Swimming with sharks

I’m splashing about in the water waiting for the others to get in and I’m getting tired.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have joined this advanced group.  Kicking my legs underneath the surface and windmilling my arms, my heart is jumping against the ribs it’s behind inside my chest.  I want to scream at the others to HURRY but I’m trying …to get air …into my lungs …to put in my blood …and I can’t …get the words out…

A balloon before you inflate it, that’s how small my lungs feel.

My breath won’t stay inside me long enough to do any good.

My arms pumping, I’m thinking this is it.

My face enters the water and…

Hang on

Actually snorkelling is a lot easier!

By the time everybody is in the water I’ve just about recovered.

Three minutes later, after setting off towards the coral cay island of Low Isles 500m away, my snorkel turns into a giant drinking straw and I swallow a mouthful of water and I’m coughing and spluttering and drowning.

Again.

A dripping wet sponge, that’s how my lungs feel.

I call out to Alex at the front of the group.

“Can I.”

Spluttering:

“Pleaseborrowyour. Float.”

“PLEASE!”

She says sure.

My manhood shattered.

What a good start.

Me gripping this float, we start swimming over sprawling gardens of hard and soft corals and huge anemones.  It’s not quite how it appears on TV.  These corals are brown cream white.  My arms crossed on my float, I ask Andy if these corals are bleached.

He says some of them are, by disease and cyclones.  He says others are just hosting green and brown algae instead of the bright colourful ones we’re used to.  He says the corals on this part of the reef are in pretty good condition.

Hitting a piece of coral with my flipper, I’m thinking I doubt it.

Looking down on the reef I can’t see anything.  We’re relying on the crew members to point things out.  There are angelfish, butterfly fish, giant clams, yellowtail reef fish, clownfish and sea cucumbers.  When the tide goes out it leaves shallower plateaus of coral exposed to the air and the light.

I’ve disowned my float for now, but everybody remembers.

From Low Isles, four of us together, we follow Alex in search of sea turtles.

It doesn’t take long to find one – a green sea turtle!

 

Standing on Low Isles, I’m thinking out loud

Aren’t sea turtles are a big part of a tiger shark’s diet?

A voice behind me:

Yeah but they only come out at night.

 

We start swimming back to the boat for lunch and on the way there are more turtles.  It doesn’t matter if they’re flapping listlessly through the water or resting on the coral, every one of them looks half-asleep.

Approaching the boat, shouts go up from the crew that there are sharks are circling it.  The sharks learned a long time ago that the boats mean an easy snack at lunchtime because of morsels getting thrown over the side.

Every one of us now, we’re splashing around trying to find one. I’m dipping my face in and out of the water looking. Alex points

There!

A reef shark with two remora fish attached to its flanks and it’s the best thing I have ever seen!  But as fast as sneezing, it’s gone.

Others in the group, they don’t seem bothered and they’re pulling themselves out the water and making a beeline for the buffet.

How can you not care!

I’m spinning round and round in the water when another one swims right past.  Suspended, staring, I’m filled with wonder no fear – I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life!  I’m never getting out!


Finally, we’re all queued up at the diving platform waiting to get back in.

All that’s left of the buffet is crumbs and prawn carcasses.

Third in line, I’m getting impatient.

The second hand has travelled around the face of my watch at least twice since I’ve been stood here.

It’s taking so long I’m bouncing from side to side like a prizefighter and looking over the guy’s shoulder in front to see what the hold up is.

By the time I’m at the platform I’m in a low key frenzy of anticipation.

P1030276

A shark’s long grey shadow cuts past Jeff as he plops in.  The sharks are cautious, swimming near but disappearing into the dark if you get too close.  They’ve got to be 3ft long.  Jeff and I follow one briefly.  When it turns to face us in a flash, brown clouds mushroom from our behinds.

My heart jumping, this is what I’d thought I’d be doing when I started university!

Back then, a fantasy sequence in my head of me existing on a tropical island, my skin tight and tan from snorkelling every day, only leaving to help a small seaside resort that’s being terrorised by a giant great white shark.

Nothing quite kills a fantasy like a cold October morning on Plymouth Sound, a pile of sediment at your feet. The air so cold that sticking your hands into this freezing pile of mud is the last thing you want to do.

Once everyone is in the water the sharks vanish.  We follow Andy on another swim around the reef.  There are lots more turtles and fish.  My arms straight at my sides and my legs kicking, Julie swimming next to me, I’m thinking

This is amazing!

The sharks have reappeared at the boat when we return.  I try following another one.  This little shark, it turns so that I can see its eye checking me out.

One hundred million of these animals are killed every year, for traditional medicines and shark fin soup.  Caught and finned then discarded back into the water as if garbage.  Unable to swim without fins, they sink to the bottom and drown.

Sharks can’t keep up with this rate of slaughter and we’re close to losing a third of open ocean sharks forever.  Already, populations of some species have reduced by as much as 99% in some parts of the world.  The pressure on sharks is rising all the time as global demand for fins continues to increase.

These animals have been around for more than 400 million years and we’re butchering them on a scale I can’t even get my head around.

 

This little shark, it looks right at me, its eye like a black marble stuck into the side of a grey pebble, staring.   Only for a moment, because seconds later, it’s gone.


I’m back at the front of the boat for the trip back to shore.  The sun is total and bright and burning.  Just 14 of us onboard.  Boxhead is sunbathing on the netting in front of me, ruining the view.  The others sitting up top.

Just looking out at the sun and the ocean.

What a great birthday.

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