For as long as I can remember the Indian Ocean has captivated me. As a child its seemingly endless expanse of blue wilderness held a life full of adventure and of places even more mystical than those in Enid Blyton’s Magic Far Away Tree. Growing up in Kenya I often escaped to those picture perfect white beaches where the rock pools, filled with hermit crabs and brittle stars, became my playground. It wasn’t until later when the natural world became a complete passion that I first heard of ‘Aldabra’ and I have been drawn to it ever since. On a map it is only a stone’s throw away from the Swahili coast I know so well, but in fact this coral atoll is 400 miles southeast of Mombasa tucked away in a lost corner of the Seychelles Island Group. Described by explorers as ‘the island man forgot – a living natural history museum’ there is something magical and mysterious about it. Even the name rings of magic, say Aldabra to someone and the chances are ‘abracadabra’ pops to mind!
With Arabs settling in East Africa from the 7th century and the island sitting close to their trade links with Madagascar and the Comoros it is possible they were the earliest visitors to the island. The derivation of the name is from the Arabic word for ‘green’ (al-khadra), describing the reflection of the vivid green lagoon upon the clouds, or it refers to the star ‘Aldebaran’ which guided the Arabs in their journeys across the seas. Either way it is to this isolated island of forbidding terrain and childhood dreams that I will be traveling.
As part of a team from the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) that includes scientists, cameramen and Cape Town based photographer Thomas Peschak, I will be on a once in a lifetime expedition to explore, research and document what Jacques-Yves Cousteau once called ‘one of the last sanctuaries on our planet…a place that man has not yet spoiled.’ SOSF is a non-profit organization that implements and supports a diversity of scientific research and educational projects focused on the marine environment. It aims to learn more about the role of marine species, particularly sharks and rays, and their role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, since 1982, was once a well-known location for large shark species, but with heavy fishing pressure (long liners) in the Western Indian ocean linked to the huge trade in shark fins and illegal fishing in the vicinity of Aldabra we want to know if man has spoilt even the most remote of locations. Has the shark population, especially the large species such as tiger, oceanic-white-tips and great hammerhead sharks, here been decimated as it has in all our oceans?
The inventor of SCUBA, Cousteau, first opened the world’s eyes to the atoll’s natural magic with his pioneering film based on the reefs of Aldabra in The Silent World. This March and April, I hope to take you on a journey to the island man forgot and its Indian Ocean waters with stories of what our expedition finds and perhaps more importantly what it does not find.
….who knows with a little abracadabra it may even be on a Magic carpet.