One of the best things about volunteering on Cousin Island Special Reserve is to snorkel in a marine protected area. Although a lot of the coral is dead due to the El Niño, there is still an amazing array of marine life, from the beautiful tropical fishes to the graceful hawksbill turtles. My favorite animals in the sea are the sharks.
Coming from South Africa where people tend to be more wary of sharks, I was pleasantly surprised when I came to Cousin Island that volunteers had so much enthusiasm in finding sharks. With the beautiful weather and the warm sea that the Seychelles has to offer, volunteers often take the opportunity to go snorkeling off Anse Vakwa on the north side of the island.
There is a great variety of fish around the rocks, with vivid colors and patterns of all shapes and sizes. Some of the fish require a sharp eye, as they have outstanding camouflage. Making it impossible for swimmers not to be curious of what may be swimming ahead or hiding under rocks. The greatest thrill is when you see a shadow in the distance or fleeting glimpse of a tail disappearing under the rocks, indicating a shark nearby.
I have been lucky enough to see four of the shark species that you are most likely to see when snorkeling in these protected waters. The whitetip reef shark (Triaendon obesus) is possibly one of the more common sightings and may sometimes be found in groups or on their own resting in cracks or caves before their evening hunt. I have learnt that white tips are far from aggressive and often tend to swim away, leaving us swimming after them for a better view.
One of the more difficult sharks to find is the nurse shark, they have a dark grey-brown skin. Nurse sharks (Ginglymostama cirratum) like white tips are one of the few shark species than can pump water over their gills to oxygenate their blood. This means they can lie motionless hiding in nooks and crannies or under rocks during the day before coming out for dinner in the evening. It does however make it quite difficult to spot.
One of the sharks we often spot around Cousin is the grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) – at certain times we have seen as many as TEN individuals. They are most often found swimming around the edge of the reef or rocky areas, sadly they too are not massive fans of humans and most of the time leaves in a flash of grey before you can get your GoPro ready.
Last but not least and if lucky enough the Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) they may be seen occasionally in the lagoon. But take a tip from me. Make sure that your mask isn’t foggy! When it comes to lemons they often leave you guessing, you are more likely to see a big brown blur flash past you.
Instead of swimming away I have learnt that we do the exact opposite here on cousin, we are always swimming towards the sharks. Naturally, for safety reasons we have to notify the senior staff on the island and have another person accompany us when we are exploring shark haven.