BioBlitz and get involved in the project?


Gordon T. Smith (GS): I’ve been an EDA member since many years and heard it through you. I’ve been here at the Anantara Desert Resort for about a week. Minus a couple of days I’ve had to get back to Dubai, but I’ve been helping out with Archireef’s BioBlitz in the area and it’s been extremely interesting for me because I hadn’t realised how much diversity there was in dead coral which I knew existed, but I hadn’t realised how much life there was really until this week.


Personally, I think it’s a brilliant idea to start looking at these areas and finding out what is around before anything happens. Although I think it’s a bit too late in some areas, but it’s good to get a baseline of the creatures in the region.


EDA Member, BioBlitz Volunteer, Gordon T. Smith.
EDA Member, BioBlitz Volunteer, Gordon T. Smith.

AL: What has the BioBlitz given you as a diver?


GS: It has opened my eyes to some of the life I may usually pass by when I’m diving. I’ll be looking a lot closer. I’m a macro fanatic anyway and this is right up my street. I’ll certainly take a deeper look at the critters I now come across.


Interview with Angela Manthorpe

Ally Landes (AL): Angela, how did you get involved in the BioBlitz?


Angela Manthorpe (AM): I’m an EDA member and I also heard about the BioBlitz through you.


I’m a lifelong learner, and passionate about natural history so it looked like an excellent opportunity to use some of my leave to help the scientific effort. In the past I’ve taken part in Earth Watch projects and in Biosphere Expeditions, so this is something right on my doorstep. It was an opportunity to learn more about the natural history environment, and the underwater environment, so I put myself forwards.


EDA Member, BioBlitz Volunteer, Angela Manthorpe.

AL: Have you done a full week?


AM: I originally I intended to do 2, 4 day blocks but the weather affected my plans to come initially, but having seen the logistics involved with how long it takes to get here – your first day of participation once you’ve arrived, is almost gone – so I took the whole week off. I was also given the opportunity to go diving, so I just thought it was worth taking the whole time off to contribute to this.


AL: Would you do it again?


AM: I would absolutely do it again. It is just so worth taking leave to help in this sort of effort. I found it really satisfying. To follow some of the things that I found underwater myself, and I get to watch and go through the process of the lab work, the photography, and then to take tissue samples and preserve the specimen – I can see that my own efforts are actually contributing to this bigger picture. I found that really great. I see that I can make a difference, because I’m just used to looking at the little stuff, but now I’m finding that I’m able to find different species just because I kind of know the environment and know where to look.


Rob said that he’s never found people so keen to go out into the mangroves. We went out there yesterday and we just sampled a whole load of new stuff we found. We found several species that hadn’t yet been collected and that’s from grubbing around in a mucky environment, but that’s the sort of location where you can find lots of different things.


EDA Member, BioBlitz Volunteer, Angela Manthorpe with Flo Janin.

Interview with Vickie Langton

Ally Landes (AL): Hi Vickie, how did you find out about the BioBlitz and get involved in the project?


Vickie Langton (VL): I found out about the project through an email circular from EDA. I also went to check on the Archireef website, filled in the form that was sent through EDA and waited patiently for a response. I was so looking forward to it and I had already blocked out my schedule. There were a couple of email exchanges with a member of the Archireef team who wanted to find out more information from me. It made me realise how specialised the team was going to be, as well as how many applications they must have received.

When the confirmation email finally came in, I was ecstatic! They had setup a WhatsApp group to get us in touch with the coordinator – it was all smooth sailing from there.


AL: How long did you participate?

VL: 5 days, from the 19-23 July.


AL: What has the BioBlitz given you as a diver?


Vickie Langton (centre) on the exploratory expedition into the mangroves.
Collecting samples in the mangroves.

VL: An unforgettable adventure!!! I signed up for a purely dry experience working in the lab so that I could learn some of the behind the scenes activities with the scientists on the team – which I got, and more. Understanding the workflow of the lab and all the different work stations was wonderful. For many people, pouring over a pile of mud or sifting through sand sounds like torture; but for me, being given the opportunity to watch, learn, train, do AND contribute, was phenomenal.


Even though I had signed up as a dry participant, I also went on a collection dive with the dive team and helped lead a small exploratory expedition into the mangroves – every opportunity that was presented to me resulted in my learning so much.


As a diver, being in the company of other like-minded people who have a passion for conservation and environmental preservation really touched my heart. There were so many conversations I had with the core team and the other volunteers which delved deep into the issues that we are so enthusiastic about.


AL: Would you do it again?


VL: Hell yeah!


Archireef's BioBlitz Team

About Archireef

Archireef offers nature tech solutions to restore degraded marine ecosystems. They combine expertise in marine biology and the latest technologies in 3D printing techniques and material science to create artificial habitats that are best suited for threatened marine life.

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