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The Jewel and the Crown of the Indian Ocean

Copyright At One Communications 1999-2014 All Rights Reserved

Published in Africa - Environment and Wildlife (November/December 1993)

Aldabra is one of the last virgin islands in the world whose terrestrial and marine environments represent an almost untouched ecosystem. It remains the only refuge of the Indian Ocean giant land tortoise in the wild. It is the only one of the western Indian Ocean's elevated coral atolls that has not been exploited for guano due to its formidable natural defences against all but the most determined visitors.

It is an island of tortoises and turtles; giant crabs and fruit bats; dolphins and rays; turquoise seas and brilliantly beautiful marine creatures of every persuasion....and the almost complete absence of man.

"It may be one of the ends of the earth writers have in mind when they use that cliché"
- Athol Thomas


Getting There

Being There

The Land

The Sea

The Fringing Reefs and Reef Flats

The Reef Slopes

The Deep Sandy Ledges

The Channels and Lagoon

The Night Shift

Thoughts On Leaving

Getting There

Finally our spirits lifted. After four days in an unrelenting contrary sea the low profile of Aldabra appeared like a glowing emerald on the monitor at the fringe of our radar range. Without the benefit of satellite navigation or a glimpse of the sun we had spent the better part of three days wondering exactly where in the Indian Ocean the adverse winds and currents had diverted us to. The previous evening one of our group looked up at the night sky and summed up our despair somewhat whimsically when he exclaimed "The stars seem closer than Aldabra"!

We appeared to be at least 15 miles away and at two knots against the persistent wind and swell it would still take around seven rough hours to get there. At about 4 am we finally dropped anchor outside Aldabra's fringing reef off West Island in about 25 metres of water. We slept peacefully for the first time in several days.

Being There

The Land

The Aldabra group consists of four main island clusters (see map above). These limestone islands are named Aldabra, Assumption (the westerly group), Cosmoledo and Astove (the easterly group). The maximum elevation is not much more than 10 metres above sea level and they are located between Madagascar and the main Seychelles islands in what is the driest part of the Indian Ocean with an annual rainfall of less than 1000 mm.

Aldabra is 1150 km south of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles Islands, on the island of Mahe. It is closer to Africa (640 km) and Madagascar (400 km) than to its own capital.

Aldabra is of volcanic origin and is estimated to have risen out of the sea only 50 000 years ago, a mere moment in geological terms, and all life has arrived or evolved here since. The atoll rises from ocean depths of more than 4000 metres suddenly, as if from nowhere. Aldabra was probably discovered by Portuguese navigators early in the 16th century. It was first mentioned on maps in 1511 and referred to as Ilha Dara and Alhadra, the name Aldabra seems to have been a corruption of the Arabic word 'Al Khadra' meaning 'the green'. The first recorded sighting of Aldabra was by Captain Lazare Picault and Captain Jean Grossin in 1742 (during the voyage which discovered the Seychelles). They reported that its large lagoon produced a green reflection in the sky above the atoll that they could see for many miles out to sea. We were not so lucky.

Its geological youth, remoteness and the unique fauna have earned it the name 'Galapagos of the Indian Ocean'. In fact Darwin, who made the Galapagos tortoise famous, also played a role in the early conservation of the Indian Ocean tortoise so prolific on Aldabra. Others, notably Sir Julian Huxley have called Aldabra "one of nature's treasures". He felt it should be preserved for the whole world. When, in the early 1960's, it became known that Aldabra was to be surveyed for a major BBC station and a military airfield, the Royal Society, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington raised vigorous opposition to the plans and support for the conservation of Aldabra's unique environment. Since then the formal threats to Aldabra have passed and the United Nations has proclaimed Aldabra a World Heritage Site. It is managed by the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), which is sponsored by the Royal Society and the Smithsonian amongst others. The atoll is virtually off limits to visitors unless special permission is granted through the SIF.

The island manager and his small staff (who are all on tours of duty of a maximum of a few years) make up the only inhabitants of the island, there are no permanent residents as such. They grow a meagre supply of vegetables on the island but much is brought in by irregular steamer from Mahe. Vegetables have to be secured in strong 'pens' in order to protect them from the curious and hungry tortoises and robber crabs that live up to their unkind name, especially at night.

