Farasan Islands Benthic Habitat Assessment and Mapping, Farasan Islands Marine Protected Area, May 2006 Preliminary Field Report


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Farasan Islands Benthic Habitat Assessment and Mapping – Farasan Islands Marine Protected Area, May 2006 Preliminary Field Report

A collaborative expedition between Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) and the Regional Organisation for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) to the Farasan Islands was conducted onboard M.Y. Golden Shadow, 3 – 24 May 2006.

The primary aim of the expedition was to use a CASI (Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager) sensor onboard a seaplane to conduct large-scale habitat mapping of the marine environment of the Farasan Islands. CASI data was collected from 15 areas, totalling 2,700 km2. In conjunction with in situ ground-truthing and spectral signature data, the maps produced will be the first modern seabed habitat maps of the region and will guide future marine management plans of the Farasan archipelago.

Underwater baseline surveys (benthic and fish-census) were conducted to assess the present state of the reefs of the Farasan Islands. Benthic (seabed dwelling) transects were carried out using the photo-transect technique – a total of 58 photo-transects were conducted during the expedition. The photo-transect data will be analysed to calculate percentage benthic cover and coral diversity at each site. Fish were recorded by species, number and size both along the transect line and away from the transect line in order to record any additional species. 28 fish surveys were conducted during the expedition, and a total of 173 species were recorded.

NCWCD scientists conducted surveys of marine mammals, marine turtles and seagrass. 175 dolphins were sighted in the Farasan Islands protected area. 4 species were observed – common, bottlenose, humpback and spinner dolphin. Eleven islands were surveyed for turtles. Hawksbill turtles were observed nesting on 6 islands and 1 hawksbill turtle was tagged at Kayrah Island. Seagrass was surveyed at four sites. Percentage cover by different seagrass species was estimated and specimens were collected for identification.

Surveys of seabirds were conducted to assess the current status of breeding habitats for seabirds in the Farasan Islands. 45 islands were visited over the three week period and 17 seabird species were recorded.

The expedition embraced the ‘Education and Outreach’ mission of Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation by developing a ‘live’ educational web-site. The expedition scientists updated the website daily with a ‘Science Diary’, ‘Fact of the Day’, ‘Vessel Log’ and ‘Questions and Answers’. 580,782 hits to the website were recorded throughout the expedition…

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