Mozambique Expedition: Octopus Bites and Tiny Explorers

For the month of April 2014, National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition leader Paul Rose will lead a group of key scientists and filmmakers, together with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Andrea Marshall and the Marine Megafauna Foundation, to explore, survey, and record what they expect to be some of the healthiest reefs in East Africa, home to ocean giants like manta rays, dugongs, and more.

Starfish in Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
A group of starfish observed by the team while diving in Inhambane, Mozambique. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

The tide was running out fast around us and in just two hours both of our expedition boats had become stranded in a tiny blue pool of sea water the size of a football field and surrounded by hundreds of square miles of sandbanks. This has been certainly the shallowest dive day of our expedition and yet could easily be the most important.

Our science dives today focused on the highly productive shallows of the intertidal estuaries–the sheltered nurseries of the sea that are such magic places. In water that was so shallow that we could have stood up we dipped down to explore the life and were immediately welcomed by seahorses. We love the mythical seahorses–they mate for life, live in small weed beds, and the male gives birth to the young which is a particularly timely talent to be reminded of today, Mozambique Women’s Day.

Chief Scientist Alan Friedlander with a juvenile octopus in Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Chief Scientist Alan Friedlander with a juvenile octopus. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

A young octopus showed who was the boss in the nursery by biting our chief scientist, Alan, hard enough to make him shout through his regulator and this was quickly followed by a crab which took a long ride on his underwater writing slate. Young starfish, huge schools of juvenile fish, and a sense of youthful vitality were the clear signals that the estuaries on the Mozambique coast are vital to the health of the ocean.

In the afternoon we were privileged to see the future of Mozambican waters through the eyes of the next generation as we joined the Nemos Pequenos group of local children aged from 7 to 16 years old who had learned to swim, studied the ocean environment, and were about to make their first snorkel dives. Their excitement was contagious and I sang along and danced with them and we competed in mad running races on our walk across the tidal flats to the reef.

Divers observed this seahorse in Inhambane, Mozambique while on the Pristine Seas expedition. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Divers observed this seahorse in Inhambane, Mozambique while on the Pristine Seas expedition. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

The young ones did not hesitate to get in the sea and begin exploring, which meant that in a few minutes we had sixteen happy little ocean adventurers whizzing around the surface, diving down, carefully examining the marine life, showing me around the urchins, starfish, crabs, angel fish, anemones, and shrimp, and enacting the time-honored ritual of all kids when they get in the water: They don’t come out. They don’t. It got windy, the surface got rougher, the tide started to come in fast, they all started shivering, the sun began to get low, time passed in a happy, endless, youthful way. But kids do not come out of the water and if it hadn’t been for the incredibly committed and talented Nemos Poquenos group leaders we would all still be there.

The young ones here are an impressive reminder that we all need the sea and that it’s essential that we experience the immeasurable vastness, power, promise, and freedom of the largest ecosystem on Earth. It’s been a beautiful day and I think we all became small children enjoying the sea today!

Read All Pristine Seas: Mozambique Blog Posts

The Pristine Seas Mozambique expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

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Paul Rose is an ardent explorer, television presenter, journalist, author, and Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society, and an Expedition Leader on the Pristine Seas team.