Last message from David Tickler, representative of the Bertarelli Foundation at the 2012 Chagos Expedition.
"My last instalment left us at Egmont Island – just south of the Chagos Bank – on our way back to Diego Garcia.
Although our course back to the port was across open water, there was an important pit stop to make on the way into DG: a series of seamounts which would be the perfect target for deep drops with the remote cameras, if they could be found. Patient tracking back and forth by the Pacific Marlin identified a likely candidate in a 65m deep mount around 2 miles in diameter, and the University of Western Australia team made ready to drop their first set of four BRUVS camera rigs. I went with them to photograph (and of course help with) the hard work of hauling the camera up from that depth. Even with four people on the line, retrieving a 40kg rig from up to 80m down is no picnic and there were sore hands all round after a few goes. We noticed that every time the cameras were dropped we would have silver tip sharks all round the boat – probably drawn by either the noise or, more likely, the smell of the pilchards. They showed no interest in following the bait bags down to the reef below but hung just below the surface providing a photo-opportunity too good to ignore. When we went back to the Marlin for the next set of BRUVS I grabbed mask, fins and camera and had the pleasure of snapping these beautiful creatures as they swam idly around and below me in the gin-clear water. For me it was the high point of the entire trip, contrasting with the grim sight of a pile of illegally caught sharks awaiting disposal on DG when we first arrived.
Our last few days have been spent back on DG, doing additional surveys on our sites around the northern reefs and packing down equipment for transport or storage. These last few dives gave me the opportunity to go through some Rescue Diver training with Pascaline, our trainee conservationist, and the rest of the team did an excellent job of playing victims, worried friends and bystanders to add realism to the exercise.
A barbeque on Sunday night with the crew of the Marlin and representatives of the British party on the island was a fitting end to a fantastic trip and an opportunity for the photographers in the group to show off some of their favourite shots of crew and wildlife. Monday was our last day in the water, and the air of reluctance with which we finally packed away our scuba gear was tangible!
Talking with the various team members as we waited in a series of airport departure and arrival halls, it is clear that this expedition has been an amazing success, not only in the judgement of those of us new to Chagos, but also the sea."