A Caribbean reef shark swims through the waters surrounding Atol das Rocas.
A medium-sized reef shark glides toward me. These curious animals spent a lot of their time circling the divers and bumping my camera lens.
Silhouetted against the ocean surface, another reef shark swims beneath snorkeler Devon Keeney. Minutes later, Keeney was closely
inspected by the big fish.
Behold, Rainha Zelia Brito, the island queen! Zelia, the lone resident and fierce guardian of the pristine Atol das Rocas preserve, is an almost mythical figure...the subject of much local folklore. One crew member recounted a story he had been told of a beautiful Brazilian that lived off the bounty of the sea. Another tale told of a mermaid that aggressively protected the island -- with deadly force, if necessary. Zelia's power over Atol das Rocas, and thus our mission, was absolute. Luckily, our research teams seem to have earned her hard won trust.
This beautiful rainbow heralded our departure from Queen Zelia's realm.
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DISPATCH 15: Farewell to Atol das Rocas
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
A Caribbean reef shark makes its way along
the rocky, algae-covered sea bottom. Two Sergeant Majors tail the big predator.
12:20pm, March 25, onboard the Research Vessel SEWARD JOHNSON (RVSJ) --It's kind of hard to believe that we'll leave Atol das Rocas this evening. The tiny desert island has come to seem like a kind of home. The setting seemed daunting at first, with its rough rocks, treacherous currents, and brutal heat, but most of us see it now as an oasis of life rather than a harsh, dry atoll -- a welcome bit of tropical scenery amid a trackless, tossing sea. Within hours, we will say good-bye to Rocas' untouched natural beauty and set sail for our next Atlantic home, Fernando de Noronha.
In all, this first and longest leg of the mission has proven to be a success,
with a total of 30 sharks tagged. This amounts to an estimated one-third of the atoll's
entire population. And, beyond that, we have built the foundation
for future missions and future collaborations (both with Brazil and among
newly acquainted scientists onboard).
Moving from island to island is like changing apartments -- you only really appreciate how much stuff you have when you try to pack it up and move it. To call this mission "gear-intensive" would be an gross understatement. We spent most of this morning unbuoying buoyed channels, de-lining longlines, drying the wet lab, and attending to the rest of our very long checklist.
5:50pm, just off Atol das Rocas -- With the morning's packing nastiness out of the
way, the team headed back out to sea with buckets of chum to bid farewell to the local sharks.
Once the chum hit the water, Caribbean reef sharks began swimming
into view within minutes, darting around the algae-covered rocks below our boats. Their silhouettes moved
against the white sand bottom, far enough out of view to warrant a closer
look. I donned a scuba rig and headed down to 35 feet with my dive partners.
The chum proved to ba an irresistable temptation, and the number of sharks multiplied to over a dozen by the time we reached the bottom. A few of the animals moved
in to inspect the front of my digital video camera, perhaps attracted to the pulsing
lights. I think these gestures were more curious sniffs than aggressive
approaches. At least I still seem to be typing with two hands!
The reef sharks moved deftly in and out of the rocks for a better part of an
hour, and their grace only magnified our feeble and fumbling efforts to resist
the strong current. Big sharks everywhere, but not a single adult lemon shark among them. Our quarry, ever elusive, chose to see us off from a distance, never making an appearance nor an apology.
6:45pm, onboard the SEWARD JOHNSON --Atol das Rocas sent us on our way with a full rainbow arching through pastel clouds, all in front of the setting sun. The brilliant arc of color framed the atoll as we steamed into the distance.