The edge of the sea

By Shelbi Johnston - Combination volunteer 5 years ago
Categories Uncategorized

The weekdays are always eventful here at the GVI base in Shimoni, Kenya. Speaking as a member of the Forest group, I can honestly say that the work is as exhausting as it is enjoyable; you roll out of bed on Monday full of energy and anticipation, but by Thursday night you are quite ready for the weekend!. Thus, Friday mornings are set aside for those tasks that don’t require us to trek so far. We call them Fun Forest Fridays, and on one such day the Forest volunteers—myself included—marched out to a little place called The Shelf to count waterfowl. I imagined it would be an ordinary outing. I was wrong.

For starters, I had no idea what The Shelf actually was before I arrived. I had glimpsed a few satellite pictures of it but I assumed it was just a small outcrop of the Kenyan coastline that floods when the tide comes in. I was partially right. The Shelf is a massive sandy-bottomed lagoon, propped up above the normal ocean waterline by a flat ledge of rock. It’s about a kilometre across and a few kilometres wide, and it looks like something pulled out of a fantasy novel: an oceanic meadow with seaweed and algae instead of grass, submerged under a layer of ankle-deep water. Because this bizarre and beautiful site is not subjected to rough currents, the water is calm and heated by the sun, and stepping into it felt like a warm bath.

Everywhere I looked I saw something captivating. There were tiny shoals of silvery fish darting away from our footsteps; small branching turquoise corals; swollen green bumps filled with water, which I took to be some sort of anemone or polyp; hundreds upon thousands of burgundy brittle stars; and more crabs than I thought even existed in the world. There were fist-sized crabs the colour of wine, tiny transparent crabs that blended so well with the sand that I never noticed them until they moved, and green crabs that folded up so tightly and seamlessly, I couldn’t tell them apart from a mossy rock.

If I managed to tear my eyes off the water for more than a few seconds, I saw birds: egrets, sandpipers, storks, and (farther up in the sky) African Fish Eagles and Black Kites so common to the area. It was the most incredible thing I have experienced yet in Africa, and by far the best time I’ve ever had at the beach. Those still waters swept me away.

Shelbi Johnston – Combination volunteer