Life was back in our warm blood this morning and we headed out at first light to see if we could find some life with cold blood. Aldabra is a haven for green turtles and we hoped to catch some on film making use of the morning’s hide tide and returning to the water after a long and tiresome night digging nests in the sand and laying eggs. Dan arrived just in time to film one green heaving herself down the beach and into the water. They are incredibly graceful creatures in the water – one flick of a flipper and they are off in a different direction or swimming tens of meters down below. Underwater, good photos are almost impossible unless the particular character is feeling photogenic. After the monumental effort they make to nest on beaches it must be such an incredible feeling of freedom for them to sink back into weightlessness.
Later in the day the team split. Dan went out to film on the reef while James kept a look out for sharks at the baiting station. As I have said before, it is the smaller ones you have to watch out for… and on this dive it was one of the balky potato bass that tried to swallow Rainer’s arm. He succeeded as far as his wrist and even dragged Rainer, with his SCUBA gear, along the reef a little. He wasn’t a small potato bass, but the point is he was not a shark!!
While that was going on I was working with Tom, photographing the black tip and lemon sharks inshore in the high water against the champignons. Black tips and lemon sharks swirled around us in a flurry of fins and inquisitive eyes until it was too dark to see any more and we hurried back for Pascal’s (the station’s chef) supper.
We spent the night and early morning hours looking for nesting green turtles on the beach. Each day on our travels to the dive sites we have counted dozens of turtle tracks along the beach and vowed many times to stay up to watch them lay. As expected, we found many tracks but they all had a parallel set along side, return tracks, which meant the turtle had been and gone. Near the far end of the research station beach we hit gold – a single track. Quietly following it up the beach and letting our eyes adjust to the natural light without torches we heard the shuffle and scrunching of sand mingled with heavy puffs of air. She was busy digging a pit large enough to fit her whole body in, flicking sand backwards with her fore-flippers. We watched for half an hour as she dug and shifted sand, until she hit a root and decided the position she had chosen was not suitable for her eggs and shuffled herself further up the beach only to start the process all over again. The top of the beach looks like the surface of the moon there are so many craters and pits lining it from the turtles that come up each night and sometimes dig multiple pits before actually digging the egg chamber and laying.
Moving further down the beach we found another turtle starting the same process and sat watching her for hours, until she gave up, turned around and headed down the beach back towards the water. We left her in peace and moved back to the first turtle just in time to watch her dig her egg chamber and drop her eggs neatly inside it. The precision with which they dig the chamber is amazing – one back flipper at a time they scoop a spoon sized portion of sand and earth and deposit it on the side. By one in the morning she had finally finished laying and proceeded to cover the eggs and compact the sand around it. We didn’t stay to watch her finish, but when we left the eggs were well and truly hidden and she was still busy spraying sand in all directions. By then the tide was at its lowest and I did pity the journey she would have to make across the reef before reaching the water, but at least another generation of this endangered animal was safely buried and waiting to hatch on Aldabran sand – the same sand that is now engrained in our camera lenses!