The wind changed direction yesterday and has brought in a slight swell compared to the flat, calm waters we have been lucky enough to have for our first few days here. We just made it over the reef this morning – our captain could not put the engines down as we were too shallow and we had to hold our breath, praying a large set of waves didn’t come through. It is nearing full moon and with it we have spring tides, caused by the reinforced tidal forces of the sun with the moon, a time when the tide is at its maximum range (it is named after the verb “to spring”). The waves of high tide crashing against the ancient fossilized coral limestone meters away from my bed were so loud at 3am this morning I thought at one stage that they would come crashing over our balcony.
Aldabra is green turtle paradise and this morning as we motored along parallel to the beach we came across one making her way down towards us, and the tracks from where she clambered up the beach to lay her eggs in the dark of the night were still visible. We didn’t have time to photograph her as we were on a pelagic or open-ocean mission this morning.
The pelagic zone is not near the coast or continental shelf and because Aldabra is an atoll we only had to go out a couple of kms to get to water as deep as 3kms. The ocean was the purest form of blue, crystal clear and filled with dancing light beams. The guys made a gargantuan effort to create the biggest chum slick possible and Kim and I got off easy letting them mix a soup of putrid tuna oil with sand and then dispense it overboard one scoop at time – using a cut open plastic water bottle. How they were not sick I have absolutely no idea.
The rank smell that wafted around the boat and turned us all a shade of green for six hours was only compensated by the green reflection on the clouds above Aldabra. There are two thoughts on the derivation of the name Aldabra. 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 and named it either after the Arabic word for ‘green’ (al-khadra), describing the reflection of the vivid green lagoon upon the clouds, or the star ‘Aldebaran’ which guided the Arabs in their journeys across the seas. After seeing for myself how startling the green is that lines the clouds, I would go with the al-khadra.
It didn’t take long to get a good chum slick going and the strong current had no trouble carrying it far out of sight (the slick is clearly visible – the oil makes a long corridor on the water’s surface that snakes along with the current). The sand and tuna oil soup would have sunk through water column to the seabed, and any shark for miles around would have followed the odor corridor back to the us, even if the shark was at the opposite end of the slick or below the surface. We did not see one single shark. NOTHING!… a terrible disappointment and one that has disastrous implications. We couldn’t film or photograph anything today and were left with an empty ocean. I can’t say yet that all the large shark species such as oceanic white tip, tiger, and great hammerhead have been fished out but the signs do not look good.
As for tonight, we are all starving and there is still quite a ripe smell drifting around – I think we all need a good scrub – anyone know how to get rotten fish odor out of hair?!