Swimming With a Hawksbill Turtle, Barracuda, and More

This is the largest raised coral atoll on Earth: remote, inhospitable, spared from human interference, home to 100,000 giant tortoises, and surrounded by pristine reefs.

This is Aldabra! It is truly one of the wonders of the world. And we on this Pristine Seas expedition to study and record its wildlife are thrilled to be here.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
The sleek streamlined barracuda can swim faster than you can run. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

It might seem strange, but recently it was raining so hard that we couldn’t dive.

When there’s a strong current, instead of trying to surface in the same area we started, we “drift dive,” going along with the current while the dive boat sticks close to us, following the trail of our bubbles as they reach the surface. We can do this is almost any conditions.

On our first dive here at Aldabra though, the high winds and incredible downpour of rain reduced visibility to a just few yards meaning that the boat would be unable to keep track of us. So, resembling half-drowned sea birds, we just sat on the boat fully geared up staring into a monotone, grey world full of heaving seas, streaked with blowing foam.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
While Aldabra tortoises lumber over the land above, hawksbill turtles like this one cruise under the waves. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

At the first hint of improvement we went for it—descending quickly into a warm, colorful paradise.

The contrast with life on the surface was remarkable.

I was immediately joined by a hawksbill turtle who tapped his beak on my mask and then followed me for most of the dive. Pristine living coral covered nearly 100 percent of the bottom.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
A potato grouper inspects Uneil, our local dive partner. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

Black tip, nurse, and grey reef sharks made investigative close-up passes, and the reef pulsated with life from lobsters, octopuses, and countless beautiful reef fishes.

With life this good underwater I absolutely did not want to surface. Unsurprisingly this is the way we all feel about Aldabra—we love it and may never leave!

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
Not all the groupers in the area are potato groupers. On this dive we also saw this one, possibly a brownspotted grouper. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

Read All Pristine Seas: Seychelles Posts

Related News: Pitcairn Islands Become World’s Largest Single Marine Reserve

This expedition is led by National Geographic in collaboration with the Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF), the Island Conservation Society (ICS), the Islands Development Company (IDC) and the Waitt Foundation.

Thanks to Pristine Seas sponsors Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.



  1. John
    November 3, 2016, 4:39 pm

    Fish are friends not food.

  2. Christopher Springmann
    Portland OR
    March 8, 2016, 12:09 pm

    Thanks – beautiful pictures, great lighting with subtle fill. What kind of camera/housing/flash did you use, please?

  3. Barry Nguyen
    September 17, 2015, 12:26 am

    Thanks for sharing your picture, I wish I could be here to see nice creatures and beatifull view.

  4. Jennifer McDonald
    United States
    May 22, 2015, 11:14 am

    So your gonna make a left at the reef…

  5. Jennifer McDonald
    United States
    May 22, 2015, 11:14 am

    Stay in your lane, buddy!

  6. fernand roy
    rimouski, quebec, canada
    May 13, 2015, 12:22 pm

    more interesting to see all this life,than what we see on planet mars

  7. fernand roy
    rimouski ,quebec, canada
    May 13, 2015, 12:13 pm

    more interesting to discover than on mars, with all this life

  8. Sergio (Don) Domondon
    May 11, 2015, 8:10 pm

    Top of the Morning to you Mr. Bill.

  9. Sergio (Don) Domondon
    May 11, 2015, 8:09 pm

    Top of the Morning to you Mr. Bill….!!!

  10. Ray Newman
    May 10, 2015, 2:58 pm

    Hawksbill points and says “He’s touching the coral!”

  11. Mahbubur Rahman
    Birmingham United Kingdom
    May 10, 2015, 1:07 pm

    Hi do you need help

  12. Mahbubur Rahman
    United Kingdom
    May 10, 2015, 1:05 pm

    Hi do you need help!

  13. Barbara Abbott
    May 10, 2015, 4:10 am

    ‘Hey my friend, come and follow me. I will take you on a tour of my paradise.’
    ‘Lead on McDuff.’

  14. Jean Rutz
    Kelowna ,Canada
    May 9, 2015, 12:08 pm

    Howdy partner ,isn’t this floating groovy ?

  15. Carm
    May 9, 2015, 11:55 am

    Hey Partner, want a ride on my turtle back?

  16. Emerson Turner
    Pa Hooversvill
    April 4, 2015, 6:25 am

    I love the.sea I wish I lived right on he sea.

  17. david
    March 26, 2015, 3:59 am

    i loved it

  18. Lita Bowman
    Palm Springs, CA
    March 24, 2015, 10:22 pm

    I’ve loved your Magazine almost my entire life. I’m 87. I like to see your pictures and read stories about Sea life, and adventures of crews. Especially like info. about new discoveries and awesome depths explored. I’m interested in knowing more about waters off Puerto Rico’s coast.

  19. Lori Cannon
    Benicia, California
    March 24, 2015, 5:26 pm

    Looks like a wonderful time! 🙂

  20. wayne
    March 24, 2015, 11:54 am

    Grew up in the Miami Florida area. Spent many days skin diving and scuba diving off the reefs of the Florida Keys.
    Know how the folks who took these pictures felt when they made the comment about wanting to stay down around the coral reefs and the fish and other marine life live and just stay down there it was so beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing the story and the pictures

  21. Tiffany Conroy
    March 24, 2015, 8:41 am

    Thank you

  22. Keith L Lortie
    Launceston Cornwall UK
    March 24, 2015, 6:58 am

    With thanks for the photos! I’m envious of the eyeball encounters with the grouper, sharks and turtle – what do they make of us?! Appreciative thanks for what NG are doing in the world . . .

  23. halley rai
    khumaltar, nepal
    March 24, 2015, 4:09 am

    beautiful creatures…you sir are living the dream…swimming with giants…