I'm Claudia Naraina and earlier this year I went through a truly a life changing experience when I found myself exploring the Chagos islands on a research vessel, as part of ZSL’s Connect Chagos course. The course is a way of connecting Chagossian people in the UK and overseas with our natural heritage, so I was on a mission to learn about the importance of Chagos, and all the wild things to be found in the archipelago.
It was a very emotional time for me to step onto the settlement islands for the first time. I remembered what my great grandmother told me about her native land and that she hoped that one day I would be able to see how beautiful this place is. She was right.
I was given environmental training prior to the expedition so I could identify different marine species. This meant I could help out on a series of coral reef underwater surveys within the beautiful lagoons of the Chagos Archipelago. Discovering the pristine and untouched marine life for the first time was quite overwhelming. I had to be careful not to destroy the corals while diving, but it was easier once I had learnt to practice my buoyancy. Being able to dive has opened up an entirely new underwater world to me.
It was very challenging to get onto some of the islands. We had to swim long distances or fight the giant waves. Their size depends on how far, how fast and how long the wind blows.
Walking for hours around them was quite challenging as well, as we had to often walk on rocks rather than sand and try to monitor the rare tropical birds at the same time. But our efforts paid off in the Brothers Islands, where we’d headed for a two hour bird monitoring walk. We discovered a turtle caught in fishing nets. Having nothing to cut the nets with, we had to improvise, and ended up using broken pieces of a bottle. The long walk around the island seemed worthwhile as we managed to save a turtle's life.
Stranded in a storm
I had a real adventure on the deserted island of South Brother. I was there to learn how to place transects and how to measure and record findings of the coconut or robber crab (Birgus latro). This is the largest terrestrial arthropod reaching over a metre in length, and up to 4kg in weight. Adult crabs are largely terrestrial, only going back to sea to lay eggs. They feed on fruits and carrion, but are best known for feeding on coconut.
It was a brilliant night, but in the morning we woke to a powerful storm and torrential rain. We were stuck on the island at least for a couple of hours before we could be rescued as they could not see us from the ship and we could not see them either. I was not scared or even panicked as we could communicate with the ship via radio and I knew that the two other people I was with knew exactly what to do if it did get worse. I thought that it was quite an adventure to be stuck with two ex-marines on a deserted island. I was also later told that I was the first of my generation to stay overnight on one of the Chagos islands after nearly 50 years!
Chagos is such a pristine and wonderful place and I hope that I have made my ancestors proud by helping to preserve this legacy for our future generation to enjoy.
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