Aldabra is visited by a few scientists for some months of the year. For example while we were on Aldabra the National Geographic Society was completing a project in the islands. On West Island there are disused fishing settlement huts, a camp of wooden and palm-thatched cottages, and a small disused hospital complex that may be used to house visiting scientists in relative comfort.

The Aldabra atoll is the world's largest raised coral atoll and is made up of a chain of more than a dozen islands. Together they are about 35 km wide and enclose a huge tidal lagoon so large that Manhattan could fit comfortably into it. The land itself is so low that King Kong could easily step over it. Aldabra is larger in land area than Mahe and makes up a third of the Seychelles total land area. Its shoreline is mainly fossilised coral limestone undercut by the relentless wave action. When you look around from the centre of the lagoon at high tide you get the impression of being out in the middle of a very calm ocean. At low tide more than 80% of the area of this lagoon is completely dry. Water covering almost 100 square kilometres has to drain totally every low tide and reenter with every high tide.

The islands are separated by deep narrow channels which form the only way that water can enter or exit the lagoon with the tides. Within these channels lie many mushroom-shaped coral outcrops undercut and shaped by the constant erosion of the tides rushing in and out twice a day.

The uplifted reefs that make up terrestrial Aldabra consist of solid and partially fossilised corals which have been raised several metres above sea level. Primarily, the ground is hard coralline limestone eroded by the sea and rain to form sharp-edged potholes. There is little or no soil. What soil there is is derived from guano, coral and other marine detrius. Vegetation on the eroded and severely pock-marked surface of Aldabra is alternately sparse and so thick with scrub (primarily Pemphis acidula) that a man can be lost in it within a few steps. It supports a unique flora and fauna that includes more than a hundred thousand giant tortoises (Geochelone gigantea). The abundance of these herbivorous reptiles, reputed to be the largest terrestrial variety, is one aspect that makes Aldabra unique.

The exposed surface of Aldabra is reminiscent of the wild volcanic surfaces of the Comores Islands and rather resembles weathered old grey Swiss cheese, a rocky mixture of pot-holes, pinnacles and sharp edges; rather unkind to the feet of tortoises and man. While stumbling through this terrain you will often be reminded by a sharp hiss from underneath a shrub that these giant tortoises too are in fact reptiles. Some of the holes in 'the cheese' are rather large and tortoises have been known to fall into them and die of starvation. The skeletal remains are grim evidence of their fate. Some of these holes link up to form vast networks and labyrinths that link the open sea with several small inland lakes. These are periodically visited by somewhat confused turtles and fish that have inadvertently followed the rising tide along the dark tunnels to appear in the stark light of these watery clearings some hundreds of metres from the shore. They cannot easily retrace their 'steps' and so stay in the maze of small lakes for extended periods until eventually they find their way back to the open sea. Often turtles will be stranded in steep sided holes without any way back to the sea until the next high tide gives a clue to potential exits.

Aldabra has 13 endemic species or sub-species of birds. It is the only breeding location for the greater and lesser frigatebirds, and the only Indian Ocean island that still has a flightless bird - the white-throated rail.

The Sea

Once out to sea around the island one is conscious of the great number of seabirds and especially of the conscientious fishing of the constantly present boobies. The booby has been called 'an excellent fisherman, but a poor strategist'. Invariably it will come up from the sea with a prized morsel of food, only to be harried by a larger marauding frigate bird until it regurgitates its food, which is immediately swooped up by the frigate. This rather pathetic scene is repeated continually and the boobies seem to have learned nothing from thousands of years of harassment. They accept their lot resignedly and carry on fishing in the hope that eventually they will make it back to the nest without attack. So much for the benefits of evolution! One of the few times that the boobies are relatively safe is when young turtles hatch and scurry from their eggs high up on the beach into the sea. At times like this the frigates seem to focus all their attention on a meal of young turtles and temporarily leave the boobies in peace.

The turtles are the other ubiquitous inhabitants of the sea around Aldabra. It was the first time I'd seen them mating in the open sea. Aldabra is the centre for green turtle (Chelonia mydas) breeding in the western Indian Ocean, and it is the home of a light-shelled (so called 'blonde') hawksbill turtle. It hasn't always been the case that these magnificent animals have lived undisturbed around Aldabra. Up to the 1950's thousands of them were slaughtered annually, a regular occurrence ever since man first sailed confidently around these waters. Before 1900 hundreds of turtles could be seen off Aldabra in a few hours. It was typical for us to see 10 to 20 turtles in a few hours out at sea. Although they seem to have recovered admirably in the last thirty years or so, the persistent hunting has taken its toll. Perhaps in another decade or two the numbers will return to those of the 19th century.

