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Ghost Pipefishes (Solenostomidae) (Issue: 02-07)
By: David White

One of the most impressive and beautiful fish to be found on the reef are Ghost Pipefish. A close relation of the seahorse (Hippocampinae), they come in various shapes, colors and forms and their camouflage renders them almost unnoticeable so as many divers swim by them oblivious to their existence! There are four forms recognized by taxonomists although each of these has various subtle differences.

Growing to a maximum of around fifteen centimeters the Ghost Pipefish begins its’ life with a lengthy spell drifting on oceanic currents in a larval form, before gradually maturing and settling on the seafloor. Initially transparent they make their way to the reef to reproduce, commonly found in the shallows down to around thirty-five meters. They form pairs and can sometimes be observed for days if not weeks. The larger female will hold up to three-hundred eggs in a brooding pouch, which in turn are released into the oceanic currents to restart the cycle. It is commonly believed that Ghost Pipefishes have an annual life cycle so don't expect to find the same one next year!

Around Pulau Weh you can be lucky enough to find the Ghost Pipefish on most dive-sites. Look next to feather stars, dead leaves, gorgonian fans and even old pieces of fishing net. At times it can be difficult to differentiate between the fish and its host. By far the two most prolific sites for finding these amazing fish are the Tugboat Wreck and the House Reef outside Lumba Lumba on Gapang Beach. I personally have managed to photograph over forty individuals in a myriad of colors and at various stages of development. They really make great pictures if you're lucky enough to find them with an interesting host, where, given time you may also be able to observe them changing color.

So next time you're drifting along the reef and you see a feather star give it a closer inspection and just maybe you'll get your reward! Happy diving!

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A Diving Community (Issue: 02-07)

Indonesia is a maritime nation and the Acehnese a strictly coastal people with a long history of international trade and domination, all the way to Malaysia. No wonder people of Pulau Weh are excellent fishermen and lousy farmers. Diving is an increasingly popular activity in Indonesia; however villagers in remote places like Pulau Weh rarely get a chance to enjoy real diving; at most, only commercial diving with inadequate traditional equipment and at high risk. Their economy does not allow them to dive like tourists, even though it is their own island.

Lumba Lumba Diving Centre in Gapang recently carried out an educational program to raise awareness about the coral reefs and to teach diving in order to increase opportunities for locals to participate in the local diving businesses. ILO (International Labor Organization) covered the costs of diving and Lumba Lumba invested in the educational material of Scuba Schools International (SSI), as they have material in Indonesian language.

The interest for this program was very big, even guys who barely could swim applied to the course. The selection was however made by a local youth leader. Ten young and very enthusiastic local men did about seven 7 dives each. The enthusiasm was high before and even higher afterwards. All of them passed both the practical and theoretical exams. Two have already got part time jobs as divers in Gapang. One of the instructors commented: "One could see their happy faces shine of enthusiasm when they experienced the underwater world."

Unfortunately it was only limited to ten and there were no female participants. The owners of the Diving Centre, the Dutch couple Marjan and Ton, hope that if another course takes place, there will be a few girls also. In the mid-nineties they taught a local girl, however she found her love in the water and left for Europe.

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A Wanted Man (Issue: 02-07)

In April this year Sabang got its first Mayor ever in direct elections. Elections were held all over Aceh. In Sabang, like in most of the regencies in Aceh, members of GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or the Free Aceh Movement) were elected by the Acehnese. Before tsunami they were actively fighting the Indonesian forces, in 2005 a peace was signed and in 2007 the GAM leaders were chosen in most elections in Aceh. Today they lead a peaceful Aceh in harmony with the central government in Jakarta. It is amazing when one think about it.

H. Munawar Liza Zainal, our new Mayor, was born in the Pidie regency in 1973. He studied in Java for six years and at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo for seven years. He followed up with other studies in Thailand and USA. He is fluent in Acehnese, Indonesian, Arabic, and English. He even knows some Thai and Swedish. He has during his education been active in several organizations. In 1998 he got active internationally in SIRA, an organization advocating for referendum on independence for Aceh. In 2005 he was a member of GAM's delegation at the peace talks in Helsinki. Since then he has also been a spokesman for GAM.

In the end of 2005 he returned back to Aceh as a member of AMM (Aceh Monitoring Mission) and helped implement the M.O.U. between the Government in Jakarta and GAM. On his first visit ever to Pulau Weh he obviously made a very good impression. Not long after he was approached by friends and community leaders to stand for election in Sabang. He did and, in competition with five other candidates, won with 35% of the votes.

Mr. Munawar is optimistic about the future. He told us that he and his GAM friends for the first time can feel safe in Aceh and that he is convinced that the peace will last forever.

His biggest challenge now is to change the mentality of the people, especially the civil servants, formed by 30 years of oppression and corruption. For this sake, discipline is a priority. We non-civil servants have already noticed the absence of the civil servants from the coffee shops over the island!

For the development of Pulau Weh, Mr. Munawar welcomes investors, but only with environmental friendly projects. Waste handling on Pulau Weh has to be developed. Organic waste must be decomposed and inorganic waste recycled. Tourism is an important sector, but must be developed in a way that saves the nature and the culture as far as possible. Mass tourism is of no interest to Pulau Weh. Mr. Munawar ends the interview by saying: "We don’t want the tourists to change Pulau Weh, but Pulau Weh to change the tourists!"

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