Monday, October 14, 2013

14/10/13 Coral Still Rules

Almost one month into the expedition at Cap Ternay now and everyone has settled into life at base. It started off daunting with all the lectures and learning duties like cooking for 30 people and filling tanks. After a few times doing it everything becomes normal and you don’t really have to think about it, everyone gets stuck in to make each other’s lives easier.

Before arriving in the Seychelles I was assigned Coral as my subject for my time at Cap Ternay. This seemed fine and I was looking forward to getting into it. I thought that I had done enough research and self learning to be able to just get on with it, until I arrived and had my first lecture that is. We all sat around with our jaws on the floor trying to pronounce the coral names like Acropora, pocillapora, siderastrea, acanthastrea, the list goes on to about 50 corals in different family groups. Then to put the icing on the cake we found out we needed 95% on 2 exams to get to the next stage and to start surveying. All this seemed too much for me and I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I sat for most of the flashcard sessions in the first week just staring at the screen with a blank expression wondering what I had got myself into. It didn’t seem that any information was going in and I thought I’d never pass. Then during my second week in my navigation dive we had to use “natural navigation”, swimming from one point to another underwater using natural references in the water. I found myself recognising every coral beneath me and began to say to myself ill follow the line of these Acropora and the turn of when I get to the two big porities. Everything I had thought I hadn’t learnt seemed to come to me and I was able to easily navigate underwater using the corals as references. I still struggled in the flashcard sessions but I was getting better and it was getting easier and by the end of the first workshop I was confident thatI would be much more comfortable with the next workshop. I started to give the corals my own little nicknames to help me remember and that worked. Now I’ve completed all the workshops and am taking my exams and doing coral spots underwater.

This brings me onto a myth that I wanted to squash. The myth being that anybody doing coral doesn’t have as good a dive as somebody studying fish. The idea is that because we spend our time mostly inverted looking at the bottom we don’t get to see all the fascinating fish and miss turtles swimming past us, etc. Well last week Lee C, Catherine and I proved this myth to be exactly that. A myth. We headed out towards lighthouse (one of the dive sites at the edge of the bay) for a coral spot to hopefully get signed off on certain corals. We roll off the boat and descended to the bottom and started milling around looking for corals to identify. For about 20 minutes we were just looking at various corals between where we went in and the point on the corner of the bay. We got around the point and the current was quite strong. It was nice because we just floated along in the current looking at coral. Then after about 5 minutes beyond the point we spotted a big bat fish just behind a rock. I instantly thought Turtle because the bat fish follow them around. Sure enough as we floated passed the rock there was a hawksbill turtle just gliding along. We followed it for a minute or two and ended up bumping into 2 big humphead wrasses. This was the first time I’d seen them in the water and didn’t realise they would be that big. We turned around for a second and about 10 ft away from us were a group of 6 or 7 eagle rays hovering in the current. We struggled to swim against the current and realised it was probably too strong to continue the coral spot. 2 seconds later we turned around again to see a big grey reef shark about 1.6 metres and a small white tip reef shark swimming about 20ft away from us. We tried following them but the current was too strong and we just floated off with it. Prior to getting on the boat a few people thought they had seen a juvenile bull shark in the bay so as I stared across at the shark my first instinct was that it was a bull shark. Unluckily or maybe luckily depending on how you look at it, it was a grey reef shark, which is still amazing.

We floated around for about another 5 minutes and saw another little hawksbill turtle cruising by just to put the cherry on top of or cake. All in all it was the best dive I’ve had here yet. That is saying something because of how beautiful the underwater life is on every dive at the bay. Also as a bonus it meant that the theory that coral geeks don’t see anything but coral on a dive has been put to bed.

A whitetip reef shark cruises past