Until the 'Calypso' expedition of Jacques Cousteau and the expedition of J. L. B. Smith (both in 1954) no specialist studies or collections of the marine fauna of Aldabra had been made. Any records were of scattered species only and gave little appreciation of the overall marine ecology. Since then most expeditions have focused on the terrestrial life and on the marine turtle populations. We were filled with anticipation as to what we would find in this largely unknown and poorly documented marine environment. Accounts of the marine environment, although infrequent and then often superficial, prepared us for a spectacle. What we found surpassed even those expectations.

The Fringing Reefs and Reef Flats

As with most similar reef environments around the world these shallow and well lit areas provide the densest profusion and diversity of life imaginable. These are the most complex of living communities. Bathed in strong sunlight for most of the day and washed in constantly warm tropical waters this is the ideal environment in which coral animals can thrive. The profusion of coral life in turn encourages the development of fish and invertebrate communities of similar profusion.

The diversity of fish life on the shallower reefs was the first aspect that surprised us. Sometimes we literally hovered in one spot for 15 to 20 minutes and watched as an unbelievable variety of fish would move past us. We appeared to have found the Piccadilly Circus of the coral world. We could (and often did on the first few dives) shoot a whole spool of 36 shots in 10 minutes! And everywhere were juveniles of every kind of fish imaginable. I have seen nothing quite like this anywhere else in the world. One recent study identified 185 species of fish in just 3 sq km of reef.

A variety of butterflyfish, rockcods, triggerfish, hawkfish, parrotfish, scorpionfish, lionfish, angelfish, gobies, fusiliers, lizardfish, rubberlips and wrasse of every persuasion would typically be seen on every dive. Sea goldies clustered around coral outcrops in large harems.

The sea goldies Anthias sp. are an interesting family, literally the 'goldfish' of the coral reef. They will usually be seen in large active groups around coral heads. In amongst the many small females there will typically be one larger dominant brightly coloured male. If the dominant male should die, one of the females will immediately begin a transformation and turn into a fully functional spectacular male within just a few days.

Juveniles of the slenderspine grouper Gracila albomarginata were quite often seen amongst schools of sea goldies. We gained the impression that they were trying to mimic the sea goldies' behaviour. The juveniles of the slenderspine grouper are spectacularly coloured, violet with broad orange-red stripes on the dorsal and anal fins, and could quite easily be mistaken for boldly coloured male sea goldies. The adult slenderspine groupers are typically brownish grey with many dark brown bars on the side of the body. We saw none of the adults, presumably as they typically occur in deeper water.

Fish that in other parts of the Indian Ocean are seen relatively infrequently are common in these waters. The emperor angelfish and the regal angelfish, two of the most beautiful examples of the angelfish family, were common on all our shallow dives.

In less than ten metres of water we would find cleaner wrasse lined up like barbers with their clients, often large rockcods and rubberlips in apparent ecstasy at the attention being paid to them, their mouths wide agape.

The gobies too were everywhere, from shallows at just a few metres deep right down to the deep sandy flats at more than 40 m. I have never seen them in such profusion. Every few metres you would encounter a busy pair of fire gobies alternatively darting and posing nervously at their burrows.

Anemones were common although there was little variety. Most frequently seen was the purple base anemone Heteractis magnifica (previously known as Radianthus ritteri), rather inappropriately named as it occurs in a variety of colours: crimson, purple, green and a deep coppery red. The green variety was seen only in the channels leading into the lagoon. We also observed the sand anemone Heteractis aurora, a species that inhabits gravely sand beds and retracts completely into the sand at the slightest provocation. It usually had the commensal shrimp Periclimenes brevicarpalis associated with it. The large carpet anemone Stoichactis gigas was another species of anemone we observed, usually in association with the twobar anemonefish Amphiprion allardi. The nosestripe anemonefish Amphiprion akallopisos was usually observed in association with Heteractis magnifica.

The Reef Slopes

Outside the fringing reefs, on the reef slopes between 10 and 30 m in depth, the visibility is generally excellent, in the region of 20 to 40 m. The fringing reef drops at an incline of about 25 to 30 degrees down to sandy ledges at between 20 and 40 m. Beyond this the profusion of life reduced and the terrain dropped off into indigo depths.

