Mozambique Expedition: Octopus Bites and Tiny Explorers

For the month of April 2014, National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition leader Paul Rose will lead a group of key scientists and filmmakers, together with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Andrea Marshall and the Marine Megafauna Foundation, to explore, survey, and record what they expect to be some of the healthiest reefs in East Africa, home to ocean giants like manta rays, dugongs, and more.

Starfish in Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
A group of starfish observed by the team while diving in Inhambane, Mozambique. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

The tide was running out fast around us and in just two hours both of our expedition boats had become stranded in a tiny blue pool of sea water the size of a football field and surrounded by hundreds of square miles of sandbanks. This has been certainly the shallowest dive day of our expedition and yet could easily be the most important.

Our science dives today focused on the highly productive shallows of the intertidal estuaries–the sheltered nurseries of the sea that are such magic places. In water that was so shallow that we could have stood up we dipped down to explore the life and were immediately welcomed by seahorses. We love the mythical seahorses–they mate for life, live in small weed beds, and the male gives birth to the young which is a particularly timely talent to be reminded of today, Mozambique Women’s Day.

Chief Scientist Alan Friedlander with a juvenile octopus in Mozambique. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Chief Scientist Alan Friedlander with a juvenile octopus. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

A young octopus showed who was the boss in the nursery by biting our chief scientist, Alan, hard enough to make him shout through his regulator and this was quickly followed by a crab which took a long ride on his underwater writing slate. Young starfish, huge schools of juvenile fish, and a sense of youthful vitality were the clear signals that the estuaries on the Mozambique coast are vital to the health of the ocean.

In the afternoon we were privileged to see the future of Mozambican waters through the eyes of the next generation as we joined the Nemos Pequenos group of local children aged from 7 to 16 years old who had learned to swim, studied the ocean environment, and were about to make their first snorkel dives. Their excitement was contagious and I sang along and danced with them and we competed in mad running races on our walk across the tidal flats to the reef.

Divers observed this seahorse in Inhambane, Mozambique while on the Pristine Seas expedition. Photo by Manu San Félix.
Divers observed this seahorse in Inhambane, Mozambique while on the Pristine Seas expedition. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

The young ones did not hesitate to get in the sea and begin exploring, which meant that in a few minutes we had sixteen happy little ocean adventurers whizzing around the surface, diving down, carefully examining the marine life, showing me around the urchins, starfish, crabs, angel fish, anemones, and shrimp, and enacting the time-honored ritual of all kids when they get in the water: They don’t come out. They don’t. It got windy, the surface got rougher, the tide started to come in fast, they all started shivering, the sun began to get low, time passed in a happy, endless, youthful way. But kids do not come out of the water and if it hadn’t been for the incredibly committed and talented Nemos Poquenos group leaders we would all still be there.

The young ones here are an impressive reminder that we all need the sea and that it’s essential that we experience the immeasurable vastness, power, promise, and freedom of the largest ecosystem on Earth. It’s been a beautiful day and I think we all became small children enjoying the sea today!

Read All Pristine Seas: Mozambique Blog Posts

The Pristine Seas Mozambique expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Click here to view this blog post in Portuguese


  1. Wendy
    johannesburg, South Africa
    April 25, 2014, 6:21 pm

    Agree, the Mozambique coast is an awesome diving and snorkeling venue. I pray that it remains so, but fear the worst as in inhambane I’ve seen a magnificent sea bass harpooned for nothing by locals despite signs + boards for no fishing in the coral garden lagoon. But thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  2. mohsen
    April 23, 2014, 2:43 am

    Wow،Magnifying the greatness of the Creator of the universe

  3. Sofia
    Boca Raton, FL.
    April 20, 2014, 12:37 pm

    Thank you for the interesting blogs. I love all the pictures and videos that you send, I feel that I am travelling to all these places and enjoying the vistas and creatures of your expeditions.

  4. Farid Siddiqui
    April 20, 2014, 3:54 am

    Thank you for taking us through these wonderful, informative and, not to forget, dangerous journeys. I remember how Steve Irwin gave up his life to keep us entertained and informed. Thank you once again and take care.

  5. Capt. O
    At Large
    April 18, 2014, 10:59 am

    I’ve always loved diving and snorkeling in the shallows and mangroves. There’s so much going on, in miniature, tide polls are a great way to explore in a contained relatively safe environment, especially for beginners. Two critiques of the article though…seahorse males don’t actually give birth and I wonder why starfish are not in a school like other fish?

  6. Michael Burke
    Melbourne Australia
    April 18, 2014, 6:07 am

    He was lucky it was there in Mosambique for if it was here in Australia our tiny Blue ringed octapus of similar size can kill you in just a few minutes !

  7. Bill Steen
    United States
    April 18, 2014, 2:13 am

    Thank you for sharing experiences like this. Many of us will never see these places and rely on people like yourself to help the rest of us to learn about them. Thank you!

  8. Mary Wright
    Amersham, UK
    April 17, 2014, 11:47 pm

    Thank you for these interesting photographs and your informative and friendly blogs. What a treat to observe these wonderful animals at close quarters – a lovely place to work – and the Indian Ocean is warm too!

  9. rafi Ullah
    April 17, 2014, 11:29 pm

    I like the pictures of NAT and if possible take us also to your adventurous expedititions

  10. rose
    united states
    April 17, 2014, 10:00 pm

    The water is so pretty an clean very nice to look at the small sea creatures wish I was there to see for myself

  11. Ivan Lares
    April 17, 2014, 2:05 pm

    Hermosas fotos de un trabajo muy bien hecho.

  12. Caroline Peet
    United Kingdom
    April 14, 2014, 2:15 pm

    Fantastic blogs….it makes me feel like I’m right there experiencing it too…fantastic 🙂

  13. Vincent
    April 14, 2014, 1:19 am

    Love the posts! Great intel for a dive trip we are planning in July!

  14. Kimbutgar
    San Francisco, CA
    April 8, 2014, 4:29 pm

    Did the octopus emit ink after biting you?

  15. Leigh
    April 8, 2014, 4:31 am

    Welcome I know you cannot but enjoy the magic of this place. Will really enjoy following your expedition……… please let me know if you need any extra team members!!!!!!. Just wishful thinking

  16. gabriela
    April 8, 2014, 1:36 am

    Ouch!! I would have never thought that little octopus had such strong bite!