Emerald. Is the sovereign color of this stretch of ocean separating Tanzania from one of its wildest and uncontaminated islands: Mafia, the Emerald Kingdom.
In our imagination of “tropical paradise” this is the color of clear, crystalline and shallow water that baths a white sand surrounded by shady palm trees. From this point of view then Mafia is not a tropical paradise.
The water of this sea is green, but it is murky for the great amount of nutrients and plankton and not for some kind of pollution as one might think of a first impact.
The abundance of microorganisms is due to the rivers that descend into the sea from the coasts of Tanzania and facilitates the proliferation of underwater life.The owners of this natural paradise are a sedentary population of whale sharks, juvenile specimens,which during the months from November to March are accustomed to swimming and feeding on the surface. During this time of year, you can find them more easily and approach them.
This will be my challenge to the Emerald Kingdom.
Have you ever been face to face with a “living being” between 8 and 9 meters long and with a 1 meter wide mouth? I can assure you that it is not a nice thing, especially if everything happens in a sea that does not allow you to see where that “living being” will come from!
Anxiety and uncertainty seize the body and are not useful companions for those who have apnea.
As an apnea photographer, I have chosen this island specifically to meet and capture these marine giants.
In order to be able to approach whale sharks, I called for the support of some island operators offering “sighting and approach” service with equipped boats.
Once sighted, they bring you near the shark and you can jump into the water to meet him face to face!
Watching them parade for a few seconds, one or more times, just in front of your eyes is a very strong emotion, but, however special, it remains for everyone.
I wanted to photograph them at best despite the murky water, very complicated!
To do this I had to swim really close to them without touching them to not get them to flee! In this way I could capture the image in the best position and with the best possible light.
They swim quietly, seemingly effortless and careless of those approaching them; you have to move your legs quickly and give all your energies, in order to remain close to them and not lose their traces in the murky water, but you’ll still be clumsy with your long apneal fins that have nothing to do with elegance of their gait.
An unequal challenge but from which I do not pull back!
Finally we see one from the boat and we approach carefully a few feet from it while swimming on the surface. I jump into the water and look in the empty green. The captain of the ship shouts: “It’s coming!”, But I do not see anything.
Suddenly I see a dark shadow coming from nowhere, then a sequence of small fish, so the big gray head appears with its white spots; its huge mouth is surrounded by yellow fish that seem to run away to avoid being swallowed.
It swims slowly and majestically … and never ends!
In the end his tail is lost in the murky water with slow and powerful movements … what a show!
A first appointment that went very well. Few seconds I will never forget!
I only have a few seconds to get back from the amazement and to remember that I’m here to take pictures. So I start my shark hunt, helped by the captain of the boat. I try to understand its movements looking at the direction of the dorsal fin emerging from the water.
I have to intercept it frontally to have a picture in the foreground.
I can make various photographs: side, front. up, down. I swim and snap, swim and snap continuously.
An amazing effort to observe so much beauty!
It’s a frantic rush to not miss the right opportunity. Suddenly I’m confused: they are two! The 4 to 5 meter long shark, which I was chasing, intersects with a larger one that is about 8 to 9 meters long.
It is huge, I can not snap a full-length photograph to it
and I can not photograph them together, they are too big even for a wide-angle lens .They cross and chase, dancing among themselves for a while, then they take different paths.
The most interesting and reckless snapshots I’ve been able to do are those under the shark, backlit, gorgeous!
To do this I had to drop in apnea 2-3 meters below the animal and swim underwater at its speed in search of the best shot. I did not look where I was going, I only knew that I was running a huge risk: you imagine hitting a shark with your head, doing this at 10 feet deep in a completely murky and dark water.
But it was my challenge and I could not pull back.
This is Mafia: the Emerald Kingdom. For me one of the most exciting and unforgettable adventures.
The great beauty of this sea and its giants must be preserved at all costs.