The mysterious mangrove of Europa

turtle madagascar

Location: Europa / Bassas da India

Conducted in 2011

Expedition Leader : Jérôme BOURJEA - Ifremer Réunion

After the archipelago Glorious in 2004, Europa is the second of the French scattered islands where we have the chance to shoot. The goal was for us to make a documentary about the scientific mission multidisciplinary Reunion, mainly oriented by the theme turtle.
Very quickly, the mangrove appeared to us as the major axis which we had to privilege. Tracking, turtle capture, hydraires study, plant composition analysis, ornithological recognition ... we have tried to treat as completely as possible the different aspects of this remarkable nature from the various scientific skills that make up this mission.

The shooting was difficult because very aquatic and the material suffered a lot. We bring back from Europa about fifteen hours of rush, from which we think to mount a 26 'on the mangrove of Europa and a 10-13 minutes more directed directly on the hydrological theme of Nicole Gravier-Bonnet.
The three members of the team had a very pleasant stay on Antsiva and will keep Europa a magical memory.

Wednesday, November 16th

During the day, the south wind got up well, making the boarding maneuvers from the annex somewhat dangerous.
Finally at 17h, everyone is on board and we sail just after dinner. Simon will be left to give up his travel bag that was lost in air transfers. Never mind, he was able to buy Tuléar clothes, shorts, a t-shirt and a bandana. And here it is, ready for 15 days of mission!
The southern depression pushes us and we go under sail with a nice swell ¾ back. Sami becomes acquainted with seasickness and no longer moves without his bucket!
As for Renaud, he takes his role of ecovolunteer very heart and starts the first night in the preparation of the capeirina ...

Friday 18th November

After 30 hours of sailing, Antsiva found her anchorage in front of the Europa weather station. We put in the water the dive boat that we had left on the beach as well as the annex of Kelonia arrived by the Transal.
Two dives are scheduled on the Reef Check station. The coral reef is still so beautiful and on the falling pass sharks and dog tooth tunas.

Saturday 19 / Sunday 20 November

Two days of intense work in the mangrove. This is for scientists to capture juvenile green turtles. These captures are done through the proven technique of Jumple Turtle. For this, you need an annex with a pilot and a catcher. The seeker, standing upright at the front of the tender, continuously indicates to the pilot the direction and movements of the turtle. The boat follows the turtle. When the turtle arrives at the bow of the boat, the seeker dives and captures the turtle by the two forelegs. Without letting go, the catcher returns the turtle to the appendix where it will be weighed, measured, banded, photo-identified and genetically removed.
Another job is to place Argos tags on these juvenile turtles that inhabit the mangrove of Europa.
In total, 11 tags are placed. It is necessary to take the GPS point at the exact moment of the capture, to put the beacon on the shell and to release the turtle at the same point GPS. This will then allow scientists to study the movements of juveniles. Or do they move in the mangrove? Do they come out of the mangrove? Do they have nocturnal trips?

At anchor, the presence of Antsiva attracts a whole fauna that seems to remain under the boat. Thus, red carp, black trevally and snappers have almost become our pet fish. But it is also the time to observe the hammerhead sharks and it is not uncommon to see from time to time evolve at the back of the boat.
The diving team wants to be clear. In the late afternoon, they dive under the boat and ... their hope is not disappointed, they fall face to face with a bench of 80 hammerhead sharks that pass on the falling.
Another part of the mission is going to happen on the atoll of Bassas da India. Nobody has ever studied the presence of turtles on Bassas. It must be said that to be able to anchor safely on Bassas, the weather conditions must be optimal. Last year, when we arrived on the scene, the team had to give up this project because of bad weather. Will this year be more favorable? Nicolas follows day by day the information given by Météo France and precisely, an ideal weather window seems to take shape for Sunday night.
We must not let this chance pass. After having landed Simon and Jean-Yves who wish to stay on Europa, we sail at the end of the afternoon. The south wind still pushes us. The sea is well formed but this depression must pass in the night and we should then have two days of flat calm without wind on Bassas.

Monday, November 21st

We arrive in the morning at Bassas. Indeed, the sea has calmed down and we make a first anchorage northeast of the atoll. We note in passing the illegal presence of a South African catamaran that seems to regularly organize dive and big game charters.
We make a first snorkeling around the anchorage in the company of many Galapagos sharks. They do not seem at all shy, rather curious because they are very close to the divers. While Eric, totally at ease, plays with them, Sami, not at all reassured, uses his small camera GO-Pro fixed on a telescopic rod like shark foil. Obviously, the camera was on and that gives images rather funny!
In the afternoon, at high tide, the team leaves for the first time in the lagoon. She comes back empty-handed, not a single turtle is seen. Neither tiger shark, which, according to rumors, would be present in the lagoon!
In the evening, the sharks always turn in the back of the boat. We spot one or two bigger than the others and Hendrick manages to make some beautiful images of sharks in the night.

