Even though Zàvora isn't the place to see whale sharks – tourist haven Tofo a couple hours up the coast is – they do come sometimes.
Unfortunately I was unwell in bed the day the divers got to snorkel with one en route to the 'Great Wall' dive site... this is the way things are in nature and you must take every chance you get so you don't miss something amazing! Seeing a manta ray breach and belly-flop back into the water is also something special and I've been lucky enough to see it from a few different angles when I happened to be the only one looking out from the dive boat in the right direction. I can't say that it looks very graceful but it sure is spectacular!
So it's two thirds of the way into my August internship at Ocean Research's amazing Zàvora station and I feel like I've been here forever, but not long enough! Fellow intern and Scottish divemaster Erin has taken a special shine and talent to arranging our manta ID photos (and a large backlog as well) and examining which mantas we might be seeing repeatedly. I have been enjoying the extra opportunity to undertake the Global Reef Check training course with Yara which I can highly recommend, and includes the special Mozambique Reef Check that Yara has designed with relevance to the particular marine life on the coast of this beautiful country.
As a tourist dive operation has only really been operating here at Zàvora for less than 2 years it is a great area case study and chance to establish some baseline data of the previously untouched, for all intents and purposes, marine region and ecosystem, and to observe and analyse the effect that increasing dive tourism is having on the area. Especially to see what measures can be taken to ensure sustainable development of the local recreational diving industry and avoid negatively impacting the local marine life. For example, implementing a no-glove stance on dives here has already been helping discourage unnecessary, and often unconscious, touching of marine substrates and creatures.
Last Tuesday we went to the local school to talk about turtles. It is prohibited in Mozambique to hunt turtles and their eggs, but many locals do not know this, or even knowing so don't realise the detrimental impacts such practices have. Erin and I were surprised and impressed at the receptiveness of the pupils to Yara's teachings, who were apparently too shy to speak up when she first began with this particular class several lessons ago. In contrast the children were chirpy, attentive and even thrilled, so it is encouraging to know that important messages are getting into the community this way. Watching Yara explain and act out the turtle life cycle, including egg-laying, is not something to forget, and standing in a circle clapping and shouting “Tartaruaga!” (turtle in Portuguese) while each of the children and us took turns dancing centre stage like a turtle was more fun that I'd like to admit!
It really is an exciting place to be involved in such research and community outreach because the results of the programs implemented here will prove useful for future developments in other 'untouched' areas of the world. Yara's work and involvement with local coastal management groups, government and otherwise, is very important for this region and it is exciting to be able to assist her with it. As Jesse mentioned last month, wintry July/August is not great for viz, but it is a great time to get scientific research experience without the peak season hecticness and also to experience the beauty of humpback whales up close on an almost daily basis.
If you want to gain research and life experience in a place which is a little off the beaten track, in a country I think you will fall in love with as I have, definitely check out the Zàvora internship with Oceans Research! Do know this, the need for minimum advanced open water certification is vital; for example you'll want to have fairly refined buoyancy control skills to be able to take useful nudi ID photos in strong surge. Also, learning a little Portuguese goes along way... even though most of the dive shop staff can speak and understand English, it always helps melt the ice and connect with others in at least one of their native languages (the others usually being Chopi, Bitonga and/or Shangana dialects).
So, not only have my Portuguese speaking and diving skills improved and I've finally been able to get back into the rigid inflatable boat by myself after dives – I'm a little infamous for my lack of such ability amongst my dive buddies back in Australia – but my own passion for marine conservation has been stoked even more and I have in my mind a much clearer idea of the path I will take in that regard and, through my time and work here, have taken a few more steps toward.
Back to amazing experiences: floating on your back while a manta birostris with a 5.5 metre wingspan glides less than a metre above you - too close to take the belly ID photo you are trying for - would probably be the one that sticks out for me. While I've been lucky enough to see mantas before on the Great Barrier Reef, the number and proximity has paled in comparison to here. Also, it doesn't hurt that almost every boat ride out to and in between dive sites involves a few to several humpback whale sightings, and sometimes spectacular breaches up close. I could get used to this!