By 7h45am yesterday we had reloaded all our gear, one final time (for the next few days anyhow) on a 30ft Miami Vice look alike boat and begun our cruise north to Aldabra. Standing at the front of the boat, not daring to do the Titanic manoever with such revered scientists and cameramen on board, I closed my eyes and imagined what it must have been like to sail unbeknowingly to this piece of paradise somewhere in the Indian Ocean before man had ever set foot or circled it with destructive long lines and baited hooks. As Assumption disappeared behind the ocean in front bubbled with diving boobies and as we slowly maneuvered through our first bird bait ball (the stuff the famous South African sardine run is made off) I squinted to see if any sharks below were visible. It took under two hours to reach Aldabra and another two to unload and settle in at our superb accommodation in the Aldabra Foundation’s research station.
We spent the day checking dive and camera equipment and I know I kept pinching myself to make sure I was really here. Slight problem – the compressor for filling the SCUBA tanks with air was shipped here upside down (despite the very large arrows pointing to the right way up) and the compressor oil had leaked out. It is easy enough to refill but the concern is if any oil actually contaminated the air system, as breathing in oil particles would not do wonders for the lungs and ‘the bends’ would be the least of our worries
At 18h00 the tide was high enough to navigate the coral reef and we ventured out for a quick recci (without SCUBA) to assess the topography of Pass Dubois, one of the channels that leads into the lagoon in between our island of Picard and the largest island Grande Terre.
A fast 2knot current swept us through in about fifteen minutes. A sicklefin lemon shark (Negaprion acutidens) scurried away in fright at the sight of six snorkel-clad figures flying through the water, but the very large Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulates) seemed much less perturbed. Fast currents make photography extremely difficult and on the second drift Tom and I finned to the far right of the channel where a slacker current enabled some split level shots (underwater and topside in one image) of the coral mushroom formations clad with mangroves, characteristic of Aldabra. After two drifts the sun was low and we headed back to base fifteen minutes away. There, greeting us as they had when we first arrived were about twenty small, sleek and swift blacktip reef sharks (Charcharhinus melanopterus). We photographed in the fading light while Dan splashed the water to grab their attention and bring them into frame. The real fun with them, however, started today….