Tuesday, November 22

Sunrise on Bassas. Magical. The sea is oil. Not a breath of air. Not a cloud. A shades of blue all around us and the reef which is discovered little by little allowing to emerge its rocks in the middle of the channel of Mozambique.
Sami takes advantage of the low tide to 'set foot on the ground' and make some pictures on the reef.
The divers go scuba diving and see a turtle's head breathing on the surface. But it is very stealthy and scientists do not have time to identify it. The dive is especially marked by the presence of big groupings not shy who let themselves be caressed while the sharks continue their round.
Back at the boat, the Galapagos sharks are still there. The water is so crystalline that we can follow their evolution from the Antsiva bridge.
After lunch, a second dive is scheduled around the anchorage. The divers cross a sailfish and especially a monstrous loach which they estimate the size to 2,50m, it bears the marks of a great longevity. It remains to be hoped that this lord of the place will not have his life abridged by a fisherman South African amateur trophies! What a beast !!!
At high tide, the team leaves in the lagoon for a second observation turtles. Unfortunately, during a maneuver in the annex, Jerome falls and gets hurt. Nothing serious, but it has a nice cut under the knee. We close the wound with SterilStrip. The most annoying thing is the immobilization of the leg, which forces Jerome to stop all sports activities for a few days. Grummy, grumble ...
The two days on Bassas are already finished. It is time to weigh anchor to join Europa.

Wednesday, November 23

Arrival on Europa in the early morning. We meet our two earthlings, Simon and Jean-Yves. They crisscrossed the island for two days. The first brings back beautiful photos, the second put the footsteps in its traces left some 28 years ago ...
Scientists resume their work in the mangrove. Sami accompanies them for the images of the film. Jerome, consigned on board, gnaws his brake

Thursday, November 24

A small team composed of Renaud, Sami and Jean-Yves leave very early to go around the Great South and go see the colonies of terns. Let us salute the performance of Sami, who, camera on the shoulder has done its 8 hours of walking simply wearing plastic sandals (jellyfish for connoisseurs)!
Meanwhile, Eric and Nicolas walk the beach in search of emerging baby turtles. He explains how to find on the sand the characteristic conical shape and then how to shovel the sand at this place to release the small turtles. These are often too deeply buried and have difficulty reaching the surface. He manages to release thirty baby turtles that he brings back to the boat to release them in the open sea and avoid the first predators.
In the afternoon, a small team returns to the mangrove, enjoying the high tide.
Nicolas plays the sick guard because today, in addition to Jerome still immobilized on the boat, it is Hendrik's turn to stay in bed. Our two lurons take their trouble in patience but they paw and turn in circles like caged lions ...

November 25 to 28

The whole new team will spend two whole days in the mangrove.
Some catch turtles while others study mapping the many arms of the mangrove. The interest is also to locate the meadows where the juveniles feed.
The 'Jumple turtle Boys' worked well because with their 94 catches, they broke the records and far exceeded the original target of 50 turtles.

Tuesday, November 29

Last morning on Europa. While Sami is filming a final morning spawn, the divers take one last dive.
At noon we raise the anchor. A strong southerly wind blows, but we have imperatives of schedules to respect and we must leave.
The beginning of crossing is a little more muscular and a little more hectic than the going. Some people know from wave to soul ...

Thursday, December 1st

At 3 o'clock in the morning, on the 1st of December, we arrive at the port of Tulear. Phew, Renaud will not miss his plane taking off in a few hours!
The rest of the team has to do one last seaweed collection. For this, we will anchor in Ifaty lagoon where the waters are clearer and bathing more enjoyable. To guide us in the meanders of the Nathalie and Denis lagoon of the hotel Nautilus sends us a zodiac that guides us to anchor.

Friday, December 2

Nathalie and Denis took care of reserving taxis for the airport, they take care of the logistics of the landing of the luggage. This leaves us time to see them again and it is with emotion that we see the 4 × 4 get away on the dusty track. It was a mission rich in discoveries. Among other memories, we will remember two particularly strong ones:
the two beautiful days spent anchoring at Bassas da India and the almost daily meetings with sharks.
We only missed Stéphane so that the painting is perfect ... Thank you all for your joy of life, for your enthusiasm and for all the fabulous places and all the magical meetings that you have allowed us to share with you during this mission.
And a big thank you again to Jerome who, against all odds, managed to lead this mission to an end

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