Chumbe or That day that we caught sharks in our traps and my room got flooded

We’re halfway through our work here and I’ll be on my way home in two weeks. I know people always say that they can’t believe how fast the time has gone by, but it’s true. I’ll be home before I know it.
Working in Chumbe was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences a marine biologist could have. The area has been protected for a long time, since it used to be a military area with no access allowed. Now the only fishing going on in the area was ours, and we were amazed by what we found in our traps and by snorkeling the reef. And yes, that fish we're holding is a unicorn fish. The name for obvious reasons.

We were told that there was a chance to catch moray eels in our traps. At first, this just sounded exciting and fun, I’ve never seen a moray before and didn’t think we would actually get any. In total, we got three. I joked about getting sharks in our traps next time. We got two.
It was slightly surreal to pull up our trap and find two dazed nurse sharks and a 1.2 metre giant moray eel (the species is called giant moray, I don’t consider 1.2 as particularly giant) trashing about in the trap. Feelings went from “Wohooo! We’ve got something exciting in our traps! Oh wow – a moray! And sharks!” to “Oh crap, we have a moray in our trap. And two sharks. What now?”
I don’t know how much you guys know about nurse sharks and morays, but I can tell you that the sharks were our least concern in that case. Nurse sharks are completely harmless and the only problem with these two were that they were too fat and scared to easily get out of the opening, while at the same time avoiding the moray. Now the moray is something completely different. Imagine a snake dipped in lubricant, properly pissed off because it’s been stuck in your stupid trap all night, and then taken out of the water where it belongs. Not very pleasant. So to try to get that out of a small opening while it's trying to bite your head off and it's impossible to grab even with gloves because it’s too slippery. Quite an adventure.
Pictures of the nurse sharks aren’t very good. I tried to hold them, but they weren’t very happy and just squirmed around. The morays in the second picture aren’t the giant moray (the tail can be seen of that one in the shark picture), but two other ones that we caught later on. Apparently fishermen that get morays in their traps take them to shore and leave the moray to die on land, because there’s no way that they’re gonna try to get that thing out alive. Which is understandable, and makes us slightly proud that we managed.

The sunshine deceived us into thinking that the rainy season was over, which it clearly isn’t. At 3 a.m I woke up thinking that it was unusually quiet outside. No birds, no cats, no wind, nothing. Half an hour later when I woke up again from rain landing on my face, I fully understood the expression “the calm before the storm”. The wind slammed against my windows, forcing torrents of rain through the mosquito net and onto the floor. I got up and found most of my books and clothes soaked, with more rain continuing to gush in through the window, onto my bed, into my suitcase and creating a smaller lake on the floor. Alert as you are at 3.30 a.m., I didn’t think about closing the shutters to my windows (not that it would’ve made much of a difference anyway) but decided that the best thing was to try to get the water of the floor. So a bucket and towel in hand, I worked for about an hour against the storm. Exciting morning.
When we later got up to go out, the thunderstorm and wind had died down just enough for us to dare to take the one hour trip to Chumbe and rush back again.
Our boat guy felt like the following day (when it still rained quite heavily) would be an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to handle the boat. Since I was in my wetsuit, I didn’t mind. Difficult to steer for shore when you can’t see anything but rain and fog, though. But once again, we managed (with a fair bit of navigation skills from the boat guy, obviously). And when we came back home one afternoon, we found that the trees harboring the spiders had almost fallen onto the house. The landlord quickly decided to chop them all down and the trees took all the spiders with them. Spider Lane is now no more.
Before the rains came, me and Elisa decided that we would love to explore a bit more of Chumbes reef. It’s exceptionally beautiful, with butterflyfish, surgeonfish, triggerfish and rays shooting back and forth in the water. But what made my day were the last few minutes there, when I spotted this hawksbill turtle (we think) getting a clean-up among the corals. It was so calm, so unmoved by my surprise and barely turned its head to look at me when I came closer. Magnificent. That’s all I’ll say.

Pictures: Me, Hamis and Elisa

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