Changing Planet

Swimming With a Hawksbill Turtle, Barracuda, and More

This is the largest raised coral atoll on Earth: remote, inhospitable, spared from human interference, home to 100,000 giant tortoises, and surrounded by pristine reefs.

This is Aldabra! It is truly one of the wonders of the world. And we on this Pristine Seas expedition to study and record its wildlife are thrilled to be here.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
The sleek streamlined barracuda can swim faster than you can run. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

It might seem strange, but recently it was raining so hard that we couldn’t dive.

When there’s a strong current, instead of trying to surface in the same area we started, we “drift dive,” going along with the current while the dive boat sticks close to us, following the trail of our bubbles as they reach the surface. We can do this is almost any conditions.

On our first dive here at Aldabra though, the high winds and incredible downpour of rain reduced visibility to a just few yards meaning that the boat would be unable to keep track of us. So, resembling half-drowned sea birds, we just sat on the boat fully geared up staring into a monotone, grey world full of heaving seas, streaked with blowing foam.

While Aldabra tortoises lumber over the land above, hawksbill turtles like this one cruise under the waves. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

At the first hint of improvement we went for it—descending quickly into a warm, colorful paradise.

The contrast with life on the surface was remarkable.

I was immediately joined by a hawksbill turtle who tapped his beak on my mask and then followed me for most of the dive. Pristine living coral covered nearly 100 percent of the bottom.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
A potato grouper inspects Uneil, our local dive partner. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

Black tip, nurse, and grey reef sharks made investigative close-up passes, and the reef pulsated with life from lobsters, octopuses, and countless beautiful reef fishes.

With life this good underwater I absolutely did not want to surface. Unsurprisingly this is the way we all feel about Aldabra—we love it and may never leave!

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
Not all the groupers in the area are potato groupers. On this dive we also saw this one, possibly a brownspotted grouper. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

Read All Pristine Seas: Seychelles Posts

Related News: Pitcairn Islands Become World’s Largest Single Marine Reserve

This expedition is led by National Geographic in collaboration with the Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF), the Island Conservation Society (ICS), the Islands Development Company (IDC) and the Waitt Foundation.

Thanks to Pristine Seas sponsors Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.


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.
  • halley rai

    beautiful creatures…you sir are living the dream…swimming with giants…

  • Keith L Lortie

    With thanks for the photos! I’m envious of the eyeball encounters with the grouper, sharks and turtle – what do they make of us?! Appreciative thanks for what NG are doing in the world . . .

  • Tiffany Conroy

    Thank you

  • wayne

    Grew up in the Miami Florida area. Spent many days skin diving and scuba diving off the reefs of the Florida Keys.
    Know how the folks who took these pictures felt when they made the comment about wanting to stay down around the coral reefs and the fish and other marine life live and just stay down there it was so beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing the story and the pictures

  • Lori Cannon

    Looks like a wonderful time! 🙂

  • Lita Bowman

    I’ve loved your Magazine almost my entire life. I’m 87. I like to see your pictures and read stories about Sea life, and adventures of crews. Especially like info. about new discoveries and awesome depths explored. I’m interested in knowing more about waters off Puerto Rico’s coast.

  • david

    i loved it

  • Emerson Turner

    I love the.sea I wish I lived right on he sea.

  • Carm

    Hey Partner, want a ride on my turtle back?

  • Jean Rutz

    Howdy partner ,isn’t this floating groovy ?

  • Barbara Abbott

    ‘Hey my friend, come and follow me. I will take you on a tour of my paradise.’
    ‘Lead on McDuff.’

  • Mahbubur Rahman

    Hi do you need help!

  • Mahbubur Rahman

    Hi do you need help

  • Ray Newman

    Hawksbill points and says “He’s touching the coral!”

  • Sergio (Don) Domondon

    Top of the Morning to you Mr. Bill….!!!

  • Sergio (Don) Domondon

    Top of the Morning to you Mr. Bill.

  • fernand roy

    more interesting to discover than on mars, with all this life

  • fernand roy

    more interesting to see all this life,than what we see on planet mars

  • Jennifer McDonald

    Stay in your lane, buddy!

  • Jennifer McDonald

    So your gonna make a left at the reef…

  • Barry Nguyen

    Thanks for sharing your picture, I wish I could be here to see nice creatures and beatifull view.

  • Christopher Springmann

    Thanks – beautiful pictures, great lighting with subtle fill. What kind of camera/housing/flash did you use, please?

  • John

    Fish are friends not food.

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