Words by Rainer von Brandis
Ask any marine biologist what the favourite part of their job is and they will undoubtedly say that it’s the field work. Yet normal career development dictates that scientists spend more and more time in the office as the years go by, their days consumed by analysing data and disseminating their research findings. Although I now spend much more time at my computer, I am fortunate that for at least four months a year I am doing field work at D’Arros and St Joseph.
On this month-long trip with Dr Paul Cowley and MSc students Chantel Elston and Emily Moxham, we are spending most of our time in St Joseph Atoll. Over the past few years, the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre has significantly increased its research activities in the atoll, particularly where its keystone species are concerned. Accordingly, we have made several improvements to the small camp on St Joseph Island so that researchers can overnight there comfortably. One of the old buildings constructed in the 1950s during the coconut plantation era we have renovated so that it has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Although there is no running water or electricity, we have made the camp habitable by providing a rainwater catchment, comfortable beds, mosquito nets, a gas cooker, kitchen utensils and other basic requirements.
Breakfast and lunch consist mostly of cereal and sandwiches, but dinner is cooked outside on a campfire surrounded by furniture fashioned from flotsam washed up on the beach. Without exception, all the researchers who have spent time at the camp have loved it! Falling asleep to the sound of chattering seabirds and the nightly invasion of friendly crabs during dinner are strong favourites among their memories. Researchers always comment that they feel privileged to live in a place where they are surrounded by nesting turtles, sharks, rays and fish in a remote and unspoiled environment.
We normally spend two to four days in the atoll and then return to D’Arros to transfer our data, store biological samples and resupply our food stocks. But after a day or two on D’Arros we are always eager to return to the atoll to continue the field work and to enjoy the adventures that come with it!