The last six days have been almost completely dominated by the long-planned ‘Marine Week’, a detailed and serious look at the conservation issues and research possibilities posed by the Mediterranean in our part of the world. But before we talk about that we need to mention that just before it started we had our church weekend away. Last year’s event was something of a landmark for us as it marked our first real involvement with the church family of Holy Trinity Cannes, so this year’s event was a reminder of how time has passed. We all disappeared to one of those big wooded holiday sites with chalets and over two days Giles our chaplain took us through the first epistle of John. Given the pace of the week that followed it was a useful and strategic break.
On Sunday afternoon, only a couple of hours after the church weekend away had finished, we both went to Nice airport to pick up the marine biology team. (We needed two cars so Chris rented a large Peugeot automatic with an overwhelming excess of equipment including a head-up display and a 300-page manual in French). The team was headed by Bob Sluka, a long-standing A Rocha marine biologist and Benjo, Doro and Aline: all students in various stages of involvement with PhDs and with varying lengths of experience in marine work with A Rocha in Kenya. Chris and Bob had spent a long time planning the trip and had created a fairly precise itinerary for each day. Chris was planner, driver, payer of bills and someone whose task was to nag – in the nicest possible way – everybody along to the next stop. (The sheer size of France means that almost all newcomers underestimate the time it takes to get from A to B.)
Sunday night we spent at Courmettes and Monday morning we headed eastwards down through the centre of Nice (not nice) to the coast just west of Monaco. There was a lot of snorkelling and the keen compilation of species lists of marine plants and animals. Despite its popularity with tourists and customary blueness, the Mediterranean is neither particularly productive nor very healthy: it is subject to a whole range of problems which probably deserve a blog on their own. What Chris learned on Monday was that divers eat an enormous amount – anyone who spends an hour so in the water comes out incredibly hungry.
Early Monday afternoon we hopped on a local train, got off ten minutes later in Monaco and made our way to the Oceanographic Institute for a tour of the museum and aquariums and a long-planned meeting with one of the directors which yielded some useful ideas. There was a long and slow journey back through the centre of Nice (still not nice), a stop to buy more food for the morrow and then back up to Courmettes.
Tuesday saw an early morning start and a rapid drive down through Nice again (which hadn’t improved) out to Cape Ferrat, home to some of the planet’s wealthier citizens. We have arranged a diving trip so set sail out round the headland in a charming if rather small boat. We had an hour or so snorkelling off a cliff and then returned back. Unfortunately, at this point the wind had got up and the waves had now developed white caps and were sufficiently high to periodically smash over the boat and its occupants. There have been few moments in the last 14 months where Chris wished he was back in teaching, but this was one of them. We returned back to Courmettes by a distinctly sterile beach at Cannes – the only species visible on the shore was Homo sapiens.
On Wednesday Alison took most of the luggage and drove to chez nous at Taradeau while the rest of the team drove around the Esterel massif looking at a number of bays before ending up at our house. Numbers were increased at this point by the arrival of Sarah W from A Rocha. So Wednesday night we actually had seven people staying overnight – a new record – but we all survived.
By now we had accumulated lots of data, video and still images and there were still two days to go. But for what happened on the Thursday and Friday you’re going to have to wait a week.