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Bunaken’s Coral Reefs Are Officially Thriving

Coral Triangle Resurvey Bunaken Marine Park from Murex Manado

Over the last month at Murex Manado we have been involved in some exciting projects in the Bunaken Marine Park – including a re-survey of the health and density of corals in the face of climate change and rising sea temperatures around the world. The “Coral Resurvey Team” came to stay and dive with us and this was an incredible opportunity to get an insight into the underwater health of our area. What made this project so unique was that the same initiative surveyed the reefs in 2014 and so on this trip they were able to assess the same areas and compare data to give a factual analysis of change – not just speculation.

Bunaken hard corals

Bunaken’s hard coral reefs have thrived even when the Great Barrier Reef has suffered destruction

The re-survey team comprised a group of coral reef ecologists from the University of Queensland in Australia – including 6 core members from the Global Change Institute, film crew from the Ocean Agency, as well as collaborators from Jakarta, Sam Ratulangi University in Manado and officials from Balai Taman Nasional Bunaken who have also been supporting the research.

Coral Triangle North Sulawesi

The Coral Triangle Re-survey Team at Murex Bangka

In 2014 the team surveyed numerous areas within the Coral Triangle including the Philippines, Timor Leste and a variety of strategic locations around Indonesia. The teams primary focus is to look at reef changes, particularly in light of the mass coral bleaching, global event in 2016 / 2017 and to assess how marine park zoning is performing and whether reefs within Marine Protected Areas have overall healthier coral communities.

The team based at Murex Manado brought with them the latest technology for reef surveys and were more than happy to explain to us what they were doing. Check out some of the details here – it’s pretty amazing stuff!

Sea View II Camera

The resurvey team use their state of the art Sea View II camera for imaging the reefs

How are the Coral Resurvey Team carrying out the survey in the Bunaken Marine Park?

We use a specialized set of digital cameras mounted on an underwater scooter, called Seaview II. Seaview II (or SVII) was developed with the help of Google to take ‘Google Streetview’ style 360 panoramas of coral reefs. From the images we can extract important data about the species living on the reef. The scooter allows our divers to survey larger areas than marine scientists using traditional survey techniques. We drive our scooter about a meter off the seafloor, and can survey up to 2km of reef in one dive, taking a high resolution image every 3 seconds. Our diver is tethered to a GPS on a surface float, so that each image is geo-referenced in space and time. This allows us to go back to the exact same spot that the team visited last time.

Sea View II underwater camera

Surveying Bunaken’s reefs with Sea View II

Each evening we download the images onto a hard drive, which we take back to Australia. Back in Australia we use image recognition technology to analyze thousands of images generated over the duration of our expedition. Our machine can automatically detect different coral taxa, and tell us about the community composition of the reef.

How many people are on the Bunaken Marine Park survey team and where are they from?

There are six core members from the Global Change Institute, which is part of the University of Queensland in Australia in our scientific dive team:

• Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg – Director of the Global Change Institute
• Dr Emma Kennedy (from the UK) – scientific lead
• Dr Anjani Ganase (from Trinidad) – field scientist
• Kathryn Markey (from Australia) – field scientist and technical officer
• Dominic Bryant (from Australia) – field scientist
• Patrick Gartrell – field scientist

Scuba dive Bunaken

Some of the survey team diving at Bunaken

We also have our collaborators joining us on the survey, Aryono Hadi from LIPI in Jakarta and Dr Andreas Roeroe, a lecturer based at Sam Ratulangi University here in Manado. Balai Taman Nasional Bunaken have also been supporting our research.
We also have some film crew from The Ocean Agency – Richard Vevers, Stephanie Roach and Stefan Andrews, who have come to make a short film about the work we are doing here.

What data are you recording?

We take up to 1000 high-resolution images of the coral reef per dive. From these images we can extract data on the amount of living coral (percent living coral cover), algae and other organisms that make up the reef. The machine we use to analyse the images also identifies the coral taxa for us, so we can get information on what species of coral and algae are making up each reef.

Sea View II

Sea View cameras use the same technology as Google Streetview – but for imaging the reef

How do you think Bunaken Marine Park reefs compare to 2014?

