Being on one of the largest atolls in the the world was the most powerful experience of my life.
As we landed on the shores of Aldabra, we were greeted with a warm welcome, from the sea turtles and the black tip reef sharks swimming around our boat, to the Fregate birds chasing boobies for food up above. I was speechless.
We spent our first two days on Picard at the research station, learning about and getting familiar with the island. On 25 February, our team were deployed to our first camp, Dune de Messe, where we started our clean up. We had to leave the station early in the morning to take the boat; the sea was very calm and along the way we were lucky enough to see dolphins. By this time, I was already starting to disconnect from the rest of the world.
As the boat moved closer to the shore at camp, we began to see the darkest parts of the atoll; white sandy beaches covered with marine debris. After spending a few hours setting up our camp, around 3pm we started the clean up on the closest beach – there was so much marine debris and sometimes you didn’t know what you were going to collect first. Fishing gear and flipflops were definitely the common items.
As the sun finally went down, majestic colours started to paint the clouds from the horizon. It was truly stunning to watch. Just a few metres from where I was standing, small baby turtles started to hatch but they were already surrounded by predators, especially ibises. Added to that, they were struggling against all sorts of marine debris before making their way to the ocean. In instances like this, you can see how much plastic pollution affects the wildlife on the atoll. As night fell and it got darker, the moon and the stars painted the sky and, in that moment, I realised how remote the atoll was and how far from civilization we were.
The next day we continued early in the morning, starting at first light, a routine we would soon develop. From there, each day we would toil to collect as much as we could, under harsh weather conditions where the temperature could reach as high as 40 degrees. Despite being extremely hot and the terrain being really tough, we somehow managed to cope with the heat, sometimes needing to walk for an hour to reach beaches to do our clean up or walking across the unforgiving limestone.
After a week at Dune de Messe, we moved camp and went to Cinq Cases. Due to the bad weather conditions, the rough sea and big waves, it was not possible to get there by boat – which meant the only other way to get there was trekking for almost 4 hours through a difficult trail; all worthwhile though, when the reward was witnessing the wonders of nature.
After nearly 3 weeks of collecting marine debris, the next phase was loading the boat. With the help of the SPDF and SIF staff, we were all determined to remove all the trash we collected from the atoll. Easier said than done though, especially when sometimes you got washed away with the waves, with bruises on your body, and heavy gunnies and slings you need to manoeuvre onto boats. But we never gave up, until we put the last sling on board and experienced that moment of joy – with 25 tonnes of marine debris, we had accomplished our mission.
– Ivan Capricieuse