On the reef slopes the coral life was diverse and prolific. Hard corals were, on the whole, more prolific than the soft corals. We found the largest colonies of bubble coral Plerogyra sp. that we have ever seen. In such large groups they give the impression of being comfortable eiderdowns. They are a truly heavenly sight with schools of Anthias sp. swarming around them. Those soft corals we did see had developed into absolutely huge colonies.

Plate corals, those fragile showpieces that are often first to show off the scars from visiting divers were pristine and larger than many we'd seen. Everywhere are colonies of brain coral (Lobophyllia sp.), staghorn coral (Acropora sp.), and bommies of Favia sp.

The Deep Sandy Ledges

The reef slopes usually end on a sandy ledge or plain at between 30 and 45 m. These sandy flats continue at an average 15 to 30 degree incline to depths in excess of 4000 m. The life on these deep sandy ledges or flats varies considerably.

Sometimes before the fringing reef finally drops off onto the sandy flats one finds steep 4 to 5 metre drop-offs on which huge orange sea fans extend their arms into the nutrient-rich currents. This was typical of the terrain at 40 metres just off the West Channels.

At the north-west corner of Aldabra the deep flats are inhabited by a profusion of garden eels that slide gingerly back into their holes when a diver ventures too close. Sharing the sandy flats are a variety of colourful gobies, some with attendant shrimps at the mouth of their holes.

Off the reef near Grande Passé (the Main Channel) we found a variety of huge orange sponges at about 35 metres. Covering the sandy ledge at widely spaced intervals there are small stunted formations of Tubastrea sp. coral (most likely T. micrantha), one of the few hard corals that can exist at this depth, because its survival is not dependent on microscopic zooxanthellae as with other hard corals. At this depth the dark green Tubastrea sp. looks pitch black and somewhat ominous etched in silhouette against the pure white coral sand.

At the north-east end of Aldabra, near Passé Houareau (the East Channel), the same small coral forests of Tubastrea sp. dominate the sandy flats at 30 to 40 metres.

Also common at these depths is one of the most beautiful of all corals; this is the soft coral Dendronephthya sp. We found this magnificent coral in the most startling pink, red, white, orange and purple varieties. The delicate polyps extend from thick fleshy stems in which the white spicules are clearly visible. At night its translucent stems are fully expanded to feed and it forms colonies up to 1 m high. During the day this soft coral often remains unnoticed as it contracts into modest clumps on the reef substrate.

At night the festive forests of Dendronephthya sp. play host to a variety of tiny invertebrate life. We frequently saw spiderlike crabs (most likely a Stenorhynchus sp.) sporting impossibly long and dainty legs clambering through this beautiful fairyland. Their coloration and design appeared to have been specially evolved to cope and blend with this night-time paradise.

We saw many hermit crabs. The spectacular Dardanus megistos was especially common on the deep sandy ledges and we saw it in a variety of gastropod homes, including one architecturally perfect large Murex sp.

On only one occasion we saw the unique Dardanus tinctor, a hermit crab that purposefully attaches a number of Calliactis sp. anemones to its shell, presumably for protection from predators, although there also appear to be some other mutual benefits from this association. The one we saw had crowded eight anemones onto the limited space of its shell! Considering that the hermit crab has to transfer its anemone hosts one by one to its new shell when it outgrows the current home it must experience a stressful moving experience analogous to that we humans experience!

The Channels and the Lagoon

The main channel into the lagoon (the Grand Passé) resembles a large river flowing out to sea, except for the fact that it flows inland about half the time! The main channel is actually a branching network of channels extending 6 km into the lagoon at an average depth of about 20 metres. About 60% of the volume of water in the lagoon drains out through this channel. At the peak flow at ebb tides the water has been measured flowing through here at 6 knots, somewhat less than the spectacular estimates of Jacques Cousteau, but still breathtaking when you're in its flow!

This is surely one of Aldabra's unique experiences for the diver. A roller-coaster ride down one the channels when the tide is flowing in or out, the most incredible drift dive imaginable. If you get the timing just right the speed of your ride will be perfect for viewing the other passengers along for the trip. If you enter the channel when the current is flowing too fast you'll simply be focusing on navigating and avoiding possible obstructions or the danger of being sucked into caves. In the channels visibility is often murky due to the strong currents. Somehow this only serves to add a touch of mystery to the ride.

