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Newsletter February 2021

The Groupers of Sermata

By Peter Mous

I am on a steep slope, at 25 meters depth, in warm water and with good visibility of about 15 meters, a gentle current carrying me along---10 minutes into the dive, I realize that this is a special site, and that we are diving it at the right time. A large school of a few hundred spotted, dark fish, each about 40 cm long, cruises below me. They are female squaretail coral trout Plectropomus areolatus, and I know what they are up to: They are getting ready to visit their male counterparts who must be hanging out above me, on the reef flat, in spawning colors while fighting with other suitors for the best spot. My colleague and friend Purwanto is following them to get some video. Purwanto has been monitoring reef fish aggregations for decades, but seeing this large school of squaretail females is special, even for him. Later in the dive we visit the area where the males have their territories---they are aggressive to each other, and many have bite marks. Never thought I would get to see a spawning aggregation site again, but here I am: The place is Meaterialam Atoll, Sermata Islands, and it is 5 November 2020, a couple of days after full moon.

The animal kingdom has many examples of individuals from one species getting together for the purpose of rest and reproduction. Many species of sea birds do so, for example the boobies and frigate birds of Manuk Island, and some mammals, like sea lions, from spectacular colonies on isolated islands. Bats gather in caves, or, like Indonesia's flying foxes, on mangrove islands a few tens of kilometers away from feeding grounds on the main land. Komodo National Park has two such mangrove islands, eerily similar in size, shape, and distance from the mainland, and seeing the flying foxes depart en masse for their feeding grounds just after sunset is a highlight of a naturalist's field trip. Less well-known, but equally spectacular, are the spawning aggregations of reef fish such as groupers.

Let me first describe how a typical grouper aggregation looks like to a SCUBA diver. Most dives start deep, so the first species a diver would encounter are tiger grouper Epinephelus fuscoguttatus, between 25 and 40 meter. These large, bulky fish are not rare, but they like to hang out in crevices and between corals, so they normally do not draw the diver's immediate attention. At a spawning site during spawning season, however, they are hard to miss. The diver would first see a few, then a few more, until she realizes that the place is crawling with them. Moreover, they have become more conspicuous then they normally are: Their coloration, normally a fairly boring brown with black blotches, changes into a flashing white with black patches on the cheeks. That's a male saying "Here I am, and you are only welcome if you are female with a belly full of eggs". There is a fair bit of fighting, and some of the fish have bite marks: Sex and aggression often go together.


Click to watch video

Birostris Ballet in the Four Kings

By Foued Kaddachi. Photos by Thomas Koenye.

(...) Personally I have never seen the Misool marine protected area completely deserted by the growing liveaboard industry, but there we were, on day 6 of the trip, without any other boat around us...

With the dive sites all to ourselves, we enjoyed the magical site called "Karang Bayangan" as much as we wanted and witnessed a very polite behavior between a grey reef shark and an oceanic Manta ray (Mobula birostris), sharing a cleaning station at the same time... one after the other patiently waiting for their turn. I had never seen this either!!!

The next day on the same site, we dove for 66 minutes, with five oceanic mantas performing a perfect "Birostris Ballet". We, divers and snorkelers, are all the fortunate audience of the morning show... What a very special treat for our guests, many of whom have known these Indonesian waters for decades but never experienced such a magical underwater dance.


Counting Myself Lucky

By Purwanto

During more than 20 years as I counted fish underwater, I have counted myself lucky as well. Since I got my marine science degree from Diponegoro University in Semarang, and as part of my job with The Nature Conservancy in Komodo, Wakatobi and Raja Ampat and now with the Coral Triangle Center, I have counted fish at some of the most beautiful places in Indonesia. My 'offices' are the reefs with high coral and fish diversity in areas where communities and government are willing to protect these places.

For my work, I look for what are called "indicator" species. Simply said, these are species which, when abundant and large enough that they are mature, indicate that a reef community is in a healthy condition. Groupers (Serranidae) and Napoleon wrasses (Cheilinus Undulatus) are important indicators species. This is because these fish are among the most popular fish for in the live reef food fish trade and Indonesian fishers catch them for their high value. In my time, sadly, I have witnessed that their abundance on Indonesia's reefs decreased dramatically.

So, how excited I was when during the EPIC trip with the Seven Seas Live aboard in the Forgotten Islands, I was able to witness something extraordinary. These particular fish generally live solitary or in small groups, so when a diver sees hundreds of grouper and many large napoleon wrasses something special is going on!

Not just once or twice, but at more than five locations where we dived, I found large groups of groupers and napoleon wrasse. Each dive in the Sermata Islands group I saw Squaretail Coral Grouper (Plectropomus Areolatus), Black-saddled Coral Grouper or Chinese Footballer (P. Laevis), Brown-marbled grouper (Epinephelus fuscogutattus) and Humphead Wrasse or Napoleon (Cheilinus undulatus)!


Alex's short movie won the first prize in Malaysia

Alex's short movie "Bird's Head" has won the first prize during the "Lens Beyond Ocean" UW competition. LOB is the most important UW film festival in Malaysia.

The Bird's Head peninsula is the epicenter of the marine biodiversity. With more than 225.000 square kilometers this space across this different areas is known as the "scuba diving heaven". All his footage was recorded during our trips in Raja Ampat-Kaimana-Triton Bay.

All Hands on Deck

By Mark Heighes

Dear Shipmates,

We have made a few changes to our office team recently and I would like to inform you of these as they are coming into effect this month.

Candra has given notice that she will be resigning from Seven Seas management at the end of this month. She has been a pillar of strength for Seven Seas since our launching in 2006. I would like to thank Candra for her years of service which often extended over and beyond the call of duty, making herself available 24-7. Candra was my go to person when we had unexpected problems and I was always impressed with the cool, calm and collective manner she went about solving any issues.

Candra you will be dearly missed by us all, and we wish you only the best for the future.

1st row: Guteri, Candra. 2nd row: Mansu, Naomi, Ary, Kusuma

At the same time I am happy to introducing our newly completed office team:

General Manager: Naomi Lumangkun
Operations Manager: Rufina Guteri Ganggus
Finance Assistant: Kusuma Diputra
Admin Assistant: Ari Wibayani
Logistics Assistant: Mansuetus Muta
Cruise Advisor: Jos Pet

We would also like to welcome Naomi and Kusuma as our new members on the team. Naomi will be replacing Candra as the person in charge at the office.

Jos is back on deck after a short break. Jos will be once again dealing with all your enquiries, questions on schedules and trip destinations. He will remain the go to person to help plan your trips and customize your charters.

Jos Pet

Also introducing a new face onboard Seven Seas, Cruise Director Foued Kaddachi.

I would like to welcome Foued to the team. He will be standing in for Alex or myself leading trips onboard Seven Seas as needed. He has been part of the Seven Seas family since 2009 and joined us every year since. Foued has already successfully lead a number of trips for us onboard Seven Seas and has extensive knowledge on all areas we operate. He has been diving throughout Indonesia since 1999 and became a PADI Instructor in 2001. In the following years he added UW photography, Nitrox and O2 provider to his resume.

Foued Kaddachi

Our onboard crew will be ready as always to take you out exploring, and they are all Covid-19 tested on a weekly basis to ensure your safety onboard.

Looking forward to welcome you (back) on board sometime soon!

Captain Mark

The Seven Seas - Pertokoan Simpang Siur (Kuta Poleng) C1 - Jl. Setiabudi
Kuta, Badung 80361 - Bali - Indonesia

© The Seven Seas 2021

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