Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 8

Fabled Islands 8

April 14, 2009

Last night we left the Seychelles behind, turning south down the Mozambique Channel, heading for Madagascar. We sailed through the night awakening in the morning near the northern end of the huge island.

Madagascar is huge. It is the world’s 4th largest island; in fact, it is larger than France. Its long isolation has produced a unique mix of endemic plants and animals. It has a dozen species of Baobab tree; Africa has only one. Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else.

Human activity on the island has had a devastating effect on both flora and fauna. More than a third of the native vegetation has disappeared in the last 30 years, as people clear land and burn trees to make charcoal.

Some brilliant soul in the Madagascar government recently brought in large numbers of eucalyptus trees from Australia to “correct” the problem.  Now they have large tracts of eucalyptus trees that are poisonous to the wildlife, making a bad situation even worse.

So, as cool as Madagascar is, unfortunately we didn’t go there because the US State Department has issued a travel advisory warning US citizens not to go. And the insurers clearly would be upset if anything happened. So, we took photos as we went by…

But where one door closes, another opens. The changes in the itinerary resulted in some excellent brain-storming between the bridge crew and the Expedition Leader. The result was a most excellent series of new and little seen areas, beaches, and reefs.

In this case, we found a very nice reef some miles offshore and proceeded to offload all of the zodiacs including a very cool modification they made to one: a glass-bottom-zodiac. It was designed for those folks who neither dove nor snorkeled. The people who went out on this always raved about it. A fun side note was when we divers swam under this zodiac and turned over to see all these smiling faces peering down at us. I’ll have to see if there are any good photos from this vantage point.

The reef was great. Essentially untouched by humans, and most certainly not in anyone’s dive guides, it is fairly shallow. As soon as we rolled into the water we could tell it was going to be different.

We saw three Zebra sharks within the first 5 minutes, all of them lying on the sea bottom near coral ledges. One of them stirred and swam somewhat unnervingly toward one of us, before veering off, circled around and came back to its former resting spot.

Now, before you ask about the spots on this shark, and why it’s called “zebra” instead of Leopard, the name Zebra Shark comes from the appearance of the young, which have clearly defined stripes. The stripes fade and spots dominate as it matures. So, yes, it has spots, but, no, it’s not a Leopard Shark. If I recall from the talk earlier today about this, it is related to the Nurse Shark.

Fish were abundant, including many species we hadn’t seen in the Seychelles. The soft coral and anemone colors were more vibrant thanks to clear water and no evidence of the same type of die-off experienced in the Seychelles a few years ago.

It was a very satisfying dive today. Once back aboard we had the afternoon to relax, read, enjoy a talk on the “Wondrous & Strange Land of Madagascar,” sit on deck, watch for marine mammals. We did see a few: mostly Reese (?) dolphins, and some time later a few people spotted Spinner dolphins, too.

Sunset was spectacular as usual. It seems that every sunrise or sunset is amazing out here. I took many photos at first, but now they seem to be a bit mundane, even though each is unique and beautiful in its own right.



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