Coral formations on the edge of the channel are quite limited and once again the Tubastrea sp. hard coral thrives, here presumably because of the high variability of light makes it difficult for the traditional hard corals to survive because there is not consistently enough light for photosynthesis to take place in their zooxanthellae. Tubastrea sp. however has none so it thrives. Although there are clearly some resident fish (notable large groupers and Napoleon Wrasse) most of the population is tidal, literally a 'passing show' that is staged every 6 hours or so. Turtles swoop in and out of your field of vision continually. Often we had large schools of unicorn surgeon fish silhouetted against the broken sunlight above us. They would never let us close enough for adequate identification. Here too we found isolated specimens of the large green Turbo marmoratus that was collected almost to extinction during the first half of this century for the manufacture of mother-of-pearl commodities in Europe and the USA. Fortunately since the invention of man-made substitutes for mother-of-pearl (and indeed tortoiseshell) the frantic hunting has ceased.

The main channel into the lagoon, Grand Passé, had by now become familiar to us during our dive expeditions up its network of channels. A trip past Grand Passe up the north coast of Aldabra confirms the monotony of the uniform geology of the island atoll. Apart from a few hundred metres of white coral beaches, the entire coastline of more than 50 miles is characterised by low eroded limestone and fossilised coral cliffs that form a mostly impenetrable barrier for man. The sea continually bashes up against them eroding mysterious channels and caves into the apparently inert rock. Some of the small bays so formed are bathed in luminous azure water that tempts enticingly.

About three kilometres beyond Grand Passé along the north coast is situated one of the smaller channels. This is Passé Gionnet (or Passé Johnny as it popularly known), a narrow but spectacular island-filled channel that must surely be one of the most spiritually beautiful sights on the planet.

The entrance to the channel is peppered with small mushroom-shaped islets, some on precariously thin stalks. On top of these grey mushrooms vegetation competes fiercely for the limited space and scarce water. Typically the trees and shrubs on these islets appear to be vastly overpopulated with families of Boobies, Frigates and Tropicbirds - a mass of constantly throbbing action. When we arrived in the mouth of the channel the water whirled and churned around the islets in its struggle to get into the lagoon. In places small whirlpools were created and instantly diffused. A constantly metamorphosis of chaotic shapes in vibrant hues of blue. A single deep channel wound between the islets and beneath the surface it created a veritable highway for an armada of assorted fish to enter the lagoon. The broken surface of the water shimmered in the noonday sun. The colour of the water was variegated according to depth and ranged from brilliant azure to deep indigo. We turned off the motor of our 'rubber duck' and travelled silently along popelled by the persistent currents between the eerie beauty of the many islets towards the interior of the lagoon.

After a while the vast vista of the lagoon interior opened up before us. The lagoon shore is overgrown with dense mangrove swamps, some were the largest mangroves we had ever seen - they appeared to be over 20 metres high. Again the bird orchestras seemed to be seated on every available branch.. The rubber duck spun slowly out of the main channel into a calm backwater underneath the mangroves. Here we rested and silently watched the ornithological parade. Each and every bird was completely unconcerned by our presence.

We were able to slide over the side of the boat and snorkel in the shallow lagoon with the odd fish and to frolic with passing sting rays over coral rubble and a sandy bottom. In the channels and on much of the lagoon flats adjacent to the channel there is much dead coral rubble. Among this somewhat bleak terrain we found a few small cowries and some juvenile triggerfish.

We had heard that in the lagoon we would find sharks at rest in the warm shallow water underneath mangroves, their dorsal fins just an arm's length beneath nesting frigate birds. We found none. In fact, we did not see a single shark anywhere during our trip, and we looked hard!

But...I cannot really describe the overwhelming beauty of Passé Johnny in words, nor can any photo do it justice. I was struck still while my mind raced, clutching vainly for words to link to my reality, a stunning spiritual experience. The camera was forgotten while imperfect eyes soaked in perfect beauty. Tidal waves of emotion swept and washed the stunned grey bits somewhere inside my head.

The Night Shift

Tropical nights have always been considered somewhat mysterious, largely as a result of too little information and too much imagination. However if one takes the trouble to look carefully, the inhabitants of the night are even more strange than can be imagined, both on land and in the sea.

