You never know what to expect when you’re asked to act as dive supervisor on an expedition to one of the more isolated reef systems in the world, and it was with a degree of trepidation that I agreed to take on the role for the Chagos 2012 Scientific Expedition.
As it was, any fears I may have had were quickly allayed on meeting the team. Pete Raines, the expedition manager, had done an awesome job on the logistical preparation and we had tools and spares for every eventuality: aside from safety, kit failure is the biggest concern when trying to operate off the beaten track.
That said, I was still unprepared for the sheer volume of work involved in scientific diving. Two dives a day seemed like a pretty easy schedule when you’re used to charter dive boats and the eat-dive-sleep-eat-dive-sleep routine that has the guests in the water five times a day, but throw in small boats brim full of survey kit as well as scuba, a few decent sized waves, the odd reef crossing, and long physical dives on the sites and it becomes a feat of organisation just to get the morning and afternoon sessions completed. That said, after a week we’ve now settled into our stride and the days are starting to run like clockwork.
For me personally, as a professional dive nut, working out here in the Chagos is a dream come true and there have been amazing highlights on every dive. Big fish are always good to see, and grey reef and silvertip sharks, abundant schooling jacks, barracuda and snapper, and plentiful huge grouper have been a feature of almost every dive.
When diving in the Chagos though the big difference is definitely the reef itself – it takes a moment on first entering the water here to tear your attention away from the mobile marine life and actually look at the corals, but once they have your attention you realise that far from being just a backdrop to the fish action, here the corals are in many ways the main show.
My enjoyment of the trip has only been equalled by the enthusiasm of the rest of the team for this place, and it’s great to see a group of seasoned marine biologists still getting wide-eyed with excitement at a passing manta – their passion for marine life is what makes the team so much fun to work with.
The trip would not be running as smoothly as it is, however, without the tireless efforts and creativity of the crew of the Pacific Marlin – the government’s patrol vessel. Not only have they converted the hanger space on board into a dive store and scientific workshop, but they have endlessly innovated and modified their equipment to provide solutions to the needs of the scientists.
Whilst it’s hard not to be dazzled by the beauty of this place, and the thrill and uniqueness of this opportunity to dive and survey a small part of the reefs here, it is also worth remembering that not everywhere is so lucky and just how important Chagos is as an example of what healthy, balanced reefs are supposed to look like.
After a few days diving here it is easy to forget all the algae covered, rubble strewn dive sites that are called coral reefs in some less fortunate parts of the world. Diving here should encourage us all to redouble our efforts to preserve not only this area, but all the other surviving reefs of the world. I know I will go away from this trip determined to be more than just an onlooker.
About the Author: David Tickler, Dive Technician
David is a professional dive instructor and guide and has spent the last seven years working on charter and private vessels in various parts of the world, including Australia and Micronesia. As well as his diving qualifications, David has a Yachtmaster qualification and is a Diver Medic Technician. Prior to becoming a diving instructor he worked as an analyst for a bank in the UK, a think tank in Tokyo and a consulting firm in Sydney. He is representing the Bertarelli Foundation (who, alongside the British government, sponsor the marine reserve in Chagos) on the 2012 Chagos Scientific Expedition.
Previously in this series: