Pitcairn Islands Expedition: Sharks and Coral at Ducie Atoll

After five days at Pitcairn Island we sailed to Ducie Atoll, the most remote of the islands of the Pitcairn archipelago. It is one of the least visited places in the ocean, uninhabited, and as far as we know, unfished—because it is so difficult to get here, even when you are determined as we are. We hoped that Ducie was going to be a healthy coral reef, near pristine. But we did not know; that’s why we came here to explore.

Coral Paradise

Ducie fulfilled our expectations. It has a healthy and gorgeous coral reef, where thriving corals cover up to ninety percent of the bottom. Compared to the Caribbean, where corals cover a minuscule five percent of the seafloor, Ducie is paradise. As soon as we put our heads underwater from the side of our small boat, our hearts went crazy. This is what we were looking for.

The most extraordinary feature of Ducie’s reefs is an extensive reef formed chiefly by a single species of coral of the most delicate pale blue, which grows like giant roses, as far as the eye can see. The visibility is the most extraordinary any of us has ever experienced—more than 60 meters. At the edge of the shallow reef, the blue corals form terraces that drop off into the deep blue. It seems there is no limit for coral growth here.

Up Close With the Sharks

A few minutes after we reached the bottom the sharks showed up. They were whitetip reef sharks and grey reef sharks. There were ten of them, ranging from one meter to almost two meters. The little grey reef sharks swam like lightning, switching directions within microseconds. If they had wanted to bite us, we would not even notice until it was too late. Fortunately for us, these reef sharks are typically not aggressive—just very curious. When they show signs of unease, like when a couple of grey reef sharks arched their pectoral fins and started swimming with exaggerated movements near our fish expert Jen Caselle, we just swim away, very slowly.

In addition to the sharks, the ubiquitous “nanue” (rudderfish) once again followed us during entire dives. Red groupers with bright yellow spots checked us out shyly, always staying close to the corals in case a quick retreat would be in order. Myriad little hawkfishes and damselfish swam above the corals.

One for the Record Books

After our dives we all agreed that Ducie is one of the best coral reefs we know. The health of the coral reef and its fish assemblages is unparalleled. Ducie’s coral reefs are only 320 hectares in surface area—a mere speck in the Pacific Ocean, and only 0.0004 percent of the exclusive economic zone of the Pitcairn Islands—yet it is one of a handful of pristine marine ecosystems left. This place is part of the heritage of all humanity.

Read All Pristine Seas: Pitcairn Posts in Order

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.
  • […] Read the whole article @ http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/03/25/pitcairn-islands-expedition-sharks-and-coral-at-d… […]

  • Natina Harris

    Very beautiful photographs!!

  • […] Follow Enric’s expedition to the Pitcairn Islands on our Explorers Journal: http://on.natgeo.com/GYOMVp http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/… […]

  • Donna Doolittle

    It is sad to say out loud but perhaps we should keep this one just for scientific purposes. As history repeats itself regularily, when humans are introduced to something so beautiful and un-damaged, we seem to have a way of destroying it. This may not be our intention yet it still happens. Seeing it through pictures may not be fair to most humans, but I would love to see this place un-touched still ..in say 50 years..lol.

  • carole martin

    wow absolutely natures masterpiece, thanks for sharing it

  • wild life rules!!24

    i have always wanted to vist a koral reef!!!!
    i think seeing sharks like that would have been an amazing sight to see.thats awsome!

  • wild life rules!!24

    yes i agree with Donna Doolittle it would be very sad to destroy this place.

  • Robert Mann

    I read with interest that Enric Sala on the National Geographic Society expedition to the Pitcairn Islands thought that the Ducie Atoll was pristine and unfished. I am afraid this is not the case. I dived at Ducie in 1989 just after Taiwanese fishermen had killed all the sharks. They had also camped on the island leaving litter and fishing debris. I spent at least six hours underwater and didn’t see a single shark, despite the previous expedition describing extraordinary numbers of sharks. There was also an absence of any large fish. I am glad to hear that this jewel in the British Overseas Territories is recovering and has at last been recognised. It deserves full and enforceable protection.

  • Namık Kemal Ayan

    çok güzel görüntüler.

  • Kurt Koenigsberger

    I was there in 2009 on a research vessel for 4 month. No signs of fishing vessels or other vessels for 4 month. Reef and atoll in very good health like Mr.Enric Sala said in the above article.
    Capt.Kurt Koenigsberger

  • […] Sharks and Coral at Ducie Atoll […]

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media