13 November 2022

Note of 13 November 2022

Seeing the invisible island, or how the Saya de Malha bank plays hide and seek with the S.A. Agulhas II and the crew of the Indian Ocean expedition. The impressions and feelings of Didier Théron, Head of Outreach for Monaco Explorations, on these days devoted to the exploration of an unknown and mysterious environment by the teams of scientists on board.

See the invisible island...

As we left Port Victoria in the Seychelles and set sail for Saya de Malha, I wondered if the invisible island would reveal itself to our inquisitive eyes, reveal its innermost secrets? A quote from Antoine de St-Exupéry came back to me like a ritornello. We can only see well with the heart, the essential is invisible to the eyes. Today, I have the feeling that throughout these days I have witnessed a permanent game of hide-and-seek between the ship and these vast underwater plains made up of endless seagrass beds and scattered coral massifs, erratic sandbanks full of mystery, real invitations to go and explore further and further… Saya de Malha plays cat and mouse Everyone here is aware of the privilege of participating in a unique adventure, where you feel transported into another dimension, a little out of time. A time frozen by the progress of scientific operations and repetitive daily gestures, a time that nevertheless passes at lightning speed. The days pass by, the countdown to the end of the mission is already underway.
Mentally, I try to visualise the invisible island, to give it a precise shape from the clues gathered here and there. But if we are talking about an island, for the moment I really only see one, omnipresent: our ship, a refuge gliding on the surface of this bluish immensity coiled around it. Some might think that this heady blue, both moving and static, holds us prisoner in the ocean. Yet all it takes is a glance at the horizon, a moment spent on Monkey Island, high in the clouds and wind at the top of the gangway, to escape into the distance, to set sail, to free the mind and thoughts from the constraints of daily life and to soar like a great albatross at the water’s edge. The symbolic border of the surface is crossed several times a day by the divers, the ROV or the dredgers, sent by the ship to discover Saya de Malha. Our explorers gradually tame the invisible island. Fragments of truth, the samples brought on board are precious and pampered, sorted and classified, packaged, fleeting witnesses of a hidden biodiversity full of promise. The gold of Saya de Malha cannot be picked up with a shovel. To see the invisible island, you have to put your heart, your passion and a lot of work into it. In short, you have to work hard. The teams on board the S.A. Agulhas II have plenty of heart and passion. To harvest the gold of knowledge, this is the price to pay, the price of self-sacrifice and perseverance, of doubt, of long nights of operations and sample conditioning, of lack of sleep, and also of research in the laboratories and the results that will follow the field mission. When he speaks to the Little Prince in the tale, the fox is right a thousand times over; you can only see well with your heart.
Didier Théron, Outreach manager at Monaco Explorations. Indian Ocean expedition. October 2022©Céline Dimier_IMEV_MonacoExplorations


Outreach Manager for Monaco Explorations

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