Making their way through a small village, researchers Dustin
Thompson and Lisa Wright explore Fernando de Noronha's interior. Although some of the
island's streets are paved, there are still a lot of dirt and
rock roads (which make for muddy adventures after a rainstorm).
Jean de Marignac takes a break on the island's ancient
volcanic shore. Behind him, rocks rise from the sea like they do everywhere along FN's coast.
Even with an injured arm (dislocated, perhaps broken), Ricardo Rosa helps test one of the seine nets used to capture larger sharks.
At the local port, several fishermen unload the day's
bounty onto the concrete dock. It is possible that these same fish will be used as bait tomorrow when the team resumes research.
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DISPATCH 17: Shore Leave, part 2
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
Fernando de Noronha is a place of stunning beauty. The island's
defining spire rises behind an offshore peak and green, rolling hills.
10:55pm, March 27, Fernando de Noronha -- I cornered biologist Jean de Marignac as he sat on an open-air deck overlooking a one of the island's beautiful rocky bays. Moonlight was reflecting off the waves as they rolled onto shore. Latin
music played in the background. The breeze felt cool and refreshing compared to the sweltering day, but the night air was still thick with humidity.
De Marignac is probably the expedition's friendliest member, and is easily the tallest. With his distinctive Swiss accent, he
talked with me about his past, about sharks, and about his mother.
"Very early on I had a passion for the ocean. I grew up in a landlocked
country (Switzerland), but had seen some of Jacques Cousteau's underwater
footage. It made me terrified of sharks!"
Despite this fear...or perhaps because of it, de Marignac's fascination with the mysterious
predators grew. De Marignac continued, "I think we tend to fear what we don't understand. Now, I'm not
scared of them; I deeply respect them. I know when I go in the water that I
am the visitor." His current work at Atol das Rocas and here at Noronha is just the latest experience in a career encompassing thousands of hours studying sharks in the field. "I have a deal with my mom that I can get bit five times before I have to
study snails. I've been bit three times, so I still have a couple to go!"
De Marignac is the first to admit that his bites came as a
result of not paying attention or being ignorant of a situation. He holds
no ill will towards the animals that bit him.
11:30pm, Fernando de Noronha -- Jean and I parted company, and I continued wandering
around the island. Most of the boat's crew was on shore leave, so it wasn't
long before I ran into someone else I recognized -- Dr. Ricardo Rosa, and I
was happy to see him. The bi-lingual scientist serves as one of the few
translators onboard the RVSJ. He is in constant, high demand to relay messages
between the English-speaking and Brazilian crew members. Being a stranger
in a strange land, I figured it wouldn't hurt to hang out with someone who
knew the language.
Rosa is a professor of Zoology at the Federal University of Paraiba on the northeast coast of Brazil (just south of Natal). He has been involved with Gruber in collaborative research for several years...sort of a scientific symbiosis.
"I first met Gruber in 1996. He learned about the presence of the lemon
shark in these Brazilian islands. As I had done previous work at Rocas, I
became interested in joining him on this study."
Although this is his first shark project, Rosa's prior experience at the
atoll makes him an invaluable member of the expedition. Beyond helping with logistics and
language, the Brazilian scientist helped procure the necessary permits to
get the expedition to these isolated and well-protected islands.
"Getting the permits to come here was a major part of our work last year,"
continued Rosa. "Any expedition involving foreign scientists has to go
through these bureaucratic procedures. In the past, scientists have come to
Brazil, collected data and then never shared that information with us. That
is why there are so many rules now."
Rosa spends a lot of time in the field, performing animal surveys in
different parts of Brazil. Although he concentrates on fishes, he has also
done biodiversity studies involving mammals, reptiles and insects.
"I like the opportunity to look at natural landscapes, to see ecosystems
almost completely intact with so many organisms. Unfortunately, this is
often not the case on the mainland (of Brazil) where there are environmental
But, Fernando de Noronha seems to be doing well. Lush vegetation covers the hills. The water is clean and mostly devoid of trash. Even the
notoriously ugly port doesn't spoil the sense of balance between FN's natural and man-made features. Sea turtles swim past as fishermen putt along with their one-cylinder diesel engines. Boats are being chartered by tourists who want to dive on the island's massive
seamounts, contributing to FN's budding eco-tourism industry.
Tomorrow, at first light, shore leave will be over. The research teams
will head back into the field for a final day of research. Time to search one last time for the adult lemon sharks that
have largely elluded this expedition.