Having faced an uphill battle in our first two weeks, our luck has begun to change.
We have identified the problems with the engine and we have acquired a very talented cameraman. Richard is from the Good Picture Company, making all of us look good and adding a wonderful energy into the team.
We have taken the decision to send Caine, Rhett and Tan up to Ponta Do Ouro, Mozambique via road so they can begin with the data capturing, something that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Heading forward, we are flying in the parts needed for the boat. Once they arrive and are installed, we can move up towards Mozambique and pick up the rest of the team.
In the meantime Rhett writes from Ponta do Ouro:
After five days of dirty harbour water in Durban, staring longingly into the deep blue water of the east coast whilst struggling against a howling north-easter , we finally managed to submerse ourselves in the warm, crystal-clear ocean off Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique, to begin the research surveys. We were treated to spectacular scenes with dolphins, turtles and devil rays – an incredible diversity of fish, corals and other invertebrates. The reefs were teeming with life, from tiny clownfish sheltering in the refuge of their sea anemones to huge shoals of humpback snapper, and loggerhead turtles patiently awaiting nightfall before coming ashore to lay their eggs on the long sandy beaches.
Thanks to the generosity of Mike from Phambuka Dive Centre we were able to access four reefs, and thus complete the first four of the planned 320 dives – constituting 1.25% of the surveys!
Despite having to travel lightly, we lugged along all the equipment necessary to complete the fish surveys as well as surveys of the benthic community – such as the corals and sponges. The stereo video camera set-up is working well, and we have employed two GoPro cameras, one to film the reef as we swim, and the other to take still photographs of it. These are also working well. After having an “off” day due to windy sea conditions, we are hoping to get back in the water tomorrow to survey some more reefs.
So after two days of data-collecting dives, calling in a number of favours and pushing ourselves to the nitrogen limit on the second day, we were treated to something completely different. Caine and I went to sea with Ryan and Clare Daly of 3 Fathoms (www.canyoufathomit.org), a US non-profit organisation working out of Ponta do Ouro. Their aim: “Innovative marine research for the benefit of shark conservation”. The goal for the day was to catch a Zambezi shark Carcharhinus leucas and surgically implant an acoustic transmitter into its body cavity to track its movement patterns.
We started the day snorkelling off Techobanine, a shallow reef with incredible coral diversity just north of Ponta do Ouro. Sadly, it seems there are plans in the pipeline for a port development in that area, which is highly likely to destroy this near-pristine coral reef ecosystem.
We then headed out to a deep offshore reef, known to support a diversity of shark species. We were incredibly fortunate as the reef was “on”. As we arrived we saw a large patch of discoloured water, which turned out to be an enormous shoal of giant kingfish Caranx ignobilis just below the surface. The slow-moving shoal was at least 500 strong, with fish ranging from about 5 kg to almost 20 kg! Interlaced with the hundreds of kingfish were a number of black-tip sharks Carcharhinus limbatus and Zambezi sharks, which created swirls of kingfish as they passed effortlessly through the shoal. This went on for a few hours, as we continually drifted south, jumped back on board, motored north and hopped back in for another southward drift. We were absolutely spoiled as the odd tiger shark Galeocurdo cuvier inquisitively rose to greet us at the surface, and on one drift we were even followed by an Indo-Pacific blue marlin Makaira mazara. All-in-all an unforgettable day at sea!
Unfortunately, on the day it seemed that the black-tip sharks held the dominant position near the surface, leaving the Zambezi sharks in deeper water, cautious of the divers and seemingly aware that the bait was not simply a “free, easy meal”. Nonetheless, an amazing day of diving and an experience that could rival that at any dive site in the world. Thanks Ryan and Clare for this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Here’s to a successful tagging mission tomorrow.