Sharks, Rays, and (Finally) a Break in the Weather

Posted by Paul Rose in Pristine Sease

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.

By: Alan Friedlander

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A fantail ray gets its portrait taken from front and back by the Pristine Seas expedition team in Mozambique. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

After hiding from the howling wind and huge swells for the past few days, we left the safety of the Inhambane estuary with the high tide at 5AM and headed out to sea. The winds were light and the seas favorable so we motored a few hours north to some offshore reefs that have never been dived before.

We were excited to get in the water and as we descended through plankton rich waters, we were greeted by huge schools of snappers and surgeonfishes so thick that you couldn’t see through them. There was an incredible diversity of life with more than 100 species of fish and 25 species of coral packed into one small area.

The fish ranged from small colorful butterflyfish and basslets only a few inches long to large groupers several feet in length. The number of coral species was double that of previous dives and large table corals provided complex habitat that harbored a fantastic array of life.

After some rough diving conditions over the past week, the swirls of colors and abundant life were a welcome treat. We had to say goodbye after only 30 minutes because at 90 feet our bodies had absorbed a lot of pressurized nitrogen, but we were excited about our new discoveries.

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A leopard shark rests on the ocean floor. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

We couldn’t wait to get back into the water so after a two-hour surface interval to rid ourselves of the excessive nitrogen we were ready to go at it again.

This dive had even more surprises. The water was a balmy 80 degrees at the surface but by the time we reached the bottom at 95 feet, the temperature had dropped almost 10 degrees.

This cold, nutrient-rich water was a magnet for fishes of all shapes and colors. A six-foot leopard shark and five-foot fantail ray were there to greet us when we arrived and several large groupers followed us around for the entire dive. They have likely never seen divers before and were very curious about these strange intruders in their home. The abundance of these large predators is a good sign that these reefs have not seen much fishing pressure.

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A school of bannerfish (not to be confused with moorish idols like Gill in “Finding Nemo”) flutter by dark stands of coral. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

Moving just this small distance northward up the coast toward the Equator, we are already seeing a transition from subtropical to more tropical reefs with less algae, more corals, and a greater diversity of fishes. With a change in the weather and a change in our luck, the excitement level among the team has gone way up.

We are now in transit to Pomene and motoring past a seemingly endless stretch of sandy beaches and virgin dunes. This is a beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline, and it makes us excited to see what’s beneath the waves.

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/19/finally-a-break-in-the-weather/

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