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Shaab Suedi reef - 08/11/12 - written by Steven Kessel

Yesterday we woke at the crack of dawn with a plan. Cisco, Nige and I were going to set up the acoustic/water temperature mooring on the North Plateau of Sanganeb. But 10 minutes before that everyone else went for a dive led by Claudio to look for hammerhead schools. We arrived on the plateau and rolled in off the boat. We swam over the first level and down to the second plateau at around 45 m. As we arrived Cisco spotted a school of around 30 hammerheads over the deep drop off. They were a little far away, but you could see that there was a lot of them.

It was VERY tempting to swim off the edge to get closer to them, but we had a task in hand and due to the depth we could only maintain a relatively short bottom time. As we headed to the intended mooring site I saw Claudio swimming over the plateau. I signaled to him that the hammerheads were over the drop off, he waved my excited gestures away and explained through charades that they had not only already seen them, but that had been swimming all around them! We were jealous, but focused on getting in this important mooring. The mooring went in well and during the dive we saw two grey reef sharks in the distance, giving us hope for fishing.

We returned to Elegante, collected the gear together and headed out for another attempt at shark fishing. This time we additionally brought the rod and reel and tried changing the set up of the gear. We had see the sharks and knew exactly where they were residing, so we had a chance. We dropped the baits down on the sharks heads essentially and then waited….. and waited…..and waited. Nothing. Time passed by and before we knew it we had to leave as Elegante was pulling anchor to set sail for the next reef. In the meantime Graham and Ben had established the lagoon acoustic mooring with Claudio and Joey, Sparky and Cam had continued their genetic sampling program.

We arrived at Shaab Rumi (my favorite place in the world to dive) at around 16:30, so there was time for a quick dive at the south Plateau to see what sharks were around. Shaab Rumi is notorious for its abundance of grey reef sharks, so we were hoping that this may be the site we could tag some sharks on this trip. Our plan was essentially to get the sharks excited and almost feed them the hook with a piece of bait. This is a technique I have tried in times of desperation in Florida, with, well let’s just say ‘ limited success’. Bacary (the captain), Nige and Claudio heading down to the site while I stayed on the boat with Mamoun to intercept the shark when/if hooked. They were down for a while and no action. When they surfaced they explained that three grey reef sharks had come in briefly, but a curious hammerhead was paying some attention to the bait that was still floating with the buoy. We deployed two more and waited. Again no action. We headed back to Elegante, ate then Nige, Joey Mamoun and I headed back out to try. We were out till midnight without even a nibble. This was looking more and more like a monitor deployment trip.

On the way back to the mother ship the tender was creating a lot of phosphorescence activity with the wake looking like the open scene from Star wars (and if your don’t know what that looks like, what’s wrong with you). We saw something approaching quickly from the east. It was leaving a bright trail of phosphorescence like the vapor trail of a jet plane. Just as it looked like it was going to impact the tender like a torpedo it turned and orientated to the bow. It was a dolphin, then came another and another until we had about five around the boat at speed. Now anyone that knows me at all well will tell you that I am not a fan of dolphins, but I have to say (and you can quote me on this) that it was an amazing sight to witness. It didn’t look real, these dolphins made of thousands of fireflies leaving glowing trails behind them, crisscrossing like a laser show. Pretty amazing.

This morning we woke at dawn again with a similar plan to yesterday. Most of the crew went with Cisco on an exploratory dive of the south plateau, while Nige, Claudio, Bacary, Mamoun and I went back to try to catch some sharks. After several hours of fishing again we did not even have a nibble. In a place where a mildly wounded fish is normally taken down in seconds by a grey reef, we offered a feast of fish with zero interest. Based on this test we realized that we are (as we suspected all along) truly out of season for sharks. It seems that the ‘bonus’ sharks will not be tagged on the manta trip but instead we will have to wait for our dedicated shark trip in season next year. This means we have increased our focus on establishing the rest of the acoustic mooring sand range testing them, giving less focus/time to shark fishing. We rapidly set the remaining three moorings in Shaab Rumi, conducted range tests and began the journey north. The final mooring we set was on the site of Captain Cousteau’s Conshelf 2 experiment. We found it fitting that this site is still a location of Cousteau research decades on from the original trails.

We are now sitting on anchor in Shaab Suedi. We got here with just enough light to set an acoustic monitor on the south plateau, and we are right on course to get the full array deployed with comprehensive acoustic range testing conducted. The dinner bell just sounded, so I am out for now.

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