Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another Realm--Diving Coral Gardens

Coral Gardens--Sir Francis Drake Channel, BVI

There are days when abundance is everywhere. Today was one of them.

I went for another dive with Marti's crew again after determining that my ears were OK after a couple days' rest. This time, my divemaster was Caroline, the Chicagoan who had taught me the basics. On board: Jared, a lanky, dark-haired New Zealander from the North Island, Justin, sunbleached blonde hair blowing past his shoulders as he sped the diveboat out to the channel, and Bev, another baby boomer like me, who owns a place in Tortola overlooking Long Bay--and dives nearly every day while she's here.( The pix above are compliments of Bev's underwater camera.)

Instead of diving near a visible landmark, like the Indians that are outcroppings in the middle of the channel, Justin located the diving spot, a couple of buoys in 40 feet of water, from experience. Everyone dove--and we dove together ( I clearly had graduated from total beginner!). Caroline and I went last, knowing that my descent would be slow. ( Equalize, equalize, equalize.) Up a little, then back down as my left ear agreed to cooperate and adapt to the pressure gradient.

I had hardly let go of the descent line, when Caroline pointed below about 10 feet to the sandy bottom. The two toned tan shell of a young hawksbill turtle slowly grazed the top of the sand, his characteristic nose leading his way. It seemed like we were down there for hours--Caroline hovering over me, letting me experiment with the concept of hovering over an object to inspect it. Inhale--up; Exhale--down. It was like being my own vertical teeter-totter.

Elkhorn coral as tall as me, V-shaped coral canyons littered with purple sea fans, their base gripping the coral bed. Caroline encouraged me to dive a bit closer to the bottom to get a better look--and to slow down. Later, she told me:"Sometimes, I'll go to a location and spend 30 minutes on one coral formation that's maybe 50x50. First you see the fish, then the creatures that clean the coral and have other ecosystem roles, then you see the amazing coral formations."

Before the dive was over, I had seen hundreds of fish--indigo, dayglo yellow, silver, cerise--all the colors in the large (50+ ) Crayola box of my childhood. There was a small baracuda lazing along with that sharp eye, and a 24 inch long Caribbean lobster, his tentacles reporting his whereabouts as he walked along the sea floor in and out of the shadows of coral.

When I look out my window now at the sea below, the waves licking the side of the brown-green hills, I'm convinced Neptune and all of his realm are having more fun than we are.

Do you suppose there's politics beyond natural selection down there?


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