The Ocean Under the Mountain: In Search of Africa’s Most Endangered Trout

As Karim Boutellaka and I pilot our rental car across a high plateau in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, it’s hard to believe that any fish—much less a remnant population of Ice Age brown trout—could survive in this arid landscape. The rocky slopes completely lack vegetation in some spots. In others, the rough ground is sparsely covered with plants the size of toasters and the shape and texture of pincushions.

Within view of the dirt road, a lonely ribbon of water trickles through a wide gravel bed. There is no bankside vegetation here and no sign of algae, or any other aquatic life, on the cobbles. Only a petulant flock of goats, some abandoned stone huts and a lesser kestrel perched on a boulder, which flies off at our approach.

We arrive in the village of Ait Attou Ou Moussa in late afternoon via a long series of downhill switchbacks on a dusty track mostly wide enough for a single vehicle. Neither Karim nor I have previously set foot here, but we have both dreamed about it. This village lies at the end of the road and the mouth of a canyon—the canyon where we will search for the most endangered native trout on the African continent…

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