Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shark attack – take two

Shark attack – take two
(Forgive the un-intended pun...)

1st of August, anse Lazio beach, Praslin – the second largest island of Seychelles. While many people where enjoying the tropical waters of a picturesque little bay, an ageless predator glided through the turquois waters, unseen. As in the movie jaws, people where oblivious of the imminent danger, cavorting just like they have done for decades before, playing, swimming, snorkelling, floating, sunbathing – just another day in paradise.

No one will really know what it was that attracted the large predator to this part of the sea: holiday makers frolicking on the surface, luxury yachts throwing foodstuff over board, fisherman chucking fish guts into the water, a stroke of fate, God’s will or just plain bad luck but for a 36 year old male French tourist it was to be his last swim in paradise. A scream; a large fin; a shout for help; a waving hand; blood – all the ingredients one would expect for such an event.
This was unheard off in Seychelles and with no medical facilities to handle such an event the man did not stand a chance. In fact, even if there were it would not have helped either. It was two local fishermen who raced in with their boat and hauled the mauled Frenchman on board.

On the 17th August, anse Lazio beach, Praslin, a 30 year old Brit was lazily snorkelling some 50 yards off shore. Once again there were many other bathers in the water – all enjoying paradise. His wife was sitting on the beach watching. Once again the leviathan was raised from the deep by reasons unknown, to strike at its victim. Once again a boat hauled him aboard before racing onto the beach. Once again it was too late, however this time around the Brit managed a final eye contact with his wife, a slight consolation perhaps from a colossal honeymoon tragedy.

Like in the movie Jaws, the media has latched onto the name that strike fear into all – the great white. Though it has been mentioned and not singled out, once again this shark has taken the brunt of the blame. I guess it is a name that sells. But the fact of the matter is that shark experts are not certain which shark it is. Three possible culprits have been named. The Great White, the Tiger and the Bull shark – all three notorious man-eaters. One tooth fragment has been found, unfortunately it is damaged and immediate identification was not possible. Given the high likely hood of Bull sharks and Tigers frequenting these waters they are the most likely candidates. Personally, the Tiger gets my vote.

Writing about these events is no easy matter and I have realised I am not much of a reporter to be honest. Reporters need to be callous. To go out and dig for the story from the tragic loss of others would not constitute a way of life to me. I doubt I would do it even if I could. Driving home today and watching all the tourists playing in the shallow waters of Beau Vallon bay during a spectacular sunset, so happy yet so oblivious, I could not help experience a bitter taste in my mouth. Life and death just do not go together…

The weather has been particularly bad for flying. The rain has played havoc with our flight plans. Yesterday the idea was to get the interns some experience but with a spectacular line convergence the clouds produced rain and turbulence right on the spot where we needed to go. Ironically it was clear to the South-west and the North-east.

Today dawned gloomy and wet. The wind was funnelling around the airport corner at over 25knots gusting to over 30knots. Once again we are grounded...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Business as usual

This is me heading back to the airport after the rain had passed.

28 Aug. 11

I was racing to south point. Below the turquoise ocean sparkled in the last of the sunlight and for the time being the coral reefs were edged against a backdrop of shaded blue. The lush tropical forest and granitic hues made a picturesque scene to the right and for a moment I was captivated by all this beauty. Mother Nature sure knows how to turns things on! The dark rain clouds to the left put more urgency to my flight as I increased speed to 50mph at 1500ft. There was a clear spot other side of South Point, from there I knew I could skirt around this tropical shower.

Of course the best laid plans can go awry and by the time I got to South Point I was forced to just 1000ft to remain clear of cloud while I was being buffeted by some uncomfortable turbulence. It was rather surprising even after thousands of hours of flight experience in these tropical conditions. Of course, the flight up the west coast for the remainder of the survey flight was out of the question. Thick torrents of rain and low cloud in that part put paid to that. And by now, to the north east the rain was falling at the airport too making returning not an option. Nothing to do but wait- I knew the rain, like all things will eventually pass.

For the time being I skirted around the low tide exposed Capuchin rock. It was a favourite whale shark spot but even here there was surprisingly little action. Just the heaving swell swirling around the large granitic boulder while white foamed waves crashed over it only to disappear in the deep water on the other side. Here the water fell to over 40 meters and with the thought of the recent shark attacks the dark depths looked ominous. While my thoughts roamed into these inky depths imagining the size of 5 meter tiger shark cruising the depths, the turbulence shaking my tiny aircraft’s wings went by almost unnoticed.

After 50 minutes the airport cleared and I returned for lunch. All in all just another day’s flying. Par for the course, as one would say, nothing unusual for flying around the Seychelles island of Mahé in a little micro-light. And who knows, perhaps the afternoon might bring some sharks...

