For the month of April 2014, National Geographic Pristine Seas Expedition Leader Paul Rose led 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 including manta rays, dugongs, and more.
Underwater view of a coral reef in Bazaruto, Mozambique full of yellow snappers, jacks, and a large Malabar grouper. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Our last dive in Mozambique was a celebration of a pristine reef. We were using our re-breather units, which enable us to make long dives, and because they do not produce noisy bubbles, we can enjoy being up close and personal with the marine life. After a magical descent into the blue, I arrived at the bottom with a shoal of angelfish on either side of my mask, who then acted as occasional personal outriggers as I cruised the reef drop offs and gullies for over an hour.
The shore of Magaruque island at Vilanculos, Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
We know when a reef is in pristine condition because we study the number and range of species, the balance of predator biomass to prey biomass, the numbers of corals, the types of algae and reef builders, and we carefully analyze how the ecosystem is working. But for an immediate impression of the quality of the reef I only have to look around and see the very happy faces of the dive team, all giving big “OK” signs and making big glorious gestures about the beauty that surrounds us.
The large honeycomb moray eels, which normally remain hidden except when they pop their heads out of the coral, were out hunting in the open water and creating havoc at the normally organized fish cleaning stations. Thousands of trigger fish and snappers were schooling around us, the vibrant green corals were barely visible behind curtains of small fish, and the massive potato cod dominated the gullies with their commanding presence. Rather than exploring the reef, I felt more like getting a lawn chair and sitting down for a few hours to just watch!
A huge (approximately 40 kg) Potato Cod Grouper inside its cave in Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
But on a pristine reef a little effort goes a long way, and by swimming across the top of the reef we came across grey reef and white tip sharks cruising like fighter jets. Studying these top-of-the-food-chain predators is exciting business and with our re-breather units, we were close enough to be part of the hunting action.
The powerful Mozambique currents and big seas have demanded respect and the only way we could make progress in the early days of our expedition was to take our chances and “dive on the wild side,” so it has been a gift to make our 315th dive in perfect calm conditions.
A Malabar grouper at Spaghetti reef in Bazaruto, Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
The ocean here is a globally significant biodiversity hotspot with well-populated and busy coastal communities on the brink of vast economic development opportunities. We have been very fortunate to be made welcome by the fishing communities, families, government officials and even the fish in our quest to reveal the true value of the Mozambique ocean resources. We love Mozambique, and it was hard to leave the “land of the good people”.
Underwater view of a crocodile fish at 32 meters at Spaghetti Reef in Bazaruto, Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Our job takes another tack now as we work with our Mozambican partners to convert our wonderful interactions and learning experiences with local people, 240 hours underwater, 30 days at sea, hundreds of road miles, mini helicopter and DropCam deployments, thousands of hours of underwater, topside and aerial footage into the science, field reports and documentary film. Thank you for virtually joining our expedition – please keep checking in on this site for news of our outputs in Mozambique and for updates on what’s next for the Pristine Seas team.
The Pristine Seas Mozambique expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.