Our work centred around common survey techniques: line, belt and point transects, visual and behavioural surveys - all methods used frequently in terrestrial studies but given a whole new spin when attempted underwater. Our efforts culminated in a starfish survey of the waters around the island, looking at the changing abundances and sizes of a number of starfish species with depth.
Sun, sea, sand and starfish
Both the accommodation and the food on the island were traditional for the region. Our wood and bamboo houses, built on stilts above the coral floor of the island to safeguard against the danger of flooding, were furnished with a bed or two and little else – don’t even ask about the washing facilities! The local terrestrial wildlife was diverse. Metre long monitor lizards were a common sight, along with smaller geckos, while a large crab was an almost daily visitor to the Centre, sauntering through while we were eating dinner. Returning to our houses at night was an eerie experience, with fireflies lighting the way, half-seen shapes scuttling in the undergrowth and bats whirring overhead...
Diving three times a day is a tough but rewarding experience. Our early morning congregation by the equipment stores, bleary-eyed and with a hot drink clutched in our hands, quickly became routine. Once in the water, though, any tiredness was quickly forgotten. Any diver will tell you of the calm to be found beneath the waves - a feeling of weightlessness, of immersion in another world. The waters around Hoga are teeming with life. Myriad reef fish, too numerous to count, brightly coloured corals and sea anemones - all were seen almost every time we went in the water, along with rays and starfish, octopi and sea snakes. Turtles were also glimpsed, swimming gracefully into the blue as we approached. Everyone had a story to tell back on the surface, of a rare species found perhaps, or of a close encounter with a Titan trigger fish.
I have been a diver for almost 10 years, yet my experience on Hoga was better than anything I have done up to now. Watching a banded sea crate winding sinuously among the coral or being feet away from a twisting whirlwind of barracuda, their sleek bodies moving as one - these memories will stay long after the tan has faded.