My first experience of Aldabra

Aldabra, the hidden and untouched atoll, is reputed as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, the Jewel in the Seychelles crown and for most Seychellois, a dream destination. The dream is to swim in the azure waters of the lagoon, experience the thousands of giant tortoises and be enthralled by the never ending white sandy beaches that encompass the lagoon.

My first meaningful and direct interaction with the Atoll was through a desktop based honours project offered by my supervisor at Rhodes University and NRF-SAIAB (Grahamstown, South Africa). The project aimed to investigate the movement of black tip reef sharks along the east coast of Aldabra. The research endeavour did not take me to the renowned island, but instead made Aldabra a bigger enigma and heightened my curiosity to see this island paradise.

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Given my ever growing fondness of the island, I did not hesitate to apply for the opportunity to finally set foot on the shores of the enigmatic Aldabra through the Aldabra Clean Up Project. A week after the application submission, I received the call that simply said that I was part of the Aldabra Clean Up Project team. At the time, the detail and the journey was fuzzy, but without a doubt I knew it was going to be a hard earned adventure as we took on our mandates to be the prophets of an island sinking in plastic.

Upon meeting and sizing up the rest of the Aldabra Clean Up volunteers, it was clear that the team was carefully put together to ensure that the individuals had complimentary skills. We are all a unique bunch with a variety of strengths. We have been so privileged to have been well received by the public, that have participated in voxpops, beach cleanings and film screenings over the past 6 months, motivating the whole team with the desire to reach more people and really start the mental preparedness that we will be faced with in under 2 weeks’ time where mounds of flip flops, fishing gear and PET bottles lie across the white sand.

As fate would have it, I was offered a short contract working on one of the few crew ships heading to Aldabra in mid-January 2019, just one month before the clean up is set to commence. With a resounding yes, I set out to Aldabra on the 19th to the 21st of January for my short contract that included giving presentations, assisting with flora and fauna identification and general sciency stuff. The 14 hour days were a small price to pay for having the privilege of being on Aldabra; being able to see large colonies of red footed boobies and green turtles that glide through the channel of the lagoon and of course seeing scores of black tip reef sharks, wondering if one of them were the tagged specimens from my honours project.

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Amidst the admiration of the island’s beauty, as we snorkeled in the azure waters and walked amongst the tortoises, juxtaposed in the background was man’s proof of existence. Our brilliant and ingenious inventions using an indestructible material littered the shores, sea and mangroves of Aldabra. The sneak peek did not cover the tip of the plastic iceberg that Aldabra is facing, but instilled a renewed belief that the project is a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only experience the Aldabra Atoll but more importantly, tackle an ever growing dilemma that is our misguided and misuse of plastics in our day to day lives.

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– Sheena Talma

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