Changing Planet


This morning, we dropped Mike Fay and Lindsey Holm on Flint Island. The only way to get on land is via a narrow channel cut through the coral reef more than a century ago by a company that planted thousands of coconut trees for copra (the dried coconut meat that yields coconut oil). Unless the swell is low, it is a dangerous business. Our inflatable boats cannot go in for risk of being punctured by the sharp corals, so the only solution is to swim in. Stuart Sandin and Brian Zgliczynski, strong surfers, joined Mike and Lindsey for the channel swim, then swam back to the boat to resume their diving.

Our volunteer castaways will spend two days walking around and across the island, inventorying every animal and plant they see. As they landed, they radioed to let us know they saw giant coconut crabs and rats. These are Polynesian rats, introduced accidentally by ancient seafarers from their ships. Unlike many of the surrounding reefs, the emergent portion of the island—the dry land—is not pristine. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to hear about what they find.

We did see more sharks today, and several large green turtles. We mistook two of them for a lost diver, and rushed with one of our Zodiacs to rescue him. To our surprise, when we got there, we saw two green turtles mating, as well as several octopuses—the male octopus placing the sperm into the female using a thin tentacle. And the ubiquitous red snappers followed us and bit our gear at every opportunity. Lots of busy animals in the water…

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.

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