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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Aldabra, Seychelles

Tuesday | March 3, 2015


Today was all about the gorgeous atoll of Aldabra.


The day began with an informal talk about the research projects on Aldabra by the research officer of the Seychelles Island Foundation. (By the way, there are between 12–24 researchers who live in the ranger station on Aldabra for periods of six months at a time. Although the topography and landscape are gorgeous, I cannot imagine living in such a remote place for so long. We learned that they only get food and supplies delivered every four months. Between those deliveries, when they run out of food, they have to go into the ocean and fish for themselves.)


Aldabra became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. It has been given the highest level of protection by the government of Seychelles and UNESCO. The Seychelles Island Foundation is charged with monitoring birds, tortoises, weather and plant phenology on the island.

 

Aldabra receives only 2-3 visits a year from boats such as ours (luxury yachts or exploration teams). Cruise ships are forbidden from coming anywhere near the fragile ecosystem of Aldabra; and for the past three years, they have had no visitors because of the threat of piracy.

 

Besides the birds we saw, and that I identified above, Aldabra is the home of Caspian terns and their only oceanic breeding site in the world. It is also home to a very unique looking form of manatees called dugongs.

 

And unfortunately, the island has become home to several invasive plants or animals species, including cats, dogs and rats. Although the dogs have been completely eliminated, there are still a few wild cats on the island. But the largest problem seems to be rats. It is likely that the rats came over on sailing ships hundreds of years ago, but it is proving very difficult to eliminate them without destroying any of the natural vegetation or animal life.

 

Also indigenous to Aldabra is the Coconut Crab, the world’s largest anthropod, and they can weigh up to 5 kg.

 

The real stars of the show on Aldabra are the turtles and tortoises. The island is teeming with hawksbill and green turtles. Approximately 4020–5225 green turtles nest on Aldabra annually; they have enjoyed a population growth of 100% in the past 40 years. These large and beautiful animals leave the island to feed for 2 to 5 years before coming back to breed there.

 

Giant tortoises are abundant on Aldabra. With a recorded population of over 100,000 tortoises, Aldabra boasts over five times as many giant tortoises as are resident on the entirety of the Galapagos Islands.

After the lecture, I headed down to the tender dock to head off for some reef snorkeling. We snorkeled outside the mouth of the atoll, and although the water held some beautiful fish and coral, it was very active and, as a result, sandy and murky. Nevertheless, it is always fun and wonderful to put on the snorkel equipment and see beautiful fish in the ocean. One of the highlights of the dive was spotting a large turtle – who moved very fast, I must say. But then, as I was getting ready to board the zodiac for the trip back to the ship, one of the dive masters told us that a stringray had been spotted in the sand near the shore. My friend and I put back on our snorkel gear and headed in that direction. I first spotted the ray and drew his attention to it. Then, as we swam on top of it, we noticed that there were five or six others lined up, as if they were having a meeting. But the fascinating thing is that each one of these rays  was larger than the average coffee table. And each of them had a tail, or stinger, that was at least 5 feet long. We couldn’t help but think of that poor bloke from Australia who died when one of these rays impaled his chest with his tail. So after taking a few photographs and video, we urgently swam back to the zodiac.

Another unique moment aboard the World occurred shortly after that first dive. The Beverage Manager for the ship (and one of the world’s top 100 sommeliers), came over and told me that she had read the Residents’ Satisfaction Survey and saw my comment about the lack of protein powder on the ship. As a result of my comment, she did some research and identified a few protein powders she would like to order for the ship. But, because I am the only person on the ship who has expressed a desire for it, she wanted to ask me what kind of powder the ship should purchase for its residents and guests. We had an extensive discussion about the pros and cons of different products and I did make a recommendation. But what was most amazing, flattering and exemplary of the service on The World was the fact that she had taken the time to read my survey, performed the research and actually come over to me to discuss this item.

In the afternoon, we boarded the zodiacs for a cruise into the mouth and basin of Aldabra’s atoll. The ride through the entryway of the atoll was quite bumpy, but manageable. Armed with all of our cameras, we were guided by a local marine biologist and a professional member of the exploration team who drove the zodiac. Once there, we saw some of the most beautiful sights in nature – many of which are unique to Aldabra and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Much of the focus was on three different types of birds – tropic birds (red tail and white tail), frigate birds, boobies and white tailed terns. (Of course, there were many comments about the boobies – you can just imagine a few that came out of our mouths – especially when used in conjunction with the word “chicks!”)

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Once we were inside the basin of Aldabra, the water was calm and only a few feet deep. The whole ride was glorious and we took some amazing photographs.

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The ride back to the ship, however, was not exactly smooth as the tide had turned and was beginning to rush hard out of the mouth of the atoll.   But the view of the ship, balanced against the rocks in the atoll, was splendid. 

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Between the morning's dive and the rugged zodiac trip, I was exhausted; sleep came easily.


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