On land at night, giant 'robber' coconut crabs are a real hazard on Aldabra. They grab anything they can lay their claws on and scuttle off into their burrows with it. These large crabs reach up to half a metre across and are actually marine crabs that have adapted their lifestyle to land and only return to the water to breed. These orange and rust coloured crabs shin up coconut palms, pick green coconuts and feed on the soft flesh inside. Often the coconuts appear to be second choice, attractive only when no suitable contents of a rubbish bin are available at the settlement. The robber crabs are also not too shy to climb up onto your dinner table to investigate the available menu. Their claws are so powerful that they snapped a plastic pen in half while I was holding it. With these giant crabs so prolific, a walk through a moonlit Aldabra night is not for the faint-hearted!

We saw a poignant scene one evening as a large robber crab was clinging desperately to the top of a large plastic rubbish bin with a single claw, its entire body on the inside of the bin stretching down to the bits of discarded food at the bottom. Its claws were just a few centimetres away from the food but no matter how much the crab stretched it simply could not reach the food. However it never submitted to the obvious temptation to let go of its hold on the top of the rubbish bin - somehow it must have known that if it did slip into the tall smooth-sided bin it would never be able to get out again. I wondered how it could possibly have learned that lesson!

The fruit bats of Aldabra are another exciting sight. While they will sometimes be seen flying around during broad daylight, they are most commonly seen at dusk flying confidently across the darkening sky. They are often mistaken for large birds and are common on many Indian Ocean islands. The Aldabra fruit bat is related to the common fruit bats found in the Seychelles but has evolved a unique white face. Their flesh is very tasty and they are a favourite indigenous food. Here on Aldabra of course they, like everything else, are completely protected and they are safe from hungry man.

We spent almost every available evening under the water in the apparently inky sea. The marine 'night shift' presents a marine ecology completely different to that seen during the day. The wrasse, so prolific during the day, hide under the sand at night. Many fish, notably butterflyfish, adopt quite different colours for their night-time appearance. They could frequently be seen fast asleep within the protective arms of staghorn coral. It was always a double-take to actually identify a particular species - so different and unexpected were their colours. Only the spectacular Moorish Idol could be easily identified in every case, and that only because of its unusual body shape. Its usually bright striking colouration is quite matte and dull at night. The yellow and white bands turn to brown and beige, its behaviour positively dozy.

Somewhere in some coral crevice, if you look in enough of them, you are sure to find something you have not bargained for. For me it was a fabled sight I had not seen in hundreds of dives before this one. There it was! The sight that had so far eluded me. A parrotfish sleeping in its mucous cocoon! Oblivious of everything around it, safe. It was definitely a Scarus sp. but we could not identify the particular species.

The later evening hours often bring out strange stories. One such tale concerns the bright blue crocodile needlefish that we had seen skimming just below the surface shimmering in the light of our torches. In this apocryphal tale they are said to leap out of the water into boats killing passing tourists.

Thoughts On Leaving

With such a profusion and abundance of life everywhere, what does a natural paradise Aldabra not have? We were surprised at the relative few species of echinoderms that we saw. For some reason there were really few starfish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. Shell life too was quite limited in terms of variety. There were few moray eels. Only two species of anemonefish. Few flatworms and nudibranchs... and no Spanish dancers (our favourite large nudibranch).

Aldabra is not the place for those seeking any kind of entertainment other than that provided by the experience of pristine natural environments, the paradoxically beautiful and savage. This is exactly for you though if you delight in wild natural beauty, a joy of life and the inevitability of death within its cycle. If you exalt at turtles mating on a mirror sea... try to make it to Aldabra at least once in your life.

Here I found myself becoming at once increasingly introspective and hungry to share the experience. Sometimes we would talk excitedly well into the night, each one trying to cram in all the new experiences of the previous hours. The unbridled natural beauty both above and beneath the sea. Introspection turned to spiritual thoughts of the meaning of life. It did not pass me by that a coral polyp is the only animal on the planet that does not age. Given the right stable ecology a single coral polyp will theoretically live forever. Only a catastrophic change in temperature, light or salinity will kill it, or a single careless caress from a diver's finger or fin.

In this context even trivial ignorance of the fragility of the ecosystem is somehow abhorrent. Aldabra is a unique cocoon of the natural world. May it continue to be so for our children.

Copyright FutureWorld and Wolfgang E. Grulke, July 1993 - All Rights Reserved

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