A green turtle swims near one of the atoll's channels.
Turtles are extremely common in this area. Expedition members recently witnessed turtles laying eggs on the atoll's sandy shore. An earlier landing party saw some hatchlings emerge.
Scientist Jean de Marignac checks the shoreline to make sure a long gillnet is in place while Devon Keeney and Lisa Wright, silhoutted
against a gathering storm, continue to unravel more netting.
Just released, a juvenile lemon shark makes tracks for other waters, racing against the receding tide.
Field research jobs provide some nifty fringe benefits. For instance, here's a picture of the office.
||Mark Carroll's wilderness photography, multimedia, and diving experience made him our top choice to cover the Brazil shark mission. For more about Mark, click below...
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DISPATCH 14: The Last of the Rocas Roundups
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
Stressed by the threat of capture, a young lemon shark
retaliates against the camera.
10:30am, March 24, onboard the Research Vessel SEWARD JOHNSON (RVSJ) -- Once again, it was gillnetting time in Brazil...same concept as before, new location. Last night, the master plan
called for a non-stop, 24-hour sharking session. By this morning, mercifully, the plan changed. With the 29 researchers available, it made a lot more sense to split up into two teams. Less fatigue makes for fewer
mistakes. The "night team" rested up while the "day team, " me included, swung into action.
We had to capture as many young sharks as possible. This would be our last
chance! Tomorrow evening, the expedition leaves the pristine waters of Atol
das Rocas for the island of Fernando de Norhona, 70 miles east of the Rocas shark nursery.
The day team didn't have time for lunch. We got directly to work loading our a small boat with gear on the
open-ended stern of the RVSJ. I jammed down a few calories in the form of a Powerbar, reading the label as I chewed. "...drink with 8-16 oz. of water," it commanded. Being surrounded by countless gallons of sea water and having nothing at hand to drink is THE textbook example of irony, and there I was being ironic. I ran inside, grabbed a healthy draught from the
ship's water fountain, then double-checked the water packed into our boat.
The RVSJ truly is an amazing vessel. The water for drinking and cooking and
showering all comes from the sea itself. A onboard reverse-osmosis water
filtration unit sucks the salt from the briny ocean water, purifies it, and
delivers it -- fresh and cold -- throughout the ship. No one takes for
granted the fact that they can drink from a water fountain or take a hot
shower at this remote, desolate location.
3:30pm, Atol das Rocas -- The day gillnetting team made their way through the
shallow waters of the lagoon and landed on Rocas's beach. The tide was
slack (the brief period of calm between high and low tides) -- a perfect time to
get the nets into position...and wait.
After several hours work we caught only two sharks. Low tide drained the shallows of the lagoon, leaving behind small tidal pools, rippling sand, and shimmering reflections of the sky. The setting was beautiful,
but not ideal for shark wrangling.
As we packed up the nets, New Zealander Damian Chapman confided in me, "Even on
'unsuccessful' days like this, we are still learning a lot. This whole
project is an experiment in what this place is like and what we can
do out here. It's not like any other place that we've worked before."
It is a refrain I have heard echoing throughout the science crew. Scientists, better than anybody, understand that progress doesn't always follow a predictable path. Science is rigged for success, because success is measured by how much you learn, not by what you learn. A research project succeeds whenever it proves an idea, disproves an idea, OR simply helps scientists to further refine the project itself.
Our shark wrangling was providing loads of valuable data, but some of the most substantial progress we've made is toward the next visit to Atol das Rocas. Every successful encounter with IBAMA, the Brazilian conservation group, establishes trust for future and paves the way for a return to these waters. Every day that passes without any injuries to the protected local species assures the guardians of Rocas that our team does their work with care and respect. Every shark that escapes the nets or bypasses the bait provides valuable ideas for improved capture techniques.
4:50pm, just off Atol das Rocas -- After another ulcer-inducing run through
this tiny island's treacherous channel -- after adding a few new rock scars to our propellor -- we met up with the night
team just outside the lagoon. The companies deftly switched boats, transferring gear on the rolling ocean with a precision that only comes after two-weeks of practice.
11:00pm, the bridge of the R/V SEWARD JOHNSON -- The last I heard from the night
team, they had laid their nets at 9:00pm and captured only four baby sharks so far,
two of which were true babies (less than one year old). Nevertheless, the
island at night was proving to be an amazing place with huge green turtles
laying eggs and hatchlings working their way to the surf.
Morning light will guide the night team back to the RVSJ. The sunrise will mark our expedition's last day at Atol das Rocas. Tomorrow, we set sail for Fernando de Norhona, a new environment for science and adventure, a day of shore leave, and another chance to capture adult lemon sharks.
After low tide ended a round of gillnetting, a group of researchers returns to shore.