05/20/2006, Grande Anse d’Arlet , Martinique
When you set out on a long trip like ours you have in the back of your mind certain activities or dreams you would like see happen. Well, this week one of these dreams came true for me. I’ve been wanting to get re-certified for SCUBA diving for some time now. And under the guidance of Dive Master and fellow cruiser Clive Allen I was able to redo my SCUBA training. Something I had last done some 26 years ago back in South Africa.
Growing up in the seaside city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, I spent a great deal of time in the water. As teenagers, my mates and I used to skin dive with a snorkel and mask in the surf collecting fishermen’s sinkers that had been hooked and lost on the rocks in the surf. Being industrious, we would then melt the sinkers down and sell them back to the fishermen. From this skin diving and swimming, there was a natural evolution of wanting to learn to SCUBA dive. I was finally able to do this when I attended University. Unfortunately the South African coast line near Port Elizabeth is nothing like it is here in the Caribbean. The water there is murky with little or almost no coral in South Africa as the water is much cooler. I recall just longing to be able to dive in the colourful underwater world of warmer water.
A big colourful world
We originally met Clive and his family in April at the Classic Yacht Regatta in Antigua. During one of our conversations, he mentioned he was a Dive Master and I told him my dream. He offered to recertify me when we got together at a location further south, most likely Trinidad. To our surprise, we met up with Clive in Grande Anse, Martinique and we immediately made arrangements to do the course in the anchorage there. After 2 days of refresher training, we strapped on the tanks and descended below the surface. Although I’d been free diving (holding my breath and diving 5-6 metres) since we first arrived in the Bahamas back in December, it is very different to SCUBA dive. There is a sense of freedom when you’re able to relax and breathe under the water with an aqua-lung (also called a dive tank). Suddenly, you have the time to stay still and keep a close watch on the behavour of a fish that peaks your interest or look around at all the other underwater life that comes in all shapes and sizes. It is simply an incredibly quiet and colourful world down there.
Below the surface is a world of hide and seek. There is the commonly seen Trumpet fish that hangs upside down in the middle of a branch of coral pretending to be apart of that animal. On one dive I watched the Trumpet fish change its colour so it completely blended into the background of the coral it was nearby. It was amazing! I found out later that these fish have special cells in their skin with different colour pigments. These pigments enable the colour change to take place. So they can change stripes to spots and even mix stripes and spots together.
While diving, Clive pointed out the clown fish (like Nemo and Marlin from Finding Nemo), crabs and fish who all have a special relationship with the sea anemone. The sea anemone is an invertebrate with long pinky-purple finger-like tentacles that stings anything that brushes up against it. The Crabs and shrimp live near the sea anemone and offer a cleaning service to the animal in return for food. The clown fish, however, can live quite happily in the middle of those tentacles because it has a protective mucous supplied by the anemone itself. There are usually 3 – 4 clown fish (2 males and 1 female) living inside the anemone. Clive mentioned another fascinating detail about the clown fish – if the female dies, the larger male will change its sex from male to female. Now that’s adaptation!
As I knew when I was growing up in South Africa, it is an incredible world under the water but especially on the coral reefs. The coral reefs are a crucial part of the ecosystem here in the Caribbean but also throughout the entire underwater world on the earth. Coral reefs are the nursery beds for all ocean life around the world. And now that I can SCUBA dive again, I plan to do a lot more exploring over the next year. So stay tuned for more tales and photos from the deep.