Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Beach, Part 1

Nearly ten hours in the air took me across my local ocean to a middling-large island, and into an entirely different season. A couple of days of excessively easy living later, I stood on coral sands beneath a dark but starry sky and looked out to sea, past the gleam of surf on the reef, to where the stars met the water. Above and to the north, Polaris gleamed low in the sky... back in the tropics at last.

Wading into black waters, I'm soon at swimming depth, finning out towards the reef. My torch sends a thin cone of light down through the water column to search the sea-grass meadow below me. The winds and waves have generated a strong long-shore current, and keeping course is hard work. The first fish I find is hand-sized and very confused by my torch, which I hold at arms-length to my left: the little fish is fascinated by it and does not see the camera in my right hand, which comes too close to focus - within a foot.

That is the last fish I find for some time, though, and I've searched acres of shallow and empty meadow when a huge shape flaps out of the gloom only a few feet away, very nearly causing me to swallow my snorkel. The Ray twists and turns in the torchlight: I don't think it is pleased. Is it better to keep it lit up - but irritated - and know its position, or to let it go? After what feels like an eternity - perhaps 5 seconds - the ray makes my decision for me, and I'm alone again in the darkness. My only other find of the night is a porcupine fish, which appears untroubled by my light, secure within its formidable defenses.

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