I was not born to swim – indeed my skill in the water thus far can be likened to that of driftwood i.e. able to float but poor at moving in one direction with any efficacy. So it was with some trepidation that I learned from the Madman for whom I work that I was to be wrenched from the comfort of the bush and dropped on a Caribbean island in order to learn to dive – that is to say swim under the water where there is no air to breathe. The point? To gain some understanding of how the marine biologists of diveLIVE ply their trade and to take our safariLIVE viewers on a journey with me under the sea and then leave them in the capable fins of our exceptional diveLIVE team.
My teacher was Simone Herrmannsen, diveLIVE marine biologist and an Australian of South African heritage. (Like a leopardess with a bit of Tasmanian devil tossed in for good measure). People with my attention span – about 12 seconds – need teachers like this. I concentrated very hard in order to escape her wrath. Simone was quite exceptional. I know this because I am alive after eight magical sub-surface experiences with stingrays, parrotfish, angelfish, fairy basslets, spiny lobsters, corals, sponges, algae and thousands of other unidentifiable creatures.
The first time the BCD deflated (see I’m even using the jargon now), my head dropped below the surface and the world changed. There was some anxiety, more accurately panic, as my terrestrial brain wrapped itself around being aquatic and then I was breathing underwater. Bubbles rushed past my ears with each breath and I looked around me in awe and some trepidation, eyes fixed on my instructor as we sank. A little while later, we were suspended over the Caribbean reefs, life in myriad colours and forms exploding all around.
For me, the sounds of the wild are almost as important as the sights. It was disconcerting that the only noise was my anxious breathing. This was until Simone, suspended upright with impossible skill, pointed to her ear. I stopped huffing and puffing briefly. Myriad crackles touched my ears as the creatures of the reef went about feeding, fighting and mating. The most dominant sound was that of hundreds of parrotfish beaks cracking against the coral.
The new wilderness that the Madman and Simone have exposed me to is enchanting. Obviously it’s not new – as Pat (diveLIVE marine biologist) said today, it is, in many ways, far more ancient than any terrestrial ecosystem. This underwater world also profoundly embodies the leveling mantra ‘the wilderness will just as soon kill you as find you’ that I like to repeat to myself when my sense of self-importance becomes outsized.
While I have appreciated countless underwater documentaries, it is not until I sank into the weightless blue and looked into the beach ball-sized eye of a tarpon and lay on the sand next to a stingray that it touched my heart. I hope that the diveLIVE experience provided by our amazing team here will inspire a love for the blue wilderness in you and perhaps draw you too under the sea.
Written by: James Hendry