Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 4

Fabled Islands 4

April 10, 2009

Today was a very full day to say the least.

We started the day early with a transfer to the shore of Aride at 0730. The early start was advised due to the significant heat later in the day.

Aride is a privately held island, purchased by Peter Cadbury about 35 years ago as a sanctuary for the birds and wildlife. As such the creatures that live here have little to no fear of humans.

Access to the island and its research station is severely limited. You cannot land on the island directly. Instead, you must rendezvous offshore with a boat dispatched from the island and transfer to their boat for the final landing. This is meant to reduce the chance that a rat or some other predatory or non-native animal would make it ashore and decimate the indigenous populations.

The station is funded through an endowment by Cadbury, and consists of both paid and volunteer staff, who monitor the health of the island bird and reptile populations. The bird population varies with the season, but at its peak more than a million birds inhabit an island that is only about 170 acres in area.

After arrival, we started our hike to the top of the island where a scenic view is an ample reward. Along the way, we saw scores upon scores of birds that seemed all but indifferent to our presence. We could approach to within a few feet before they moved up a limb a few feet, just far enough to be comfortable again.

The guide (a research volunteer) showed us a number of fascinating birds, including one (a Fairy Tern, I believe) that is too lazy to build a nest, so it lays an egg on a branch. The chick hatches and if it’s lucky, attaches itself to the branch with very large claws, remaining in place until it is ready to fly.

The hike was very strenuous; not so much due to the vertical elevation (about 300 feet), but because it was so incredibly hot and humid. I can’t remember having sweat so much with so little cooling effect in all my life! Good thing we didn’t go later in the day.

I returned to the ship ahead of the group to take part in the first dive of the day, a small island, St. Pierre, if I recall correctly; no more than some rocks and a few trees and bushes, which we circumnavigated. The water was a little murky but I did manage a few good photos. A nice spotted eel, and then a huge swarm of fry, that I swam slowly into. Just like in Jacques Cousteau movies, they parted like the Red Sea as I approached. Very cool!

Possibly the best critter spotted today was the sea turtle. He certainly knew we were there, but we didn’t appear to concern him at all. He just kept grazing on whatever it was he was eating.

The coral in all of the Seychelles had a massive die-off in 1998, due to a water temperature elevation, and is struggling to make a come back. Isolated pockets of new coral growth can be seen, but the majority of coral here is dead.

We then up-anchored and moved to Curieuse Island where we dove in the afternoon. Similar to the morning, most coral was dead or damaged but fish we coming back. That apparently attests to some recovery of the coral.

After the last dive we cleaned up then went ashore to join the rest of the guests and crew for a beach BBQ.  Sunset was spectacular!

It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting than sitting in the sand with new friends, drinking wine, eating dinner, and watching as the sun dropped below the horizon, just 5 degrees north of the equator.

I could do this again!

Ed

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