Swimming With a Hawsbill Turtle, Barracuda, and More

(Photo by Manu San Felix)

This is the largest raised coral atoll on Earth: remote, inhospitable, spared from human interference, home to 100,000 giant tortoises, and surrounded by pristine reefs.

This is Aldabra! It is truly one of the wonders of the world. And we on this Pristine Seas expedition to study and record its wildlife are thrilled to be here.

The sleek streamlined barracuda can swim faster than you can run. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

It might seem strange, but recently it was raining so hard that we couldn’t dive.

When there’s a strong current, instead of trying to surface in the same area we started, we “drift dive,” going along with the current while the dive boat sticks close to us, following the trail of our bubbles as they reach the surface. We can do this is almost any conditions.

On our first dive here at Aldabra though, the high winds and incredible downpour of rain reduced visibility to a just few yards meaning that the boat would be unable to keep track of us. So, resembling half-drowned sea birds, we just sat on the boat fully geared up staring into a monotone, grey world full of heaving seas, streaked with blowing foam.

While Aldabra tortoises lumber over the land above, hawksbill turtles like this one cruise under the waves. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

At the first hint of improvement we went for it—descending quickly into a warm, colorful paradise.

The contrast with life on the surface was remarkable.

I was immediately joined by a hawksbill turtle who tapped his beak on my mask and then followed me for most of the dive. Pristine living coral covered nearly 100 percent of the bottom.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
A potato grouper inspects Uneil, our local dive partner. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

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