Waffles and wildlife

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by Alasdair Gilchrist.

As is sometimes the will of the weather gods we woke up the other morning to winds powerful enough to prevent us passing through the cuts in the reef to reach the deep outer reef.  Rather than writing the day off we decided to concentrate our efforts on other environments.  So, we loaded the manta board into the boat and set off to look for some new snorkel sites in the lagoon.  The manta board is a simple device, basically a short plank of wood with hand holds which is towed behind the boat by two lengths of rope, and can be angled up or down to control your depth in the water.  Holding onto the board, you are towed slowly behind the boat, and experience a wonderful sensation which is half a normal snorkel on fast forward and half flying through the water, swooping down towards the coral with a flick of your wrist.  We saw turtles, giant stingrays, huge barracudas (which were intrigued enough to follow JJ for a while), an enormous spotted eagle ray with a couple of Cobias acting as his wingmen and (most importantly) a fantastic new snorkel survey site, which was hiding the world’s biggest Green Moray.  As if that wasn’t enough, we spotted a dolphin having a whale of a time jumping around out of the water!

After we’d had our fill of snorkeling we headed back to base to replenish our energy with a breakfast of eggs and waffles (cooked by Martha and Betty, the kitchen angels), then re-boarded the boat.  This time our destination was the mangrove channels, where we wanted to check out a potential jellyfish monitoring site, which was also home to the mysterious ‘Seven Holes’.  Shrouded in local mystery, the Seven Holes are what they say on the tin; seven holes in the substrate at the end of one of the mangrove channels.  The channel itself is only about a metre deep, but nobody was sure of the depth of the circular holes (each one about three metres across); Hilmar, our boat captain, claimed they were 240ft deep, I heard they were connected underneath – maybe the entrance to a network of underground rivers…  nobody seems to know anything for sure.  The one thing I know is that they spooked me!

Anyway, after the seven holes got the better of us we got back on the boat and started to make our way back to base.  The mangroves were fantastic, a scene of tranquillity and peace stretching as far as the eye and ears could reach.  Gently motoring through the channels we saw how reef fish use the mangroves as a nursery, barracudas hunting and birds flitting from tree to tree.  But, unbelievably, the best bit of the whole day was still in store.  At a junction between two channels there were three manatees feeding on seagrass. The manatees were just incredible; the largest was between 12 and 15ft long, weighing over a ton, yet gliding slowly and gracefully through the water as if it weighed nothing.  It came close enough to the boat for us all to have a good gawp, then with a flick of its powerful tail it sank into a deeper channel, out of sight.

So, leaping dolphins, several turtles, three massive Southern Stingrays, about ten Great Barracudas, a 2.5 metre Spotted Eagle Ray with Cobias in tow, an enormous Green Moray, seven of the weirdest, spookies, most intriguing holes I have ever come across, eggs and waffles, mangroves, more barracudas, birds galore and three manatees… not at all bad for a morning off diving!