Diary of an on-board Customs Diver

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4 June 2010

The coral mission begins. The divers, the bottles and the inflatable dinghy are prepared with the upmost attention to safety. It’s quite a set up that must be put in place each day. Jean-Jacques, who along with Mathieu, is in charge of the safety and logistics of the dives, provides us with the following extracts from his diary:

This morning we get up at dawn and load the large dinghy which Tara has hired for the dive. At 7.30am we set off for the first site, known as the “White Island”, located twenty minutes from the lagoon, near the port of Longoni. …The scientists are excited as they emerge from the water; they have managed to track down a group of species which they had been hoping to find. …We reconvene with Tara who has come to meet us and is anchored nearby. While the others sort and catalogue their coral, Mathieu helps us inflate the diving cylinders using the compressor installed in the front hold. Meanwhile we are delighted to see a group of dolphins swim by the boat. It’s almost as if they’ve come to say hello. The afternoon’s schedule is a repeat performance, only this time we go to the “Green Island”.

In the evening we debrief on the course of the day and prepare for the next day’s navigating, which is determined according to which sites the chief scientist, Francesca Benzoni, wants to explore. I really liked the “plankton” team who have just left and I enjoyed working with them, but I have to admit that today I did feel like I was truly in my element, doing the job which I have trained so well for and know how to do.

Today we leave the boat and head, with the diving team, to the North Reef’s outer drop, seven nautical miles away. At the site the divers get into the water and I stay on watch aboard the dinghy. A little later another inflatable dinghy approaches, its occupants ask me if we are the Tara team, I tell them that we are and they inform me that they are free-diving, spear-gun hunters. They ask me if I can lend them a lead belt as they’ve left theirs onshore. They promise to drop it off onboard Tara in the evening. They keep their word and, by way of thanks, bring us a fantastic wahoo (a member of the tuna family) fresh from the sea. After Jan has cooked it, it is simply delicious and there is enough for the five people on board.

Jean-Jacques Kerdraon