For the month of April 2014, National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition leader Paul Rose will lead a group of key scientists and filmmakers, together with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Andrea Marshall and the Marine Megafauna Foundation, to explore, survey, and record what they expect to be some of the healthiest reefs in East Africa, home to ocean giants like manta rays, dugongs, and more.
Rough seas in the early weeks of our expedition meant that our interactions with marine life were all surprises: I bumped into manta rays, bull rays, leopard sharks; we had trouble finding each other because of the sediment and dense schools of fish; and my “decompression stops” when rising to the surface to let the pressurized nitrogen out of my system felt like being in a washing machine full of plankton with the occasional sharks whizzing past. Then of course we would arrive at the noisy heaving surface to start the regular battle of getting back on the boat while not damaging our equipment or getting too many bruises.
We dived like this three times a day for two weeks and when things finally calmed down it happened almost instantly–one moment every action needed careful thought and the next we could relax and marvel at how easy life could be.
The Good Life
When every single dive is a battle we dream of that perfect dive and for me that dive finally happened here in Bazaruto. It was flat calm, sunlight streamed down into the water seeming to reach the very bottom of the sea, and it just felt as if I was about have a wonderful dive.
Bright yellow below and dark on top, a school of fish engulfs the divers during their ascent. (Photo by Manu San Félix)
I rolled into the water and landed almost on top of an 11-foot bull shark who then accompanied me in a long easy spiraling descent in the blue. He was so close that all I could see of him was about half of his head and one big cold eye. Before he left me at 110 feet he gave me a couple of bumps on my side which made me look ahead and see that I was about to join a beautiful manta ray at a cleaning station.
She was getting the full treatment: Her mouth parts, leading edges and gills were being cleaned by hundreds of fish and her bull shark bites at the back edge of her wings (75% of all mantas here have large bull shark bites) were being cleaned by colorful butterfly fish. After this beautiful display of symbiotic relationships she came to me and swam so close that she had to lift a wing to pass me and then came back on the other side lifting her wings, diving over the top of me, turning underneath me and then almost stopping dead still for a few moments with her mouth level with my head.
I wondered if my bubbles were having an effect, but holding my breath or blowing bubbles made no difference–she just stayed close and I loved this very special interaction.
Potato cod are some of the largest members of the grouper family, and are bigger than the average Pristine Seas expedition team member. (Photo by Manu San Félix)
I spent the last part of the dive cruising next to a pristine reef with thousands of schooling fish and some large friendly potato cod and then I had to start the long ascent through the blue for 7 minutes of decompression stops. After great dives like this in warm clear water it’s a fantastic feeling to be waiting out the time at the decompression stop, neither rising nor sinking, perfectly neutrally buoyant, knowing that I am just a tiny speck of life in this vast, beautiful blue world.
Here in Bazaruto we are at the northernmost point of our expedition and we will start to head south tomorrow. On our passage will be deploying the deep-sea Drop Cams to film where we can’t dive, and diving everything we can, keeping our fingers crossed that we arrive into Inhambane before the next full gale arrives. Mozambique continues to keep us on our toes!