In our latest volunteer experience blog, research assistant Abby Rogerson beautifully describes diving the amazing exterior reefs of the Bay of Ranobe with fantastic photos from our Head Dive Officer Neil Davsion.
“Approaching winter in Madagascar is marked by subtle changes: the sand feels cooler on my feet in the morning; the dawn light shining through the cracks in my hut is fainter. On this April day, the western horizon is deep lavender, fading to a rich pink and pale blue overhead. I lean against the compound fence sipping coffee, watching the stream of pirogues paddle across the glassy, pink-reflected water.
As we motor out to the dive site, I’m afraid we’re interrupting the bay’s silence. Fay’s motor whines as we get entangled in a scatter of Sargassum algae. We look back apprehensively as Manjo lifts the outboard to untangle the mass. Fay, the larger of our two boats, has been out of commission for the past four months. Now that her engine is running again, we’re keen to keep it so, as she’s our only way to reach the exterior of the bay. Once freed, we speed across a mosaic of greens and blues as the waterscape below changes. On a clear morning like today, the seagrass fields can be seen swaying lazily beneath the surface, glowing through turquoise water. Up ahead, glints of silver flicker above the water. “Vary lava,” Manjo says. Small, elongate silverfish commonly seined in Vezo villages along the coast.
Waves build as we near the pass, where a break in the barrier reef allows water to flow in and out as the tide fluctuates. Feeling the hull crash against the waves is a welcome change from the calm of the bay. Manjo grows more conservative though, slowing at the wave’s crest just as I anticipate the next smack. Somehow, he navigates us in a featureless expanse of blue directly to our drop point. Now in the exterior, the chop has transformed into a steady swell. The breakers resonate a deep hum as we kit up.
Six tanks hang off the sides of the boat as we signal our ready to Manjo. In typical fashion, he counts down from three and we flip off the boat. Communication is non-verbal now: a fist on the head means we’re okay, and a thumbs-down begins our descent. I let the weight of my tank drag me down back first. Manjo hangs over the bow railing waving, and the outline of Fay’s hull grows distorted as I drop deeper.
At 50 feet, the light is hazy and tinged green. Water constantly flows and surges through this area nearby the pass, resulting in a complex geography of tunnels and caverns. What may initially appear as a rocky expanse is actually a plateau carved by a system of canyons.
None of us are familiar with this site, so we haphazardly drop into a sandy gulch enclosed with rocky walls. Familiar fish seek shelter in the overhangs—big-eyed fish that prefer to stay in the shadows during the day. As we fin deeper into the gully, it grows deeper and narrower. Anthias are plentiful here, although they look like they belong in shallow, light-drenched coral reefs, with their tropical coloration and streaming lunate tails. Overhead, the gully converges into a tunnel, and the Anthias swim oriented to the ceiling. Gravity is less relevant here.
We rise out of the canyon. Already, the sun’s shifting rays have brightened the water. Floating over the stunted branching and encrusting corals, I am reminded of alpine vegetation. Strong winds, shrubby plants. Persistent currents and deep water, scrubby coral. Blanketing the substrate is a vast diversity of life—undulating soft corals, colonies of delicate speckled sea squirts, fleshy turf algae, rust-coloured sponges, fan-like stinging hydroids, translucent sea pens, and organisms I cannot yet recognise.”
While obsessing over the micro, I am distracted from the macro. A hand waves in front of my mask and points. Behind me, a magnificent shoal of rudderfish circles from the seafloor upwards. Their scales flash silver as the sun momentarily reflects off them. As they fade from our view, we rise.
Written by Abby Rogerson
Photos by Neil Davison