Only one member of our team, Dominic Bryant, was on both the 2014 and 2018 survey. He says he thinks the coral cover has remained pretty stable from what he remembers – and its also clear that there is little evidence of bleaching damage. We will need to analyse the data back in Brisbane to know for sure how the surveys compare between 2014 and 2018. All the images and data we collect is put on the Global Reef Record (, so you will be able to see when we have analyzed the data.

We’ve been very lucky to see some beautiful corals around Bunaken this week!

Bunaken underwater photography

The survey team were impressed by the corals around Bunaken

What have you found most surprising about Bunaken Marine Park coral reefs?

One of the nicest things for the team is to see reefs that weren’t badly damaged in the recent bleaching event. In Australia we surveyed many of the reefs in the northern Great Barrier Reef which experienced severe bleaching and where there was widespread mortality of corals was evident. It is very sad to have to dive over fields of dead coral, and great to see healthy thriving pockets of coral around Bunaken.

Another cool surprise was coming across coral transplants in the Bunaken Marine Park, it was inspiring to see local efforts to care for the reef.

Bunaken Marine Park

Bunaken is famous for it’s healthy and diverse mix of corals

How many different coral species have you identified so far?

We’re not so interested in identifying and counting different species of coral but getting a wider picture about how coral communities are faring across the different reefs. This allows us to compare the Bunaken Marine Park to different reef systems around the world (which have different coral species). We travel fast over reefs to get a broader picture of how much living coral there is.

Reef Survey Bunaken

Sea View II Camera returning to the boat after surveying

What have you enjoyed most about staying at Murex Manado?

Definitely the people! Laurens and Maxi have been helping us every day on the boat with our research, giving us guidance on each site and how to dive it and teaching us all about the Bunaken reefs. Pim and Basrah have been amazing helping us plan and coordinate all our diving. Yuan and Vandy have been keeping us well fed and entertained and we’re most grateful to the boat crew for helping us cart all our heavy survey equipment around the resort! The food here is amazing (thanks to all the chefs!), everyone in reception has been so nice helping us out with permits and photocopying – everybody has been so friendly and kind and made us feel really at home – thank you everyone!

Murex Manado Bunaken

Murex Team were super friendly and helped plan and organise the diving for the survey – and they were fun!

What have you enjoyed most about diving with Murex Manado?

We love the beautiful big boats, they’re perfect for research as we can fit all our equipment and enough cylinders for all the diving we need to do each day, and also have space to nap and work in between dives.

Bunaken Dive Boats

Murex Dive Boats were a hit with the survey team!

What has been your favorite moment during the trip so far?

We’ve had a lot of favorite moments, but our introduction to Murex diving with a house reef tour by Pim on the first day was pretty special, getting up close to some beautiful tiny organisms is something we don’t often get to do when we’re speeding through the water on SVII. On Tuesday we were treated to a pretty epic barbeque feast with some amazing entertainment, and today we were lucky enough to run into some dolphins on the way back from Nain Island.

Murex Manado House Reef

The survey team explored the underwater trail on Murex Manado House Reef

Would you recommend diving at Bunaken to other divers and why?

Yes we would! The wall diving is amazing! And Murex has friendly staff, great knowledge about the reefs, a beautiful resort, great food and the best sunsets!

Thank you to everyone on the Coral Resurvey Team for sharing their experience with us and for monitoring the health of our reefs. It is incredibly re-assuring and inspiring to know that the efforts made here to protect the reefs in the Bunaken Marine Park are paying off and that our reefs continue to thrive.

Murex Manado Bunaken Resort

Stunning sunsets from Murex Manado were the perfect ending to survey days

If you’d like to come and dive Bunaken’s world class coral walls, experience the unique and unusual macro marine life of Manado Bay or lose yourself in a world of color around Bangka Island, contact us today for more information or to make a booking:

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Are you planning your next trip to North Sulawesi? Are you hoping to discover some of the best dive sites and marine life in the world? Why limit yourself to one location when you can dive in three distinct destinations in one incredible trip with our Passport to Paradise? Discover the staggering coral walls of the Bunaken Marine Park, explore Bangka Island’s kaleidoscopic reefs and see some of the world’s rarest and most unusual marine life in Lembeh. Bunaken -> Bangka -> Lembeh, why choose when you can do it all? With boat diving transfers from resort to resort there is no gear drying, packing or wasted transfer days, we take care of the logistics so you don’t need to – you just dive, dive, dive!


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