Wish you were here!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shark attack..!

August 25 2011

It is raining. A good time for blogging – I guess!

In my previous post I mentioned something about a shark attack. Unfortunately there has been a fatal shark attack here in idyllic Seychelles. And it gets worse. There were two. Yes, two fatal shark attacks within just three weeks of each other and to add spice to this whole freak show, at the same place, the same beach.

It happened on Praslin island, to the north of Mahe where I am staying. It’s about 40miles as the crow flies from here. The repercussions of these two attacks are quite staggering to be honest. And I am not just talking about the family and close friends and related industry – personally I have put away my swimming goggles. Getting swimming fit and any hopes of hitting the open sea, as I have been dreaming about in the previous months have been put aside. Even when I covered two dings on my surf board with duck-tape, there was this underlying laxness in my effort.
Naturally the event has been all over the press and where ever I go, people have been asking, “Are you here to look for the shark?” To answer no, at such a time would be callous. “Yes, I will be keeping a good eye out for any large sharks with nasty teeth…” and people would smile and nod heads – happy that something is being done. The fact is every local fisherman has been out in the area with hooks, catching every shark willing to take the bait. Even Helicopter Seychelles have been in on the action, sponsoring and deviating flights to “keep an eye” out for the shark.

Suffice to say, shark is the talk of the town. Rumour has it that fisherman have been taking an unusual amount of large sharks from the west coast of the main island in recent months – apparently a few Bull sharks in excess of 3m’s and two Tigers sharks of 5m each. Ironically this is also exactly the area we do the whale shark encounter trips too! Given the shark hunting history of Seychelles, this is an unfortunate turn of events. With sharks (especially in Seychelles) very threatened this new pursuing of shark leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

But it is not all negative. The Save our Seas Foundation, have brought out a crew to try and put a different spin on the whole shark take. Instead of catching sharks they intend to use camera’s to help identify the culprit. Though I have not been able to establish exactly their technique it should be interesting to see what transpires over the next few weeks. Of course, personally I couldn’t help but feel a slight return of enthusiasm when I put wax on my surfboard yesterday – fewer sharks mean less chance of any biting me!

Wish you were here!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Engine blocks and propellors

20 August 2011

Seychelles is just as beautiful as I remembered – actually more so. Perhaps it is just that I am another year older and wiser so value beauty and time more than ever. But the fact is that everywhere I look I see the splendour of nature and how the creator managed a masterpiece with these little granitic islands in the Indian Ocean: Seychelles must be the prettiest islands in the world. As usual, man has entered the picture and of course is spoiling the art. I am struck with these two almost paradoxes – the beauty of nature and our planet on the one side and then man and his inventions on the other. For it seems that these two are mutually exclusive. But I am getting carried away here…

The islands greeted me with their usual soft and warm embrace. This time round I feel at home like never before. Driving to Beau Vallon bay we of course can’t help but talk about the latest news – shark attack! Apparently it has been making news headlines all over the globe. I will write more about that at another time.

For now, I have been working on our little orange plane for three days solid, all in prep to get her airworthy for the upcoming season. There is a lot of work and my hands have been tender in the evenings from turning nuts and bolts and things. Amazingly my feet are the worst. Standing the whole day on the concrete hangar floor is not what they are used to! :) The truth is that I am pretty tired when I get home so writing and posting something for the blog has been put on the back burner. As soon as things are more settled my posts will become more regular.

Abbi, Garreth and Laura are here too and it is great to see them again. They will be guiding the new interns on the whale shark program for the season – we have just returned from a pizza at the Baobab restaurant, a lovely little spot where you can wriggle your toes in the sand!

Wish you were here!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Season 2011 - it begins...

Wow! Another year has gone we are ready for the start of the new whale shark season 2011. For now, we are getting prepared at home (in SA) buying spares for our little orange plane. Of course this is top priority – getting her in shipshape condition for the new season. The success of the whole season depends upon that. (Just a little bit of pressure on us pilots! ;)

We should arrive in Seychelles on the 17th of August leaving us about two weeks to get the plane ready, inspected, paperwork done and then training the new recruits. The interns will be put through their paces to do all the data gathering while entertaining the wonderful guests who help to fund this important project. (You pay to dive with a whale shark :) Of course it is not just the diving but getting inside information of the latest, greatest discoveries of the worlds largest fish. At the head of the MCSS is non other than Dr David Rowat – without a doubt one of the world leaders in whale sharks research and know how. Tourists and interns could not be in better hands!

I will keep you posted as things progress. Personally I can’t wait for a bit of tropical heat – we have rain and snow on the mountains here!
Till next time!